She was knitting when it happened. She was nearly always knitting. She couldn’t focus unless she was doing something with her hands and then, once her hands were occupied, she thought only about the movement of her fingers.
Elaine was making a sweater for herself. She only ever made things for herself. She wasn’t married, had no children, and her brother had died in a car accident fifteen years prior. In addition to knitting, Elaine was shopping around her novel manuscript about a single older woman with no children who avenged her brother’s death in a car accident by killing the drivers of the other car. By shopping around she meant that she took the novel manuscript with her wherever she went in a rolling briefcase for whenever she ran into a writer or editor that could help her get the novel published. A person could find writers nearly everywhere if they looked hard enough. She sat through readings and talks, yarn spinning around her fingers until the author was finished speaking and then, when the writer was left exposed, she would thrust the pages of her novel into their empty, vulnerable hands. Elaine had given out dozens of copies of her book this way. She sat around waiting for the phone to ring with a book offer, knitting herself sweaters and listening to the white noise of the printer making a new copy of her novel.
No one told her that work was cancelled when the apocalypse happened, which she found mildly irritating because she could’ve used the commute to make further progress on her sweater. The following three days she called into the office to see if work was still cancelled and when no one picked up she settled in her lazy boy chair with her knitting needles and yarn. It was not unlike her yearly staycation that she took every spring in lieu of flying somewhere to visit someone as she had no one to go see. Elaine only began to feel a sense of panic when she ran out of yarn and realized that the craft store was also closed and the craft store was never closed on a Friday at 4pm. It felt like the end of the world to Elaine. This was because it was. She did not speak in hyperbole.
Elaine lived in a medium sized city. She had moved there for a job opportunity and never made friends outside of work. There were a couple women her age that she often saw at readings, also toting rolling briefcases behind them that she occasionally said hello to, but they had never hung out separately from the arranged function. The city didn’t look any different than it always looked. The buildings were still standing, but everything was empty and silent. Elaine considered the possibility that everyone had just picked up and left without her. She often had this feeling of being left out, a feeling that was somehow worse than the thought that the entire city lay dead in their homes.
Without any yarn, Elaine didn’t know what do with herself. She tried turning on the television to see what was happening on the news, but only white noise appeared. Then, the following day, the power went out completely and then the water went out and Elaine was left alone in her home with no power, no water, and no yarn.
With nothing left to occupy her hands, Elaine took to the streets. There wasn’t much gas in her car. Elaine was one of those people that always liked to push the tank as far as it could go before it emptied. Luckily, she had her rolling briefcase. She packed two peanut butter sandwiches, a bottle of water, what she’d finished knitting of her sweater, and her novel manuscript.
It had been years since Elaine had walked more than a couple of blocks. She didn’t consider herself to be out of shape because she never did anything that made her tired. Her body was capable of taking her from the parking lot to the grocery store, the parking lot to the craft store, of sitting for hours on end while she worked on her various knitting projects. Her body did all the things it needed to do until the world ended.
She grew tired faster than she had expected. She had thought she would reach some sort of outcropping of new civilization before hitting the point of exhaustion. Really all that it took was three blocks, her rolling bag prone to overturning on the uneven streets. She sat on the curb and began to cry, an action that never looked attractive on her face. While she cried, a rumble started on the streets. She was certain that this rumble indicated some further death of the earth, an earthquake or volcano, but then the women appeared, in their oversized skirts and sweaters and sensible shoes, dragging their rolling briefcases behind them. They had formed a cluster, a cluster that created a rumble of wheels on the street. Elaine recognized the two women she had seen in readings before, their faces flushed with sweat.
Though they were tired, the women were full of hope. Elaine felt a renewed strength in her limbs as she joined the back of the line. She felt comforted by the orderliness of it all, the line suggesting they had a purpose, some plan going forward. There were murmurs of a publishing house that survived in New York. The journey was many miles. It would take them weeks and months to get there. These were not women that gave up easily. These were women that dragged their lives behind them in rolling bags.
Tasha Coryell is an MFA Candidate in Fiction at the University of Alabama. She has recently had stories at [PANK], The Collagist, and Word Riot. Excerpts from her novel “This Isn’t Really About Fishing” have appeared on Hobart and Cartridge Lit.