Duct Tape Fixes (Almost) Everything
Post-Apocalyptic Flash Fiction
“Why won’t the damn thing start?”
“How the hell should I know?”
James sighed, shoving his hands into his pockets and kicking in idle frustration at the dust that caked everything. Lifting his eyes he stared out over the barren expanse, at the gray sky fading to slate at the horizon. The distance shimmered with heat, but he dreaded to think of how cold it was going to get before it was all over with. “You know,” he said, “we shouldn’t have come out here in the first place.”
“It was your idea!”
“I know,” he said mildly. “Just sayin.’” He paused. “Hind sight’s 20/20.”
“Yeah, well, hind sight’s no use to us right now.”
James turned his back on the emptiness that mirrored his soul. Yet a miscarried spark of something vital almost rekindled in him as his gaze fell upon Moira, who was bent over the engine in the mid-day twilight.
“Where’s the duct tape?” she said, not looking up.
“I’ll get it.” James trudged back to the car, sidling up to the trunk to pop it open. Two quarts of motor oil, tire iron, spare ammo, toolbox…he grabbed the tape and carried it to Moira. “Here,” he said.
She looked up at him with those limpid blue eyes framed by sun-kissed tresses. “Thanks,” she grumbled.
Even pretty girls didn’t excite him any more. ‘Why won’t the damn thing start…’ he thought morosely. ‘Indeed.’ He doffed his cap to wipe away the lather of sweat that had accumulated on his brow. ‘Is my blood even red anymore? I feel like a ghost inside.’ His spirit was raw, like an abrasion: an open cut with the perspiration of his past dripping into it, stinging.
Not for the first time he wondered if Moira was psychic. She said: “You can’t bring them back, James.” Her voice was soft and empathetic, but she kept her eyes on her work, peeling off a long strip of tape before ripping it from the roll with her teeth.
James turned away from her again, reaching into his back pocket. He took out a can of Cope and shoved the tobacco behind his lip. The sweet flavor accentuated the burn. Maybe Moira served the same purpose, in a spiritual sense: the sweetness accentuating the burn?
“Try it now,” she said.
James entered the driver’s seat and tried the ignition. The engine stuttered to life. He chuckled sardonically. “What was it?”
He nodded even though she couldn’t see him. He spat into the dirt again and said, “we’d better be moving.”
“Yeah,” Moira slammed the hood and stepped around to the open door. “Can I drive?”
“Why not. You earned it.”
“How gracious of you.”
“Yep. That’s me to a tee.”
“C’mon, move over.”
James slid into the passenger seat and, as Moira climbed in alongside him, they sped away down the abandoned road. “You know,” she said, “things are never going to be the same for me, either. They’re never going to be the same for anyone.”
“I know that.”
“Hell, the whole course of history’s been derailed.”
“I know that, too.”
“So what makes you think you’re so special? Huh?”
“I’m not special,” he said in a low, melancholy tone. “They are.” He choked. “They were.”
A grimace contorted her face. “We all lost someone. Every one of us, James. We all lost loved ones.”
He turned toward her and saw the glister of a tear forming in the corner of her eye. ‘Damn it.’ She was right. And he knew it. Still, knowledge alone did not consolation make. “What are we even doing, Moira? I mean…what’s the point of it all?”
“What’s the point ever been? We’re doing the same thing people have always done: trying to survive.”
“In this shit?”
“The world’s always been shitty.”
“Not like this.”
“Tragedies never cease,” she said flatly. “It’s an unavoidable feature of reality. We can’t get away from it; and you can’t keep dwelling on it. I understand you need time — time to grieve, time to cope — but I think you’re giving up…and that’s not fair, James. That’s just not fair. It’s not fair to me and it’s not fair to…”
She trailed off, but James knew what she was going to say. It wasn’t fair to his family, or, at least, to their memory. “When it happened…I was at work. I should have been at home. I’d heard on the radio they thought the meteor was going to hit but…”
“But you were thinking of the future, James. You were thinking about how your children would need to eat. You were thinking about all the pretty dresses your wife wanted to buy. You’re too fuckin’ hard on yourself. Why don’t you drink some of that scotch that’s in the glovebox?”
“Yeah, that’ll help…”
“Yes, it could.” His hand inadvertently drifted to the revolver that was stuffed in his waistband.
“You know, if you’d been in that house you’d be…well, you wouldn’t have ever come out.”
“I know.” His eyes were burning with the wind-blown dust that filtered in through the vents and wafted in through Moira’s open window. ‘Who am I trying to kid?’ he asked himself. His eyes burned with sorrow.
“If I recall, there’s a little town up ahead.”
“If there’s anything left of it.”
“Please, don’t be so pessimistic.”
“I can’t help it.”
For a long while they sat in silence, just the hiss of air rushing in through the window as the dark day rolled on like the car. Finally Moira spoke: “There it is.” Just a dark speck on a dark horizon.
“What are you hoping to find there?”
“You mean aside from gasoline?”
“Yes, aside from that.”
“A new beginning, James. A new beginning.”