23.4.13

Reunion

We finally made it to where my grandmother lived all those years ago. It wasn't easy to find. Luckily I had that book my mother had kept with her phone number and street address. We got as close as I could remember how to get, and we stopped to fuel up. Lucky for us, there was a man, about forty, there who had lived in the same county as my grandmother. He wasn't familiar with that street, and the book didn't list the city or state, but when I told him her old phone number,  his eyes lit up in memory.
"Yes, seven two two, that's probably Saint Albans or Nitro. I don't know anything more specific than that, but it's not that big of a town. If you were there much as a kid, you'll probably remember how to get to her house when you get into town."

He reached under the desk and pulled out a map of the tristate, and used a red pen to mark the highway and circled the exit. "This is St. Albans," he told us. "You can't get to Nitro without swimming anymore, unless you want to go way out of your way. There were more 722's in St. Albans than in Nitro, though, so you're more likely to find that Saint Albans is what you're looking for." He handed over the map with a warm smile.

I looked at the map and saw every few miles what appeared to be little bridges spanning the blue streak marked 'Kanawha River'. "What are these?," I asked, pointing to the one between the highway and the next town, marked 'South Charleston'. "It looks like that would be perfect for going back and forth."

"Well, that bridge is still in the middle of reconstruction. Unfortunately, nobody's working on it right now. They haven't been working on it since the initial breakout on the West side of the river. See, they were rebuilding the Nitro bridge when that happened. They were right smack in the middle of the project. A lot of people who normally commuted from one side to the other for groceries or work or what have you had either found places on their side to get their things done whenever possible, or they had commuted. They tore that bridge down for two years, and people had started to adjust. They still went back and forth a lot, but they'd been separated enough that when one side broke out, they could easily survive staying on their side of the bridge. For three months, nobody on the East side got sick, so all the bridges from down here," he pointed at the interstate bridge, "All the way to here," now he pointed at a bridge halfway down the river, "were put out of use. Anybody who crossed from East to West was stuck there, sick or not, and anybody over there who tried to come over got shot. Eventually, they decided to just screw all and blow the rest of the bridges up like the Nitro bridge. After that, the uninfected on the West Side tried to swim it, but the people on the East Side were so scared, they kept vigil for months with shotguns, and shot anyone trying to cross, zombie or not. The tap ran red and black for a week after the bridges came down. Everybody had to drink bottled water and rain water for weeks. That was six years ago, and the illness crossed the river eventually, but there wasn't really any point building the bridge back up. Everybody who left went up north, like me. There's still people down there, though, and you might even find somebody who knew your granny. People out there are real familial. Until they think they're going to get eat."

Belle and I thanked him, paid for our fuel and got back out on the road. It was only two hours before we got off the interstate, and I started to feel like I had been there before.

We drove down a few streets, and I made turns just wherever I felt like I should. It was a strange kind of spatial memory guiding me, something I didn't feel entirely in control of. It was like a dream, and I made a few wrong turns here or there. I would go down a dead end road sometimes, or wind up back where I started a few turns ago, but eventually, we found ourselves on a wide road with no lines, dotted with rusted unused cars, and bordered by wild tangled lawns hugging decayed porches. The place looked old and unwanted, and it looked markedly more gray than when I had last been here, but as we drove slowly, I remembered riding a bike along that sidewalk, and on the left there was the school with the hill we would sled down on Christmas break from school. A few blocks down, and there was the hill we would walk up and down to get ice creams from the Mayberry's on the corner. I turned up the hill, too the first left, and here we were.

The front was in terrible shape. The porch was trying hard to be red and blue, but after six years of disrepair, it looked sad and blue-gray and bloody red. The windows were dirty and cracked with duct tape holding out the weather. Someone was living here, there were shotgun shells glinting out of the uncut grass, and the tree that I remembered shading our games of tag in the summer had taken its rightful place as the king of the yard, but the roots were broken enough that you could fit a car in the driveway. I parked along the street, and we sat in silence for a moment.

"Do you think she still lives here?" Belle asked me.
"I don't know. Possibly? She was a little paranoid, so maybe. She was ready for this, according to my aunt."
"Those shells... in the yard... Do you think?"
"I don't know if she could shoot. She didn't seem like she would when I was a kid, but I was a kid. I wouldn't really know, I guess. She would be seventy by now. It's possible."
"Well, do we go in or what? Somebody's lived here in the last year or so, that driveway is almost clear."
"Yeah. We have to make as much noise as possible, so nobody thinks we're trying to ambush them."

We fooled around with the buttons on the jeep for a minute and found a panic button. The thing blared and flashed and made a fool of itself as we walked openly to the front door. Up the creaky steps, one of which had a hole to the side. Something stank. I took a deep breath, swallowed my heartbeat back into my chest, and opened the screen door. I gave the aging door a few good hard raps, and waited. The windows at the top of the door had been boarded up, and a hole about the size of an eye had been drilled through. A covering on the other side slid away and I saw a green eye with a start of white cataract on the side peep in and out three times before the door flew open and an ancient version of my mother screamed at me, "Anais?!"

"No, gramma Missy, It's Dahlia, Anais' daughter."

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