When I turned twenty things were going from really bad to a point where people began to consider the end. Gasoline wasn’t impossible to get but it was expensive. Food wasn’t scarce yet but meat was getting harder and harder to find at any price. Rice, soybeans, corn, and navy beans were the staples that got us through those days. Everyone had a garden plot and several of us tended the big garden out behind my house where there was a vacant lot. Stealing food was a shooting offence. It was odd there was no more stealing than there was, but if somebody got caught their property went to whoever got there first. If they had family it went to them first, of course, but family was getting hard to come by too. There were damn few people who hadn’t lost their grandparents or parents to the Stubs. If you were slow or if your eyesight was bad, or if you had a habit of going to same way to anyplace at all, that was something that could get you killed, or maimed. Being maimed was as good as being dead. Or as good as killing whoever was taking care of you.
Kim came over right after her mama was killed. My parents had gone the year before, and dating these days was a lot different. Kim’s mama, Sara Bee, was one of those people who never gave up and never gave in. God would get us through this and as long as we had faith then we would see the end of these things. I didn’t see it, or hear it, but Kim told me that Sara Bee just stepped out to throw the dishwater out and one was waiting outside for her. It got her by the arm, and Kim said she knew what had happened when she heard the scream. Kim shot her mama in the head with her daddy’s .38 and then she started packing her clothes and stuff. Kim showed up with a suitcase and asked me if she could move in with me now. I didn’t ask what happened because there was no need in asking what happened. We went over and got a few more things, and what little food there was left, and from that point on we were married.
The power came and went, and so dried beans and rice was all that we really had that would keep for very long. It all started out with brown outs, when the power was off for a few hours a day, and finally flipped to where it was on a few hours a day. Kim liked clean clothes so we would leave the clothes in the washer waiting for power. We’d both get in the shower at the same time if there was hot water. Mostly, everyone knew everyone else, in Brooks County, and I remembered Kim from the third or fourth grade. She was a shy and quiet girl, with dark curly hair and dark eyes, and she liked to read. She wasn’t part of the drink beer and ride the dirt roads crowd like I was, and I don’t think I spent ten minutes of time around her the entire time we were in school. Now, sudden like, she was standing on my doorstep and I was letting her into my house and we were going to look after one another as best we could. The first night we were together we drank a couple of warm beers while sitting on the sofa watching the light fade outside. I could tell Kim was nervous about what she was doing and what it meant, but there was determination in her that pressed her to do something that would lead her forward. There wasn’t a radio to listen to or a television to watch, or a cell phone to check, or anything but two people trying to find a way to be together and get past the awkwardness that being alone held over us.
“I always liked you” she said as we watched the darkness grow deeper. “But I never thought you’d have a girl that wasn’t a drinker or liked to go out.” Kim took a long drink out of the can of warm beer and grimaced. “But I guess I’ll get used to drinking if you’ll get used to staying in.” And that was all she had to say on the subject. There wasn’t the usual talk about where we would live or if we both liked the same music, or if she believed the same things I did.
“I always thought you were too smart for me” is what I said and it sounded oddly lame, as if I couldn’t think of anything better to say, but it was true on both counts. Kim, a lot more than me, had her life stolen from her by the Stubs. She could have gone on to college and reached escape velocity from Brooks County while I had no desire to leave at all. I took a deep breath and put my arm around Kim and she moved closer. As the darkness fell I could hear her breathing, and I could tell she was nervous as hell. As far as I knew she had never had a boyfriend for very long, and she never left her parents’ house. Suddenly, I wondered if Kim was a virgin. That made me even more nervous than I already was.
I turned and faced her, and took the beer from her hand and put it on the end table. I kissed her, long, slowly, deep, and she kissed me back the same way. I got up, pulled her up to face me, and I walked backwards to the bedroom, and held her close as I did. For every step I took backwards she took one forwards and the last few steps we were almost dancing, one, one, one, one. We didn’t say anything, and I was glad of that. The next morning as the light came in through the windows I realized that it was possible to fall in love with a woman over the space of one night.