It wasn't a good night. Charmaine did try for a comforting note: "Let's concentrate on the things we have," she'd said into the moist, stinky dark‐ ness of the car."We have each other." She'd started to reach her arm from the back seat into the front, in order to touch Stan, to reassure him, but then she thought better of it. Stan might take it the wrong way, he'd want to get into the back seat with her, he'd want them to make love, and that could be so uncomfortable with the two of them squashed in together because her head would get jammed up against the car door and she'd start to slide sideways off the seat, with Stan working away at her as if she was a job he had to get done really fast, and her head going bump bump bump. It was not inspirational.
Also she can never concentrate, because what if someone snuck up on them from the outside? Stan would be caught bare‐assed, scrambling over into the front seat and trying to start the car while a gang of thugs bashed at the windows, trying to get at her. Though not her, first and foremost. What they'd want would be the truly valuable thing, which was the car. She'd be an afterthought, once they'd done away with Stan.
There's been a number of former car owners flung out onto the gravel, right around here; knifed, heads crushed in, bleeding to death. No one bothers with those cases any more, with finding out who did it, because that would take time, and only rich people can afford to have police. All those things we never appreciated until we didn't have them, as Grandma Win would say, Charmaine thinks regretfully.
Grandma Win refused to go to the hospital, once she got really sick. She
And Charmaine had made the most of herself. She'd majored in Gerontology and Play Therapy, because Grandma Win said that way she'd be covered both ends, and she had empathy and a special gift for helping people. She'd got her degree.
Not that it makes any difference now.
If anything happens we're on our own, Stan tells her too frequently. It's not a comforting thought. No wonder he's so rapid, those times he does manage to cram himself in on top of her. He needs to be on the alert all the time.
So instead of touching Stan last night, she whispered,"Sleep tight. Love you."
Stan said something. "Love you too," maybe, though it came out more like a mumble, with a kind of snort in it. Probably the poor man was almost asleep. He does love her, he said he'd love her forever. She was so grateful when she found him, or when he found her. When they found each other. He was so steady and dependable. She would like to be that way too, steady and dependable, although she has doubts that she can ever manage it because she's so easily startled. But she needs to toughen up. She needs to show some grit. She doesn't want to be a drag.
They both wake up early - it's summer now, the light comes in through the car windows, too bright. Maybe she should fix up some curtains, thinks Charmaine.Then they could get more sleep and not be so crabby.
They go for day‐old doughnuts at the nearest strip mall, double chocolate glazed, and make some instant coffee in the car with their plug‐in cup heater, which is a lot cheaper than buying the coffee in the doughnut place.
"This is like a picnic," Charmaine says brightly, though it isn't much like a picnic - eating stale doughnuts inside the car with a light drizzle falling.
Stan checks the job websites on their pre‐paid phone, but that's depress‐ ing for him - he keeps saying,"Nothing, fuck, nothing, fuck, nothing" - so Charmaine says why don't they go jogging? They used to do that when they had their house: get up early, jog before breakfast, then a shower. It made you feel so full of energy, so clean. But Stan looks at her like she's out of her mind, and she sees that yes, it would be silly, leaving the car unattended with everything in it such as their clothes, and putting them‐ selves at risk in addition, because who knows what might be hiding in the bushes? Anyway, where would they jog? Along the streets with the boarded‐up houses? Parks are too dangerous, they're full of addicts, every‐ one knows that.
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The Heart Goes LastGeneral Fiction
Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation arou...