Chapter Four

Louise was feeling good – purposeful for the first time since it happened. She felt guilty for her mood. But hers was the kind of personality that thrived on feeling useful, and she could outpace her guilt as long as she remained busy and needed.

She peeked in on Becky’s room, where the girl – Amy, she reminded herself – was sleeping again. Though Louise had been caring for her for four days now, she had only learned her name that morning. Amy, as it turned out, was not in high school as Louise had believed, but 23 years old, a college graduate, and a bookstore employee. After overcoming a brief initial shyness, the girl had proved talkative, charming, and genuinely grateful, though still somewhat disoriented.

It was good that Amy was asleep again, but Louise would be surprised if she wasn’t fully recovered the next day, or sooner. In celebration of her new friend’s health, Louise wanted to make something special for dinner. Margaret had always been the more domestic of the couple, but Louise could find her way around a kitchen as long as her guest didn’t mind a lot of butter. She was old-fashioned that way, and not in many others. Trying not to let herself remember Margaret’s cooking, she turned to the task at hand.

It was a special occasion, so they’d have to have meat, and it would have to be chicken. The pigs were big enough to slaughter, but since she didn’t know if she’d be able to purchase fresh piglets, it might be safer to breed the two they’d been keeping. On the other hand, they already had too many chickens for her and Margaret to care for on their own, and now Louise was all alone.

On her dad’s farm, she grew up knowing how to slaughter and feather a bird. She’d done so the same day that she’d found Amy, when she noticed Margaret’s giant pot of soup was running low. It had always been her job; Lord knew Margaret couldn’t stomach the blood, and Becky was turning out to be just like her birth-mother.

There’s a sick girl in there right now. Remember on your own time. What else for dinner? Mashed potatoes, that’s easy enough. Better. And I can fry up some greens on the side.

She filled a large pot with water and set it on the stove. She added some salt, and turned the burner on. Humming tunelessly, she turned on the oven as well, then set about chopping potatoes. Working methodically, she allowed her mind to wander.

The farm was far too much for one person to run, though it didn’t matter much since there weren’t any customers. With a lot of work, one person could probably support herself, but it would be so much easier with just one more. She could convince Amy to help her, maybe. And who knew how many survivors there were, really? If the two of them could make it, surely other people had as well? If she could find them, and bring them back here, they could help her re-build. Louise knew the daydream was an indulgence, but she needed to hope for something.

Setting the potatoes aside until the pot began to boil, she retrieved the plucked chicken from the refrigerator. She cleaned it, then dusted it in paprika, salt, and pepper. Nothing particularly fancy, but easy and reliable. Finishing up, she realized the water was still cold.

Shit. The burner wasn’t working, and neither was the oven. No gas. She sighed, and returned the chicken and potatoes to the fridge. But if Louise was anything, she was determined.

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