It was the end of the world and Angela wanted to brush her teeth.
“It’s just like, I can’t cope with dirty teeth,” she stated as she marched down the supermarket aisle ahead of me, always walking too fast, with her big steps and long legs.
“Angela,” I hissed after her. “Wait.”
But there was no waiting when it came to what Angela wanted. It didn’t matter that the supermarket was eerily silent and deserted except for the crackling loudspeaker, that the tube lights hung from leaking ceiling tiles, that the shopping carts stood half full of sidewalk chalk and makeup and Halloween candy in the middle of the road, like they’d been hurriedly abandoned. It didn’t matter that everything was off about this place and I hadn’t wanted to go because we didn’t really need anything, and anything we actually needed would have been cleared out by now. But Angela had to have her damn toothbrush and God help us all if you or anyone else gets in my way.
I could see it now. We’d come this far, survived this long, longer than the rest, all to meet our untimely end thanks to a toothbrush. I stepped around a sticky puddle of soda, burst cans scattered all across the soft drinks section. Angela wasn’t even looking where she was going.
“Where the fuck are the toothbrushes?”
“Aisle nine,” I offered.
“How do you know that?”
Because I pay attention, I wanted to say. Because I’m always present and I’m not just obsessing over myself and what I need and want all the time but I said none of those things; the last thing we needed was an explosion by the stationary when we needed to be in and out of here as soon as humanly possible.
I checked my watch. We had three minutes, maybe five.
We passed the toilet paper aisle which was emptiest of all. No surprise there. People still had their pride, even in times like these.
I opened the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of Rain Forest Kombucha—whatever that was. It was the only man left standing. And yes, it tasted like warm, fizzy saliva. The power must have cut off weeks ago. I drank it anyway.
“Found it,” Angela said, skipping back toward me, brandishing a kid’s pink toothbrush.
I raised my eyebrow. She just shrugged. “Can’t be choosers.”
“Can we please get out of here now?”
“What’s the rush?” Angela said, sticking the toothbrush in her back jeans pocket. “You know what, I think I saw some magazines back there.” She winked.
I hesitated. She knew me too well. I missed my books, my library that spawned our entire dorm room, all left behind in our hurry to evacuate. If there was one thing people didn’t tell you in the survival/end of the world stories, was how much damn time you had. Sure, there was all the running and the hiding and the hunting for food and shelter, but that only took a few hours of your day, tops. Most of the time, you were just sitting around, running out of conversation with nothing to do.
“Okay,” I faltered, taking another look at my watch. It was a nervous tick by now. “Maybe just one magazine. We can’t be weighed down with all this crap.”
Angela rolled her eyes. “You’re such a kill joy sometimes, Lisa.”
“Is that another word for ‘practical’?”
I followed her to the back of the store where the shelves had also been ransacked bare. Of course, it was the alcohol section. All that remained was a lonely bottle of banana liqueur.
A few feet down, we found the magazines. I ran my hands over them greedily. They weren’t books, but they would have to do.
I felt Angela staring at me. “Quilting? Really?”
“What?” I said, shoving the magazine into my backpack, suddenly defensive of my secret guilty pleasure. “It could be useful for a fire.”
Angela snorted. We both knew neither of us could make a fire to save our lives. They just didn’t teach that in college. She snatched up a magazine of an actor with an eight pack wearing speedos on the cover.
“You know those are mostly just ads and pictures, right?” I reprimanded.
“I didn’t know we were trying to learn things.”
It was my turn to roll my eyes. Sometimes I wondered how Angela had even made it through three years of college with an attention span like hers.
“This might be the only excitement I get for a while,” she pointed out.
Angela snagged the banana liqueur as we headed toward the exit doors. On our way out, she paused at the check-out counter, impulsively dumping her merchandise on the belt and extending her palm.
“Hey. You got any change? I’ll get the next one, I swear.”
I stopped cold.
She burst into laughter. “Your face—”
I opened my mouth to scream. Past her shoulder, there was a white haired man slumped over the cash register. Dried blood caked the hole in his head.
Angela grabbed my arm, pulling me backward.
“Is he dead?” her voice shook.
I could now see that there were flies in the wound. A lot of flies. A shudder coursed through me. “He looks pretty dead to me.”
“People are monsters,” Angela shivered. “Like, why would they take cash, anyway? It’s not like there’s anything to spend it on anymore.”
“Force of habit?”
We stumbled to the exit doors which were stuck half open and squeezed out one limb at a time. Out on the parking lot, the air dove into us in a rush of hot wind. The sky had turned dark grey, clouds swirling menacingly. And of course, there was the mother ship. Swooping over the corn fields and headed our way fast.
I turned to Angela with an I-told-you-so look, but she waved me off.
“At least we got everything on our shopping list.”
“Can we please leave now?”
“One second.” Angela pulled the bottle of banana liqueur from her purse, unscrewed the cap, and took a grimacing swig. “Okay. Now I’m ready.”