(This story is dedicated to Laura Clark who knows exactly what she did. None of this is my fault.)
Willy was in a pickle.
As what remained of the electrical grid sputtered and flickered, Willy desperately tapped his computer to see if his blind date had received his spasmodic messages.
Jay, the hopeless romantic from Willy’s work, had set Willy and Barbara Jean up before the remaining Arctic ice caps had melted. With all the rationing and breadlines and air raid sirens going off, causing pandemonium, it had been hard to find a suitable date and time to meet.
Things had been chaotic at Willy’s work as New York City had just been attacked by long-range nuclear missiles and eleven Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes were currently beating the Eastern seaboard to shreds.
At least the forests on the West Coast had finally all burned to the ground. Although wood would be hard to come by until next spring, at least the air quality would improve.
Did Barbara Jean—who went by her initials in social circles—know not to go to the last remaining coffee shop in town, as it had been looted that morning?
Would she arrive at his apartment before curfew, avoiding the jackbooted thugs who served as a makeshift paramilitary force for the Washington American Neutrality Gangs?
More importantly, why was he wasting his last good can of SPAM on her when he had an untouched kielbasa that needed to be eaten before spoiling? Perhaps he should serve smoked sausage or some bratwurst?
Willy worried the night would be a complete disaster.
The apartment’s doorbell chimed, startling Willy from his musings. Odd, as the darn thing only worked half the time, due to faulty wiring.
He shot up quickly to open the door. He put his hand on the knob and slowly turned it, putting his one eye to the peephole to see who had come.
“Barbara Jean!” he cried out.
He threw open the door, hearing the spattering sounds of gunfire from off in the distance near the capitol.
“Barbara Jean! Come—come in quickly!”
“I told you to call me B—”
“Jay mentioned he saw you at work today. I had hoped you received my messages about the change of location.” He smiled stupidly at her.
She looked so pretty in camouflage.
“The coffee shop was on the news. I tried to reach you at the office before you left,” Barbara Jean replied. “I did leave a message with someone.”
“Who was it—Rod? Peter?”
“That doesn’t sound familiar. It’s on the tip of my tongue—”
“Maybe Richard? Oh, it doesn’t matter. I’m here, but I might need to stay the night. The WANG is rolling out razor wire to choke off the crowds. I heard they are using some sort of military heat ray on protestors.”
“Yes, the Washington American Neutrality Gangs aren’t messing around tonight. It’ll be hard for anyone trying to get anywhere. The city is pulsating, throbbing with built up tension. You are welcome to stay here. I can sleep on the couch,” Willy offered diplomatically.
Barbara Jean walked over to his small window garden.
“Yes, those are eggplants.”
“I’ve never seen them so—”
“Purple?” Willy smiled.
“You have quite a hydroponic setup here. So many vegetables! You are quite prolific . . .”
“Oh yes, you just need to douse the root with what it needs and it’ll produce.”
“I can see that. Look at these—cucumbers? Asparagus?” Barbara Jean smiled with pleasure, fingering the stems of the now-rare delicacies. The tomatoes were swollen, ready to burst.
“I try to grow a variety of things. You never know what will tickle your fancy when you work up an appetite,” Willy bragged, proud of his container gardening. “Shall we harvest?”
Barbara Jean giggled as they selected their crops, plucked them off the vine, washed them in boiled water, and diced them into satisfying cubes.
Willy lit the can of sterno, tossed the last of his olive oil into a pan, and began to stir fry his assorted root vegetables with cubed SPAM. Meat and two veg. A classic meal.
“Willy, we are feasting like kings tonight,” Barbara Jean luxuriated on his sofa, removing her heavy steel toe boots. “Thank you for making what may be our first and last meal together such a delight.”
“Hope springs eternal, Barbara Jean. Hope springs eternal.”
“So formal, Willy. I told you I normally go by B—”
“Jay was right. I’m so glad he thought we’d get on. It would be so hard to go through all this alone. This may be too soon, but you are exactly the sort of girl who I’ve imagined I would spend the rest of my life with.”
“Well, how long can that possibly be? Another week or so?” They both laughed.
It was funny because it was true.
“Please call me William tonight.”
“Of course, William.”
The glow of the sterno made his eyes all the more blue. Barbara Jean opened her backpack and wrestled out a bottle of vodka, the president-for-life’s favorite Russian brand.
“How about a stiff drink before dinner?” she asked.
“I’m in,” Willy replied, taking down two mason jars, since the other glasses had shattered, falling off the shelves during the earthquake caused by the president-for-life’s pension for fracking.
“You’ve set a lovely table,” she said. “A tablecloth and matching silverware! I almost feel like a member of some private club,” she grinned, though the tablecloth was ripped and stained.
Still, Willy had lit a shard of candle which made the table all the more inviting, barring the hysterical shrieks coming from the alleyway. Though they died out quickly enough.
In the following quiet moments, Willy and Barbara Jean ate their fill, content simply sitting next to one another.
Outside the window, the darkening sky grew orange.
“That’s quite a sunset,” Willy wistfully said, clearing the cardboard scraps they used as plates.
“That’s not a sunset,” Barbara Jean remarked. “I'm fairly certain that’s the nuclear plant melting down.”
“You’re right,” Willy smiled. “Well, that blows. I’m guessing too much buildup of hydrogen gas. Quite a letdown when it all deflates.”
“Absolutely. Zirconium in the fuel rods will get you every time!”
They poured each other more vodka.
“So radiation poisoning?” Barbara Jean asked.
“Most likely. Or thyroid cancer, if there's time. Tomato, Tomahto.”
They laughed as Willy put his arm around her as they watched the evening shadows finally extinguish the light.