1066 days after ‘Evacuation’
Alexandra E. Monroe sat scrunched up in her wingback chair, staring intently at the words in her book, but taking little in. As had become routine on the days when she didn’t venture outside, Alex hadn’t bothered to change from her pyjamas and had just drifted around the flat, allowing the numbness of her existence to consume her. Laziness was not a virtue she’d aspired to when she was younger, but she’d long since succumbed to the inevitability of it. The endless repetition of life no longer tested her resolve like it used to. Being cut off from the emotion and stimuli of a world she barely remembered had resulted in her brain closing down those functions it no longer needed.
Alex had no idea what time she’d got out of bed that morning, or when she’d last eaten. She had no recollection of the DVD she’d been watching earlier in the day, or how long she’d been staring out the window at the vast, motionless city sprawled beyond her flat. A single pane of glass was all that protected her from the slaughtered innocents that now lay on the pavement outside, but such knowledge didn’t concern her.
Out of necessity, Alex had become like the father she kind of remembered, jotting anything important down on lists and ticking them off as she went along. Hundreds of used Post-it notes now circled her chair like ripples on a pond, jostling for position with mouldy plates, DVD boxes, books, food wrappers, clothes and chess pieces. Everything, including herself, was bathed in a layer of dust or dirt, a shallow film of despair.
She didn’t question it—Alex didn’t question anything anymore. She barely managed an original thought these days, focusing only on the prison walls she had placed around herself. They stood unsympathetic to her suffering and closed in a little bit more each day.
There was no beauty in her world, no longing to find out what had happened—just the reality of living it. The bleak emptiness of her existence was perhaps a way of atoning for past sins. Whose sins, she didn’t know. After all, she’d been only thirteen when ‘it’ happened; surely too young to anger the gods enough to punish her like this.
Through it all, one detail never escaped her consciousness. Soon she would be able to say goodbye to another 24 hours of her young life; frittered away, one monochrome day dissolving into the next, a rhythmic but never-ending procession of nothingness.
Something caught the corner of her eye. She glanced up, an expert in telling the time by the shades of light on the walls, walls that had once been pristine but were now jaundiced. An afternoon shadow, nothing more. She returned to the distraction of her book. It would be a few more hours before she could go to bed and swim back into the unconscious warmth of family, friends and hope.
There is no doubt that Alex could have made more of her circumstances. It was, after all, a future she’d sometimes prayed for in what she now thought of as her first life. Her uncle used to say, ‘the world is your oyster’ and now it truly was. There was nothing holding her back from doing anything she wanted; no rules, no school, no grumpy adults to get in the way. It had been nearly three years since she’d woken up on that sunny May morning to find that her life had been ripped away with no explanation at all—the day she called Evacuation Day—the day that everyone she loved had left her.
16B Telassar Road, Notting Hill, wasn’t the most glamorous address Alex could have chosen, knowing the whole of London was at her disposal. It was an ordinary flat, not huge, but convenient, warm and safe. The living room was the centre of her universe. She spent nearly every hour of daylight surrounded by those four walls, a large old slate fireplace and creaky wooden floors. A mahogany bookcase lined one length of the room with hundreds of books, each systematically arranged. A three-piece Hanover couch hugged the opposite wall, the kind that might offer solace to an ill child or perhaps a dad who’d had a little too much to drink the night before. The 60-inch flat screen TV no longer worked of course, but she didn’t care enough to throw it out. Instead, a small battery-powered portable DVD player took pride of place, waiting patiently for her to load another Friends disk. Binge-watching had been the drug of choice in her first life: Netflix, YouTube, Instagram stories. Nothing had changed in that respect, only the options available to her. There were still thousands of DVDs to choose from in the Amazon Fulfilment Centre at Wembley, but when those were gone, that would be it. No more would ever be made.
Darkness was fast approaching. Prising herself up from the chair, the bare skin on her back popped as it peeled away from the leather upholstery. Yanking her pyjama bottoms up a little and tightening the knot, she moved around the living room, turning on a procession of camping lamps and torches, bypassing a small side table that harboured a column of photo frames, all face down. A small, jagged, rib bone lay on top of them, as if guarding her against their intended purpose, a cruel reminder of someone else’s memories once saved for posterity.
She caught a glimpse of herself in the hall mirror and saw patches of eczema on her chest and deep-set shadows under her green eyes. She bore partly healed scars on her freckled cheeks, dried blood on her pyjama sleeves, food stains down her front and fingernails chewed down to the quick. She flicked her hair from one side to the other and posed.
“Looking choice today, Ms Monroe,” she said out loud.
“Well thank you very much, I try my best.”
“Is that Chanel’s 2024 pyjama collection you’re wearing?”
“Marks and Spencer’s actually.”
The camping lamp in the kitchen hissed to life. Neatly stacked along the kitchen counter were the spoils of the previous week’s ration run: cans of soups and stews, white rice, super noodles, cereal boxes, protein shakes, Bovril, jars of honey, vitamin capsules, beef jerky and mini gas canisters. Ration runs were the only part of her existence that she took seriously. If she was going to kill herself at some point—which had to be the inevitable outcome—starving herself to death was not on her list of ‘Top Five Ways to Go’. Way too painful and far too slow.
What shall we have tonight, she wondered, chicken broth, lentil, pea and ham or…?
“Heinz Tomato soup it is,” she declared, “Six spoons of sugary goodness in every tin.”
That would be the eleventh night in a row but still nowhere near her record. Alex had never really cared for food. Even when fresh food had been readily available, she had still preferred quick and easy; carbs and sweets. Maybe all kids were like that.
Grabbing three empty tins and a half-eaten bowl of cereal from the table, Alex lifted up the back window and threw them out into the garden below. There was little point in wasting water on washing anything up, and there obviously wasn’t a trash service anymore, so out they went.
As she waited for the soup to heat, she sat and stared out the window into the night. Notting Hill is in the centre of London, but she could have been anywhere: the Sahara Desert, Alice Springs, the North Pole or even Mars and the view would have been the same. Pure, uncorrupted blackness. That more than nine million people had lived out there just three years ago seemed impossible. She turned off the camping lamp and her eyes slowly adjusted. Stars appeared, punctuating the darkness. In the early days of being alone, the night sky had brought her some hope. There was movement up there, dots that looked like planes flying a direct course overhead, feeding her naïve belief that people living on some other part of the planet were looking for survivors. Surely it was just a matter of time before they’d come to save her. But the Notting Hill Library, her only solace outside of home, had taught her that those ‘planes’ were satellites, unmanned drones destined to live out the rest of their lives circling an unresponsive world. The realisation had crushed her, but it had been another important step in accepting her fate.
A loud noise from the street shattered the silence. Alex didn’t panic. She didn’t grab a samurai sword or shotgun to protect herself. She didn’t rush down to bolt the front door or check the booby traps. Shecalmly poured out her soup into an HSBC mug and sauntered back through to the living room.
Whoever’s turn it was to die tonight, she hoped it would be quick and merciful.