It’s beginning to feel as if life has always been this way. Most days, I forget the months and years of Before. We took all that for granted. We complained about endless summer holiday boredom. What I wouldn’t give to be bored, right now.
Water needs to be collected from the standpipe two streets away. Little Sarah has taken on that thankless task, balancing a container on her head and carrying it ‘like the African ladies’, so she tells me. She thinks it’s fun.
Davina deals with our washing. She found the twin tub in the shed, got Lance to drag it out for her. Thank goodness it still had the mangle attached. We turn the rollers by hand and squeeze the water out of our clothes. Nothing is really clean, but we manage a sight better than most. The kids down the road – the two Underwood boys and a couple of other strays – are filthy and stink to high heaven. They make me feel sick. I’m not sorry for them.
I’m glad we hadn’t moved to the countryside. What about the farm animals, broken loose and roaming half-feral and starving across the overgrown fields? How would I know what was safe to eat? At least we can take tins from the warehouses by the docks and know what’s inside. Lance finds our food – he’s quick, strong and knows all the shortcuts, away from the empty main streets, away from the danger.
They had said we should leave, that it wouldn’t be safe in the city. But we’ll be OK for a bit, at least until the next Collection. And we know the hiding places – They don’t.
Sarah is tugging on my sleeve.
“Yes, sweetheart, what is it?”
“When’s Daddy and Mummy coming back?”
My heart creases. The pain is as sharp and overwhelming as ever. She hasn’t forgotten them either. I had hoped she would be saved from that, at least.
“Never, honey. I’m sorry.”
She hugs me, hard, locking her fingers together behind my back, squeezing the breath out of me. “And how long is never?”