No Higher Power
Morgan had ceased going to church when she was twelve years old. She and her mom were living with her grandmother and she insisted they attend church. One Sunday morning Morgan refused to go. No one forced her and that was the end of organized religion for her.
As she walked along the deserted streets of town pushing her daughter in the ancient stroller she’d found in the basement, she was more convinced than ever God did not exist. A loving
and benevolent God would never allow this level of destruction. The movie theater, Shelley’s Diner and Pete’s Bar and Grill were shuttered and boarded. Their owners gone and their doors closed forever. The hair and nail salon where her own mother worked for twelve years had closed in April of the year 2020 and never reopened.
She wondered what her former classmates would say if they saw her now. Her hair shorn, battered Doc Martens on her feet and a rifle slung over her shoulder. She wondered what Anna would say. Would she love her if she saw Morgan this way? Had she ever really loved her?
Five years. Over two million deaths and countless others whose lives were ruined. There had been a first wave and then a second and a third. The vaccines touted proved powerless against the unrelenting virus.
There were those who still blamed it on the government. The government was either too strict or not strict enough. The government didn’t warn people in the beginning. It was a deliberate plot by the government to kill off older people in order to cut health care costs. Her baby’s father had read that one on the internet and of course he believed it. What an idiot.
Morgan didn’t blame the government. She blamed the ordinary citizens who refused to listen, way back in the beginning. The mask less hordes who went to beaches and had barbecues when they were told not to do so. The college kids who continued to party as though they were immune to becoming sick.
A lot of those people were gone now.
Morgan was almost at the Food Fair when Lily started squirming in her stroller and saying, “Wet, Mama.”
Lily was four and had a vocabulary of seven words. Mama. Hot. Cold. Wet. Hungry. Tired. Go.
“You’re going to have to wait, Sweetie. Mama can’t change you now.”
She wasn’t sure how much Lily actually understood. She had been born perfectly healthy and then her growth and development stopped before she was two. Morgan knew her daughter needed help yet there was no around to help her. They had no doctors, no hospitals and no psychologists left in town.
The Food Fair was the last business left in town. The owners had hung on until a few weeks before giving up. Morgan had heard rumors about leftover produce and even meat being left inside the store. She had no intention of touching the meat or serving it to her daughter. But half edible potatoes, onions and tomatoes would suffice.
She loaded Lily’s diaper bag with some decent looking veggies and even found canned milk, cereal and bananas for Lily. She had shot two rabbits in the woods this morning and intended on grilling them outside. Rabbit stew for dinner. Yum.
She wheeled Lily to the bathroom and changed her diaper. They were coming out of the store through one of the broken plate glass windows when she saw her walking toward them. Anna. Her Anna.
She was still beautiful. Even with her once lustrous blonde hair lank and tied in a pony tail. She wore no makeup. Yet she somehow, she was beautiful.
Morgan remembered the first time she’d noticed her on the football field. Twirling her baton. Dancing and swirling around. She was the Golden Girl. The girl on the arm of the star quarterback, Paul Bryan.
Morgan had been shocked when Anna sought her out. Mousey, shy, book wormy Morgan Hoyt. She was sixteen and Anna was eighteen when it started. Clandestine nights spent at Anna’s house and in Anna’s bed while her parents were away.
No one before or since had ever been as sweet, tender and loving as Anna had been. When Morgan was lying in Anna’s arms, she felt loved for the first and only time in her life. She wanted to walk the hallways of school hand in hand with Anna.
That obviously was never going to happen.
Anna was walking toward Morgan and Lily quickly and when she reached her she gave Morgan a huge hug. People hugged each other now. There was no social distancing. It was almost as though death would be preferable.
“Morgan! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! I am so happy to see you. Who is this sweet thing? Is this your niece or something?”
Morgan backed away from Anna a bit. “She’s not my niece, Anna. She’s my daughter, Lily. She’s four but she doesn’t look or act it.”
“So you got pregnant. Does that mean you aren’t gay anymore?”
“No. I mean yes I am. After you left for college I quit school and kind of went crazy for a while. I didn’t care about anything or anybody. I was with a lot of different people.”
“What’s with the rifle and the getup? Are you supposed to be Militia Girl or something?”
“No, I’m not Militia Girl. Going through this crap has made me tougher.”
Morgan wasn’t sure she liked this new blunt, sarcastic Anna. Where was the sweet Anna who’d sent Morgan texts with little pink heart emojis?
“I’ve got some weed,” Anna told her.
It was amazing to Morgan that people were still able to procure elicit things. Her own mother still had an endless supply of booze and pills. Food was scarce but booze and pot were still plentiful.
So they sat on the curb with Lily in her stroller between them passing a joint. Morgan was still angry with Anna and had been angry with her for years for going away to college with Paul the quarterback and eventually marrying him. Maybe the weed was mellowing her because she leaned over Lily and her stroller and kissed Anna on the cheek.
“So, are you still married to Paul?”
“No. Divorced. We were both cheating with other women. How’s your mom, by the way?”
“Probably at home passed out drunk. We started squatting in this farm house outside of town after we got evicted.”
Anna reached out and smoothed Lily’s blonde hair and the child gurgled in approval.
“Do you know what her diagnosis is? Is it autism?” Anna asked.
“I don’t know because she’s never been tested. Why?”
“I was an early childhood education major and I taught for a while. I quit during the first pandemic because I hated Zoom school. You can’t teach little kids on Zoom. Maybe I can help you with her.”
Morgan almost replied tersely that she and Lily didn’t need anyone’s help. But that was far from true. Morgan was tired. Tired of scrounging and foraging every day to feed her daughter, her mother and herself. The rifle and the Militia Girl persona were an act. She was scared to death inside all the time.
She felt powerless.
Anna stood up, obviously feeling wobbly from the pot.
“Morgan, both of my parents are dead. I can’t stay in that house alone. My husband left me and I have no one. Please. Let me come home with you.”
She started to cry and before long Anna was weeping in Morgan’s arms.
They walked the four miles to Morgan’s farmhouse. Anna carried Lily while Morgan pushed the empty stroller. Morgan did not know how she will explain all of this to her mother.
Linda was sitting at the cardboard table in the kitchen drunk out of her mind on cheap wine and spouting nonsense about Jesus. Morgan made a big deal out of taking Anna’s hand.
“You remember Anna my girlfriend from high school, right, Mom?”
“You’l burn in hell for all eternity, Morgan.”
Morgan was so happy having Anna back in her life she didn’t even care about the hellhole they lived in with no power and tepid filthy water dripping from the tap. She didn’t care that they slept together on a filthy mattress while her child slept in a crib nearby.
Lily often had night terrors and often woke up screaming. One night when Anna had been there about a week, Morgan woke to find Anna softly singing to Lily attempting to quiet the child.
Morgan sat on the edge of the bed next to them.
“She’s really taken to you. You know, after you left, like I told you before, I went a little crazy. Then when Lily turned out the way she did, my mom told me I was being punished for being with you and all
my other wicked deeds.”
“You weren’t being punished, Morgan. Lily isn’t a punishment. She was a gift.”
Anna got a sad look sometimes when she was holding Lily like this. She never mentioned whether she had ever had children or been pregnant and Morgan didn’t ask.
“Morgan, listen. I have money. Lots of it. I inherited from my parents and grandmother. My parents had a cabin near Bald Mountain where there is electricity and a fully stocked refrigerator. I want to go there. With you and Lily. My dad’s car is still in the garage at the house with a full tank of gas. Let’s go.”
Morgan hesitated for a second. She wasn’t sure how Lily would do in a car for two hours. She hadn’t been in a car since she was an infant.
“I don’t know. My mom….”
“She’ll be okay. I’ll call Pastor George at the church. I heard he’s taking in refugees in the church basement.”
So Anna had everything all figured out. That was fine with Morgan. Let Anna take charge. Morgan was done with being in charge. She wanted nothing more than to lay in Anna’s arms and coo like Lily did.
“Let’s go. Let’s just get the hell out of here.”