I don't remember the snowfall. I don't remember falling asleep either, assuming that's what I did. When I looked up from the manuscript the windows were darkened. The pages on my lap were smudged and sodden from where I'd dribbled onto them. I wiped my chin and placed the paper on the seat beside me. A fluorescent light clinked and buzzed white above my head. It's the kind of sound that should dissolve into the pall of background noise in such a public environment.
I knew something was wrong.
From the silence of the top floor, I guessed I was alone. The lights were on and everyone was gone.
I guessed wrong.
I jumped from my seat as she howled into the deadened, empty space. Surrounded by an icy blanket of insulation, the bus had the dull and flat acoustics of a recording studio. Her Essex accent, audible even without words, grated my ears even over my thunderous heartbeat. What prompted this sudden outburst? We were surrounded by nothing but ads for mobile phones and dodgy London Transport poetry. And the snow.
She sobbed into her chest a pathetic muffled blub. She covered her face with her hands, strands of greying hair caught in the webbing between her fingers. I shook her shoulder gently.
Nothing. She didn't acknowledge my existence, let alone my hand on her shoulder. She just dropped the volume a little.
I wonder if what I did was wrong, if I broke a moral or ethical code in walking away from her. I didn't know her. She didn't know me. We had no obligation to each other. Did we?
I didn't think so when I smashed the window open and began clawing into the powder (white), the new earth that had buried our red double-decker coffin.
She mustn't have either.
She didn't follow me.
First the tips of my fingers reddened. Then the skin darkened to an unhealthy bruised palette. My nails began to lift away.
I felt none of it, protected by the numbness, protected by dead ice.
You were there. You were in your flat also on the top floor, far above the street below: the pub after lock out, the Costcutter, the Turkish grocer. And you were buried under the same dark space (the same white space).
You lifted the sash window (no need to break anything) and you too tunnelled into the snow.
We all do what we can.
I remember that from a line of terrible London Transport poetry.
Together we tunnelled from opposite ends of the city, everything blanketed, concealed, frozen: over the tops of the Victorian terraces and Edwardian parks, through hangar terminals and high streets, over dead and dying hedges, between the tall posts of orangeade sodium lights.
Both leaving tears behind us.
And this is what we now must do. We dig through the snow in the belief that we must find each other. In a dead city, we are the inhabitants kept alive only by the knowledge that the other is there. Also digging.
And we will find each other. Not because it is destiny or because of some great cosmic power. We will find each other because this is all we have left.
This is who we've become.
A pair of blank faces in a blanket of white.
Simon Groth writes from Brisbane, Australia, and can be found online at simongroth.com (as can more of his ficton).
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