I believe they said, initially, that the first wave was going to hit on a Tuesday.
And the crowd – us, the ones shielding our eyes from the sun as we stared up at them, the ones on the podium – listened.
It was a long speech. I couldn’t recall any particular details from the first hour if I tried, as much as I want to tell you. I focused on the man’s tie. It was a striking shade of red, the kind of red that almost glows in the right beam of light. I spent so much time on the tie. It reminded me of my father. Or, maybe it didn’t. I can’t quite remember.
Anyway. They said, the first wave will begin, will crash through our neighborhoods and our grocery stores and drag our weakest from their homes, on a Tuesday.
And we, in turn, said what do we do?
And they, in turn, said wait.
Nolan turned to me, "They’re saying… before it starts, it feels like a foot on your chest. A foot with a boot that weighs ten pounds. And when it begins, the foot begins to press."
"And when it ends…?" I said.
I didn’t know what day it was. They hadn’t told us in a while. In fact, we thought everything was done. There were forums, in fact. The forums themselves were intended to discuss theories, to engage in conversation where we couldn’t do so in person. Of course, there were the bad actors. The online impatient who began to start rumors – that’s all they were, rumors, nothing to worry about – about what this was all about. Rumors about symptoms of some sort of malady.
The ten-pound phantom boot was among the list, along with all manners of ridiculous indicators of sickness – forgetfulness, paranoia, fatigue, loss of identity. All of these things, to some extent, are immeasurable. Such is to be expected from a hypothetical illness.
"They’re saying you forget your ABCs when it happens," Nolan said. I didn’t believe him.
"Sounds silly," I said. He laughed at that. Because it was. "Like they’re children."
I stood, shaky steps, to join him. I wanted to see. I wanted it to be an inappropriate magazine or a scary image. I craved the validation of a ridiculous gift. My feet stopped moving as I caught a glimpse of vibrant red fabric peeking out from its bleak wrapping. And then I understood.
Oh, my God, Nolan’s voice sounded like a whisper after a year of screaming. He looked pale like I’d never seen pale. He grasped at the carpet with his fingers, muttering curses into the floor as if someone would answer. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.
I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. I stared at the packages on the floor, at the ripped paper, at my friend who would most likely not want to be my friend anymore in a moment or two.
We – w-we did everything right. Nolan’s breathing made me nauseous, the pace and the depth. He stretched out on the floor, We can’t… we can’t… we did everything right.
We did everything right, I said. I must not have sounded convincing.
He pushed himself to sit and looked at me. I think he knew before either of us said anything. He lifted his eyes to meet mine and he saw through any excuses or lies I could form. He plucked my regrets from my head without prelude, without forethought.
The sirens began to sound like words. Long, drawn-out words. ACT, MOVE, OBEY, or something like that. My brain began to ache. There was the potential for a thought, I think… the potential to tell myself: "you do not have to move, you do not have to obey."
But potential thought is not tangible thought.
And I could not remember how to think.
I am keeping a tally of things I know.
As I stand here, looking up at the window of my house.
Is this my house? I wouldn’t have left the light on. Or would I have?
I know the rain is sharp as it hits my face, I cannot convince myself to feel it.
I know that the neighbors are beginning to make those noises in the back of their mouth.
Um… I know… What do I know?
I know that the boot has begun to press, and that I cannot hear the sirens anymore.
And… And… I know that Nolan used to leave the windows open at night.
I know h-he liked to hear the crickets outside while he slept…
And... Oh, God. What is a Nolan?
I know… I know my ABCs.
I know… I know…