Authors: Edwin Page
I stood with my
back to the bedside cabinet. My case rested on the floral covers to my left,
open and empty. A small selection of neatly folded clothes lay next to it, but
the majority remained in the wardrobe, which stood open to my right. I had no
idea what to pack and was filled with indecision.
I could hear Chrissie humming to herself in her room along the landing.
She was happily packing her Barbie pink case and hadn’t asked for my advice or
assistance even once. If only I could have been so decisive.
Bob came up the stairs with a candle held before him, his left hand
cupped around it to shelter the flame as he moved. He stopped in the doorway
and looked down at the emptiness within my case. ‘Is this as far as you’ve
got?’ he asked as the candles I’d placed around the room stirred gently upon
I nodded. ‘I haven’t any idea what to take.’
‘Whatever’s comfortable and warm.’
‘What about my dresses?’
‘We’re not going to a garden party, we’re heading into the mountains in
the hope of surviving this mess,’ he said with a touch of irritation.
‘“In the hope of”?’ I repeated, picking up on his turn of phrase.
‘Look, you really need to get this done. The longer we linger the more
chance there is of hitting trouble,’ he said, choosing to ignore my question.
‘It’s already dark out there and I want to leave for the dealership knowing
that when I get back we can simply load up and hit the road.’
‘What about your things?’
He raised an eyebrow. ‘You know how long it takes me to pack,’ he stated.
He was right. Whenever we went on holiday I’d spend hours trying to
choose what to take, selecting and then deselecting clothes as I pondered every
single choice. Bob, on the other hand, seemed to simply grab whatever came to
hand and throw it in his case with no rhyme or reason and was ready within
He stepped into the room and made his way to the other side of the bed.
Placing his candle next to one already position on the cabinet there, he
crouched and slid his black case from beneath. Throwing it onto the bed, he
opened it and then looked at me, a grin softly curling his lips. ‘How about a
‘You’ve got to be kidding. You’ll beat me hands down.’
‘You’re not even willing to give it your best shot? What happened to the
woman who used to race me to the spreading oak most every time we drove out to
Shelburne Bay, the same woman who would arm wrestle me for the last Big Cat?’
‘You mean the woman who beat you to the oak every time,’ I corrected with
a smile, remembering that Chrissie had been conceived beneath its wide
‘True,’ he conceded with a nod. ‘I should of known better than to
challenge the high school cross-country champion,’ grinned Bob. ‘Still, I made
up for it with the arm wrestling.’
‘Most of the time,’ I said with a chuckle, ‘though you always shared when
He nodded, his smile fading a little. ‘They were good times,’ he stated
with a melancholy tone.
‘Do you think we’ll have anymore?’ I asked softly.
‘Good times?’ he replied, looking at me over the bed.
The hesitation before he gave his answer said it all.
‘Of course,’ he stated, forcing a smile. ‘We should pack,’ he added,
wanting to move the subject on and unable to hold my gaze.
Bob moved to the chest of drawers by the door and took his underwear from
the lowest. I watched him step back over to the bed and place them into his
case. My thoughts turned to Chrissie. What glory days would she have to talk
about when she reached our age? Would she even reach our age?
‘Come on, Leah, we really need to get ready,’ he said with a nod to my
I blinked and shook my head, pushing away the dark thoughts, though they
remained on the horizon of my mind, lingering there like the clouds that had
gathered above the house.
Within ten minutes Bob was shutting his case. ‘There,’ he stated. ‘I’ll
go down and check the car.’
‘Okay,’ I replied, my case half-full.
He glanced at the wardrobe and then walked around the foot of the bed.
Reaching up, he took down the black carryall that was stowed on the shelf above
the hanging rails. ‘This’ll come in handy. We can put a few vital supplies in
it and keep it to hand.’
‘The medicine from the bathroom cabinet, maybe some food and water, the
flashlight, my small tool kit. We can stow it behind the driver’s seat so
there’s no need to go through all our things if we get into a tight spot.’
‘A tight spot?’ I asked with increasing nervousness.
‘You never know what we’ll run into out there.’
‘You think we’ll have trouble?’
Bob stepped over to me and put his hand on my arm. ‘It’s precautionary,’
he reassured. ‘It’s better to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.’
‘But we’re safe here.’
‘We’re not,’ he replied with conviction, ‘at least, not in the long term.
It’s an illusion, Leah. It’s the remains of the old life and that life is over.’
‘We can build a new life here.’
He shook his head, ‘We’ve gone over this already and nothing’s changed.
We need to make for a safe place.’
‘Is there a safe place?’ I asked pointedly.
His hand fell away from my arm and he sighed. ‘I’m not going through this
again,’ he stated, turning and making for the door.
‘Not even for our daughter’s sake? Surely it’s best to stay for her, to
keep things as normal as we can?’
‘Normal?’ he said, stopping in the doorway and turning back to me. ‘There
is no normal anymore,’ he stated with a touch of heat to his words brought
about by frustration.
There was a moment of tense silence and then Bob sagged, seeing the distress
in my expression.
‘It’s gone, Leah,’ he said with a gentler tone. ‘I know it seems like
there’s just a power outage, like things are still pretty much the same and
maybe if we wait a few days, maybe a few weeks, then everything will be fixed
and back to normal, but that just ain’t going to happen.
‘It’s a nuclear strike. There’s nothing left where the bombs went off.
The shockwaves and fireballs would have taken out everything for miles around.
Then there’s the radiation. You’ve seen the clouds out there. They’re tainted.
We stay here and we’ll die.
‘This isn’t just a passing phase. It isn’t going to go away.’
I stood mute. I knew he was right, knew that every word he said was the
truth, but still couldn’t come to terms with it. The situation didn’t seem real
or maybe I wasn’t willing to accept its reality.
‘I’m going to the car. There’s another flashlight and a map that will
come in useful,’ he said before turning and walking away.
I could tell by his tone that he was feeling bad about having to be so
blunt with me, but it was necessary and, ultimately, he was right. My gaze
turned to the case resting on the covers and I took a deep breath, trying to
control the swell of emotion that was rising within me, tears gathering in my
‘Is everything okay, Mommy?’
I turned to find Chrissie looking around the doorframe, peering into the
room apprehensively and wearing a pastel blue dress. I nodded, swallowing hard
as I continued to fight the urge to break down and unable to put words to the
‘Are we still going on the trip?’ she asked, remaining partially hidden
around the corner.
I gave another nod. ‘You all packed?’
‘Nearly,’ she responded, studying my face. ‘Are you sure everything’s
I bit my bottom lip as the tears threatened to spill, the urge to take
her into my arms almost overwhelming as I longed to hold her safe, to protect
her from what had happened to the world she’d known.
‘Leah, come quickly.’
I turned to the window on the opposite side of the bed and stared at the
curtains. Chrissie stepped into the room and followed my gaze.
‘Is Daddy outside?’
‘He’s at the car,’ I replied. ‘I’d better go and see what he wants.’ I
moved to the doorway, grateful for the distraction.
I went along the landing and down the stairs, wondering at the urgency
that had been evident in his tone. I could hear Chrissie following behind, her
footsteps sounding on the stairs as I went along the hall towards the front
‘You’d better stay here,’ I said, stopping and turning as she reached the
foot of the stairs.
‘Why?’ she asked with her head cocked to the side.
I tried to think of an excuse. ‘You need to finish packing.’
‘I’m almost done,’ she complained.
‘Just wait here a second,’ I said, holding up my hand to reinforce the
With my pulse increasing, I went to the door and took hold of the handle
in trepidation. Opening it, I leant out and looked over to the car on the
right. Bob was seated inside and there was no sign of any threat.
‘Okay, you can come,’ I said over my shoulder, stepping out and making my
way along the short path.
‘Get in,’ he called when he saw my approach, glancing beyond me as
Chrissie walked from the house.
‘What is it, Daddy?’ she called.
‘Come and listen for yourself.’
I opened the passenger door and heard a voice on the radio. ‘Is that
French?’ I asked in confusion as I got into the seat. ‘I didn’t think the
signal would reach this far.’
‘Wait,’ said Bob, turning the volume up a little as Chrissie moved to sit
on my lap, the door left open beside us.
The woman continued to speak in French for a few moments and then there
was a brief silence.
‘What’s she saying?’ asked Chrissie.
‘Sssh,’ responded Bob with a finger to his lips.
‘This is Montreal broadcasting on all wavelengths. We have boosted our
signal and hope to reach as many survivors as possible.
‘We were not hit during the nuclear strike. Repeat, we were not hit
during the nuclear strike. We have food, water and medical supplies.
‘This is Montreal broadcasting on all wavelengths. If you have survived,
make your way here. We will accommodate all survivors.’
The radio fell silent again for a short while and then the message began
to be repeated in French. Bob reached forward and turned it off, the interior
of the Falcon filled with a temporary hush.
‘Is that for real?’ I asked, looking to Bob and hardly daring to believe
it could be true.
‘Seems it,’ he replied, turning to me with a smile and a gleam in his
eyes. ‘What do you think?’
‘If you believe it’s genuine then there’s no other serious choice. We’ve
got to go.’
‘I thought we were heading to the mountains,’ said Chrissie in confusion.
‘We’re going to have to change our plans, Honey,’ said Bob, reaching out
and stroking her cheek with affection.
‘What about the RV?’ I asked.
‘It would still come in handy.’
‘I’d prefer it if we just took the Falcon.’ I looked at him meaningfully,
not wanting to discuss it at any length in front of Chrissie. The idea of stealing
the RV had never sat well with me. It felt like the first step on the slippery
slope, the first away from civilisation and towards the anarchy that so many
apocalyptic movies seemed to think would consume us all when the end came. I
wanted those films to be proved wrong. I wanted the world to hold and not fall
‘Okay,’ he conceded. ‘It should take under two hours if we take the
eighty-nine.’ Bob unfolded the map that had been resting on his lap and laid it
out over the steering wheel, taking up the torch tucked between his legs and
shining it on the paper.
‘It’s a straight journey north, though we’d better head off soon or we
risk hitting a snarl on the way. There’ll be a hell of a lot of people heading
there once the news gets out that it’s safe.’
‘What happens if we can’t get there on the interstate?’
‘There’s other routes,’ he replied, staring at the map intently. ‘At
least three that I can see. If the worst came to the worst we could even head
west then north, crossing over the river and border at Cornwall,’ he added,
following the route in question with his index finger.
‘I wonder if that’s where the Coopers were going?’ I pondered, glancing
out of the open door at the darkened house across the street. We’d seen then
pack up their station wagon and head off a couple of hours before, the sight
disturbing me as I continued to struggle with the reality of our situation.
‘Maybe. For all we know the broadcast has been going out since not long
after the bombs dropped.’
‘So we’re headed to Canada now?’ asked Chrissie. ‘I was looking forward
to the mountains.’
‘You need to go and finish up your packing,’ I stated.
‘No buts. We’re going to be leaving soon and so you need to get yourself
ready.’ I angled my legs towards the open door and she slipped from my lap.
‘Are you coming back in?’
‘In a minute,’ I replied, ushering her away.
She frowned at us for a moment before turning and heading back to the
house. I watched her enter and then looked to Bob.
‘You really think this could be true?’
‘Why wouldn’t it be? What would be the point of broadcasting a message
like that if it weren’t real?’
I looked at the map resting before him and shrugged.
‘It’s not far, so there shouldn’t be any need to worry about fuel.’
‘But there must be plenty of gas stations on the way,’ I commented in
confusion, turning back to him.
He smiled sadly. ‘No electricity, no working pumps.’
Realisation dawned. My pulse became elevated again as I thought about the
reality of hitting the road, of leaving behind our home and the life we had
made for ourselves. We were heading into the unknown, but I was starting to
understand that even staying put would be a journey into the unknown. There
were no certainties anymore, though maybe Montreal could change that. Maybe
there we could find stability and safety again.