Kevin Richard White
My husband wanted to rest. I said, no, not yet. Not until we get to the boat over there.
I knew it had been there for some time. I knew it was our way out. So resting was not an option.
But I knew once we got out and down the river, we could talk about all the shit we needed to talk about. How we were going to eat, how we were going to catch rainwater. How we would stop the flowing pus and open sores. How to keep predators at a distance.
“Swing low, sweet chariot,” he cooed.
“Shut up,” I said.
We had only been together a year. We hadn’t figured out most things yet. It’s a shame, he’s so sweet, but he needed more of an edge. I am more refined. I am a knife. He’s a stick.
I turned around. He was a lot younger than me. But he was slow. Because we acquired the same wounds, bled our blood. With a good downwind stream, maybe we would hit our old camp in two days. Surely they would recognize us. We had warpaint and bore barbarian-like jewelry on our wrists now, but we still carried the same affable charm that got us into the group to begin with.
I just wish we never went into that abandoned store. I just wish he dodged instead of parried. I also just wish that I didn’t lose my train of thought.
Pushing through thorns and nearly falling to one knee, the boat was indeed still there. It definitely wasn’t going to take you on a cruise, but it was going to take you somewhere. There was just enough gas in it to get us to where we needed to go. I had hoped to find more, but I also was looking for cigarettes and a vibrator and found neither, so that’s how it goes.
“Andrea,” he panted. I could tell he was in pain.
I turned around again. He was getting whiter in the face, weaker in the movements. If he made it ten miles, I’d be shocked.
“Get your ass in that boat and start that motor,” I said. “There’s no time to play.”
He laughed and winced. Blood painted his teeth. “They should have made you a general in Vietnam,” he said. “Maybe we would have won.”
I smirked. “Come on. Let’s get home and fix you up.”
Supply missions never get appreciated. If you bring home a box of crackers and some rags, you get a golf clap. If you bring home nothing, you’re vilified. But if you bring home two death wounds and a shrug, you get a brief funeral around a Duraflame and become a hero. A disgusting legacy. I’d rather have the crackers.
We clamored in, just big enough for us both. “Hurry,” I said. “Start it.”
He pulled at the rope like he was a horny schoolboy.
“Jesus, Cory,” I said, and pushed him aside. It took me a few tries, but I got it going.
The boat sputtered, lurched, almost kind of vomited in a way, but found its footing and went slow down the river.
When we were away from any adversaries, I took a moment to look Cory over. He was fucked. He was pouring sweat and the bite marks on his neck and rib cage were practically breathing, thick with pus and blood and already vibrant and teeming. Infection these days do not take long, and when it gets to the heart, there’s no stopping it. I sighed. He was a temporary husband, but I wanted him to last longer than a calendar month. I tried to cry, but I couldn’t bring myself to it. You lose so many people, so many things, that after a while it becomes a nuisance. You don’t even want heaven or a warm bed after the shit you go through. You just want to get home.
He felt my pity. A weakness on my own part. He was going to die on me, though.
“I love you,” I said without thinking or meaning it.
He jerked forward, as if the thought made him animatronic.
“Sure,” he said.
“I do,” I said, softening.
He waved me off and made this bizarre lip-smacking motion. Fighting for air. “I fucked up. How many times can you give your love to a fuckup?”
Should have dodged instead of parried, I thought. But I couldn’t say it. I put my hand in the river alongside me and let the cool water wash off the sweat and salt on my skin. I let it glide over my calloused fingers. I smeared my warpaint with my finger and then used it to trace my apologies on his lips.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
He waved me off again. “Tell everyone I said hello,” he said. “I haven’t got long.”
“No,” I said, my voice cracking.
“At least let me die with dignity. Don’t lecture me like you did the rest.”
“I wouldn’t dream of such a thing,” I whispered.
He eventually passed out. Blood congealed around him and in the boat. It thickened and created a lacquer of sorts which was good so the boat didn’t get any holes as it went its course. After a while, I shed my clothes and let my hair down and straddled him. He moaned a few times, but I assured him, whispered in his ear that this was how warriors died, and I continued to give him anything I could as our boat continued the path. How I continued the path. How I managed to create the right amount of distance.
The water, thankfully quiet, allowed us such a moment.
Kevin Richard White’s fiction has appeared in Hobart, Rejection Letters, X-R-A-Y and various other places. He is responsible for the literary podcast No Edit. He lives in Philadelphia.