After the internet was cut off things turned weird. The dog disappeared off the balcony. Candy Crush grew tedious. Barb and Sam tried watching broadcast tv but it was unbearable, like having a seizure in a dumpster.
They had hoarded so much food they didn’t need to worry about starving or going out. The chest freezer in the laundry room, large enough to hold two or three bodies depending on if they were whole or in pieces, so the oft-repeated joke went, was filled with hot pockets and other microwaveable delights. They hadn’t turned on the stove in a month. The linen closet that had normally held only a spare set of sheets and the box for the little plastic Christmas tree was still full of toilet paper.
The dinky homewares store Barb worked in had closed and the owner had vanished leaving only promises to deposit the final paychecks. Sam had chosen to quit his warehouse job and look for something in construction just before the corona virus hit. The power was going to be on for another month at least. Then they’d start selling stuff.
They also had a ton of booze. That it might be the reason why they had no money for bills was never mentioned.
“Do you think an eagle took little JoJo?” said Barb. “Just took him right off the balcony?”
“Maybe,” said Sam. “Maybe he jumped.”
“Don’t be awful. I looked.”
“Someone scraped him up.”
“Don’t be awful.”
“I liked you better when you weren’t home so much.”
“I worked nights half the time. Half the time you didn’t see me at all.”
“And I liked that. Gave me time to miss you.”
The quiet of the apartment, silence where there used to be traffic noise and sirens, the banging of neighbours, made Sam’s ears ring so hard he became irritable.
“What’s happened to those kids upstairs? I don’t hear stomping or screaming anymore.”
“Maybe they moved out,” said Barb, tying knots in a plastic bag for no good reason except it kept both her hands busy and just enough of her mind that she wasn’t casting about to trouble Sam.
“Maybe the corona got them.”
“What was the family’s name again?”
“Something German sounding? Heimlich? Heinrich?”
“You don’t need another beer.”
“You don’t know what I need, woman. I’ll get it myself.”
“Bring me another spiced rum while you’re up?”
“Do you think someone could have stolen him?”
“Stolen who?” said Sam, cracking a beer.
“Who would want to steal him? Who would climb up twelve floors to steal a dog?”
“Maybe one of the neighbours reached over and grabbed him?”
“I’ll tell you what. You go ask them. I’ll wait here.”
He only said that because he knew she wouldn’t.
“It had to be an eagle. Or a hawk,” said Barb.
“What time is it, woman?”
“In the afternoon?”
“No, two in the morning. The sun’s just up all bright and early.”
Sam struggled upright and shuffled to the bathroom. He shuffled back and fell on the bed.
“Wake me when dinner’s ready.”
“You mean breakfast and get your own.”
“You know what I wish we could watch?”
“That show we liked. The one with the guy with the thing.”
“Was it Canadian?”
“I think it was English.”
Sam flipped the latch on the chest freezer, lifted the door until it stayed and then started re-arranging things. They were getting through the food. He moved boxes of hot pockets from the left side to the right, standing on his toes to clear a shaft between the boxes that reached the plastic shell at the bottom. He uncovered the freezer bag that contained the brown remains of JoJo obscured by a layer of frost. It was so light, like it contained a wig being disinfected. He placed it at the bottom of the shaft and covered it with fajita hot pockets. They were Barb’s least favourite. If he was smart he would sneak JoJo out to the garbage chute, but he didn’t want to send the little fellow off like that, plummeting again into the darkness.
“You gotta puncture the plastic before you microwave them, Barb.”
“Next time you can cook them.”
“It’s not cooking. Why don’t you actually cook something for a change.”
“Have you looked in the fridge? You tell me what I can make out of wine, beer, mustard and pickle juice?”
“Don’t you throw that pickle juice away. I’m saving that.”
Their days, begun now at dusk, only darkened, and were spent drinking, arguing, in the blue illumination of cheap light bulbs. When they were at their worst the night would brighten and the surge of daylight would refresh them. They’d blink at each other, the argument would dissipate, the next round of drinks would taste better, and for an hour or so they would be pleasant to each other.
“What’s that terrible smell?” said Sam.
“I’m cooking something. You asked me to cook something.”
Barb gave him a nasty little smile over the top of her wine glass.
He went into the kitchen and pulled open the oven door. Inside on a metal tray, steaming and smoking, were two plastic trays sagging around the remains of steak dinners. He dumped them in the trash and went to the freezer. It was starting to look grim. He pulled out the last two steak dinners and took them back to the kitchen.
“I miss my little JoJo.”
“Me, too,” said Sam.
“I thought you hated his yapping.”
“I did. I still miss him. I hate your yapping, but I’d miss you.”
“Aw, baby. Awww, baby!”
“If you’re intent on coming over here bring a beer.”
Sam was snapped out of his lightbulb-staring stupor by Barb screeching his name from the laundry room. He pressed his thumb and forefingers against his eyelids until colours spiralled. It beat thinking.
It rattled on the edge of screaming. As he stood up he was glad his beer was only down a few swallows. It was his only lazy ass, too lazy to work a microwave a few times a day, that got him into this.
Barb was much shorter than him. She was jack-knifed over the edge of the freezer, her feet kicking in the air above the overturned stool she used, her head and upper body out of sight, her wide ass ascendant.
She got an arm up on the edge and swung her red face up to glare at him.
Before she could finish her hand slipped and it was enough to send her tumbling into the freezer.
He put down his beer and looked in. She was crying and holding frozen JoJo against her chest.
“Oh, honey. I was going to tell you.”
He held his hand out, but she kept crying, so he leaned in and grabbed her wrists to pull her up. She must have thought he was trying to take her darling JoJo because she went stiff and instead of lifting her he dragged himself in, slithering over the edge and landing on top of her, hard, shaking the fridge, making the door fall and the latch swing into place.