Survivors

On their third date, they huddle in her bathtub with her schnauzer because of a tornado warning.  She sings old pop songs, mostly of the Hall and Oates variety, while he paints her toenails fluorescent orange.  She likes his beard, his calloused hands, and his manners.  He likes her legs, her voice, and her dog.  “If there wasn’t a tornado, you’d totally get laid tonight,” she says.  “Mother Nature’s always cock blocking me,” he says. The dog only cries when the sirens stop.

A few days before New Year’s 2000, on their first anniversary as a couple, he’s hopped up on Y2K fever, joking about moving to Idaho and starting a survivalist camp where they could live off the land, make babies, and live like the Swiss Family Robinson, only with high powered machine guns.  “I’ll teach you to shoot,” he says.  She pats him on the head, calls him “adorable.”

For his birthday, she takes him to a Tapas restaurant, tells him they should go to Spain and swim in the nude.  For her birthday, he takes her paintballing, and then afterwards, with yellow paint streaking his hair, he kneels, proposes.

In 2003, when they get married, his uncles from Tulsa come up and take him shooting for his bachelor party.  They give him a Glock, which she hides from him saying he must have lost it when he was drunk.  She goes to an Irish Pub with her sister and cries for a long time.

They honeymoon in Rocky Mountain National Park.  She likes to doddle along the trails, singing old camp songs, while he keeps looking for bears.  It keeps him awake the entire night.  “Relax,” she told him.  “We’re in a campground with a swimming pool and internet access.”

In 2005, after two years of begging, she relents and lets him buy a 9mm semi-automatic with the stipulation that he also buys a safe for it and keeps the ammo in her underwear drawer.  “I don’t want you to shoot me if I get up to pee in the middle of the night,” she says.

In 2006, they have their first child, a boy.  He wants to name him George.  She prefers William.  They settle on Steve.

They stop talking about politics after the 2008 election.  “Just know,” she tells him.  “There are certain opinions I’ll never let you live forget.”  He drinks a beer, clearly crying, tells her “whatever.”

In 2009, they have a daughter.  Both like the name Michelle, but for different reasons.

In 2011, she decides it is time to return to work as a nurse.  He’s always liked her medical skills—just in case, you never know—but he surprises her by his objections.  “Don’t I make enough money?” he asks.  “No,” she says.

In 2015, after October’s Monsoon floods, which were even worse than the September Monsoon floods, he buys a house on top of the largest hill in Illinois (it was about 60 feet high) without telling her.  Yet, the kitchen and bathrooms are nice, so she forgives him soon enough.  A month later, after the Thanksgiving dust storm that blinded the dog, he starts talking about Idaho again.

In 2016, on the eve of her 40th birthday, she goes to that same Irish pub—her husband home with the kids—and makes out with the bartender in the bathroom, giving him a vociferous and thorough handjob before begging him not to tell anyone.  She calls her sister, confessing.  Her sister, ever practical, says just one thing: “Bartenders never rat.”

After Michelle loses a thumb to a snakehead fish in 2019, they decide upon homeschooling.  “You have to quit your job,” he tells her.  “Fine,” she says.  “But this will make you miserable.”

After the great riots of 2021, when farmers with John Deere’s march upon the Post Office and mothers with electric rolling pins burn down the banks, she agrees to Idaho.  Her children, however, are unhappy.  “Mom,” Steve says.  “They have Giant Radiation Wolves there.”  This was not an adolescent exaggeration.  The Giant Radiation Wolves are real, but, fortunately, they mostly eat bears.

Idaho isn’t awful, she tells her sister in 2023.  “Now that we’ve got the holo-Skype working again, its not so lonely,” she says.  Her sister, living in the Lake Shore Chicago compound, laughs.  “Yeah,” she says.  “But how are the bartenders?”

They find themselves in agreement 2024, when Florida and Texas declare independence.  “Let ‘em go,” they say in unison.  They have sex for the first time in two years.

They electrify the fence in 2026 after Michelle nearly falls onto a wounded Black Bear glowing green.  He says it’s time the children start carrying guns.  “And I’m digging a bunker,” he says.  She doesn’t fight him.

In 2027, when the First Great War of Southern Aggression breaks out over an HMO dispute, he wants to go fight for the Nationalists, but she puts her foot down.  “If you leave,” she says.  “That fence will be electric when you come back.”  He chooses neutrality.

They can’t stop Steve though, who, to spite his father, flees to Boston to join up with the Internationalists.  Horrified, his father says he is never to return.   Banished.   His mother, however, gives him all the gold bullion she has stashed in her underwear drawer along with the twenty-five year old Glock.

On the eve of her 53rd birthday, she takes the Humvee into Idaho Falls, to the town’s last remaining Irish pub and fucks the bartender in backroom after hours.  There are no calls to her sister, no confessions to her husband.

About a year later, after too much Barley Wine, they codify a list of topics not to talk about that includes politics, his bunker, his handguns, the Nationalists, the Internationalists, the Red Cloud, the Spider Monkeys, her sister, and their children.  “What’s left?” he asks.  “The dog,” she says.

The next ten years pass in near silence.  She takes up rutabaga farming and he works on his bunker.  Michelle eventually marries a Nationalist captain and they move North Oregon, while Steve occasionally sends a letter from his cell in coastal Atlanta.  On nights when the static storms get so fierce they have to shut down the generator, she plays solitaire by the kerosene, while he drinks shine from his still.

Inside the bunker during the Great Tornado Outbreak of 2053, she begins to cry.  They’re both old now; their children gone nearly twenty years; her sister dead from West Nile III; his uncles long perished in battle.   He puts down his rifle, takes off his night vision goggles, un-velcroes his bulletproof vest.  She’s still beautiful, he thinks.  “What’s wrong?” he asks.  “Nothing,” she says. “Except.  This is so much better than the bathtub.”

 

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Originally from Los Angeles, Michael Gutierrez holds an MFA in fiction from the University of New Hampshire and an MA in history from the University of Massachusetts. His work has been published by Scarab, The Pisgah Review, and LA Weekly. He currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where he is working on a novel about 19th century New York barmaids and teaches writing at the University of North Carolina.