Shelter

I squeezed Connie’s hand as she led me around the back of her house.

My hand brushed her side, and my fingers touched her sweater. Angora. She half turned and looked at me with a grin.

Her ponytail bounced on her shoulder.

“Come on, Jimmy,” she said.

Apparently, I was too slow for her.

I adjusted my glasses. It had been threatening rain all day, but the sky grew a fraction darker. I was concentrating on containing my excitement and not doing something stupid, like tripping over my shoes.

She stopped abruptly, and dropped my hand.

“This is the spot,” she said.

I looked around, puzzled. We were in the middle of her back yard. Trees swayed gently, the wind picking up the leaves and carrying them gently around the ground.

Connie sighed in exasperation. “Look down, silly.”

There was a lump of grass just beside her foot. I looked closer, and realized that this patch of grass wasn’t real.

She kicked it aside with her shoe, revealing what looked like an old wooden barn door. Beneath that was a shiny metal disc, with a handle that reminded me of a pot cover.

“Can you lift this thing for me?” she asked. “It’s heavy.”

I had to kneel to open it, but was able to pull it open without too much trouble.

“Your parents have a bomb shelter?” I asked.

She nodded slowly. “Want to see inside?”

***

She climbed down the narrow steps so quickly that I had no choice but to follow her.

Connie waited at the bottom of the stairs with a flashlight, which she put under her chin, casting hellish shadows across her face.

“Stop,” I said and got my arms around her.

She felt warm in my arms. She laughed, and I smelled strawberry bubblegum on her breath.

She moved away quickly, shining the flashlight against the walls as she did.

The built-in shelves were crowded with goods: glass jars filled with preserves, and shiny cans of vegetables.

The other corner of the room held a narrow bed, and Connie sat down. She brushed at the hem of her poodle skirt, her eyes never leaving mine.

“Connie, you know I like you. I don’t mind, but I’d like to know. You’ve brought other guys down here before, haven’t you?”

She shrugged. “It’s a waste of space, you know. My dad was in the war. So when people started to think we might be bombed by the Russians… He was probably the first on the block to have a shelter built.”

I sat down beside her. The flimsy mattress moved, and she nudged my arm companionably.

I hesitated, but only for a moment. We kissed.

I can’t be sure how long it was. Maybe only a few moments, but it felt longer. I remember her sweet breath, the softness of her skin. When she spoke, I wasn’t even sure what she was talking about. I wouldn’t understand until much later.

“It’s useless, these precautions people take. This fear of the end. Because every day it’s the end of the world for somebody.”

I never had time to respond. Those were the last words she spoke to me before she bit my neck.

***

When I woke, I was lying on the floor of the shelter.

Connie sat beside me. She had a jar of something. And she was stirring it with her finger.

It was thick, and red. My heart beat wildly at the sight of it.

“You’re right,” she said softly. “I’ve brought other boys here before. But you’re the only one I wanted to keep. Come on, baby. Take a drink.”

________________

© 2009 Lori Titus

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