Monday, 22 June 2009 - 7:33 pm

For all of us

Today was the day. Matt’s birthday, our celebration.

It seems silly to spend so much time and effort on something so unimportant. I don’t regret any of it, though; it was worth all the frustration and hours sorting things out in secret. Sometimes we need to do more than live hand-to-mouth. Sometimes we need to do more than the basics to survive. There just has to be more for us in this hard life After.


The first thing we did was make stew. Canned meat and vegetables, powdered gravy, and the biggest pot we could find, balanced precariously over the fire. The smell of it rolled out across the whole warehouse, drawing the others over even before it was ready. The injured were lying close to the fire anyway – we kept them in where it was warm – and those who didn’t follow their noses were fetched.

That included the Wolverines. They weren’t going to come and I considered sending someone else over to get them, but after yesterday I thought it was better if I did it myself. We wanted them to join us, share in the food and what was coming after. Jersey looked at me with distrust, wondering if I had forgotten my rant at him, and Conroy snorted derisively.

Yesterday is yesterday, I told them. What’s done is done, so let’s move on. There’s plenty for everyone and we want them to come sit with us.

They came eventually, when the smell of the stew got too much to resist. Everyone ate hungrily; for a while, the only sound was spoons scraping in bowls. Cans of drink had been circulated. Bowls emptied and bellies filled up, and chatter fluttered around the fire. I had butterflies vying for space in my stomach, because it was almost time. Candles were being passed around and lit, one flame for each hand.

I hate speeches. I’ve never been good at them. Sally had to nudge me before I’d stand up and ask for everyone’s attention.


“Not many of you know this, but today is the 22nd of June. Matt’s birthday.”

I think he looked more surprised than anyone else; he had forgotten, too.

“I don’t know how many birthdays we’ve missed so far this year, and I don’t know how many we’ll have after this one. So I’d like today to be for all of them. All the ones we forgot, the ones we didn’t get to celebrate. All the ones we might not get to, though I hope we’re able to do this again soon.”

I didn’t mention our dead, the birthdays we’ll never get to celebrate, but they were there with us anyway. I think we all felt them.

“Let’s raise a drink together, for another year past, another year older and, hopefully, wiser.”

To my surprise, Sally spoke up to add to the toast: “For making it this far.”

Masterson: “For Matt, for giving us the excuse.”

Thorpe: “For keeping each other safe.”

Dillon: “For being with good friends.”

The words almost stopped entirely as they reached the Wolverines, but Dale was awake and murmured something I barely caught. “For seeing tomorrow.”

Jersey scowled, but added: “For not forgetting the ones who aren’t here.”

Conroy: “For… the power of Greyskull? Okay, I got nothing.” But he did make us laugh and we all needed it.

Matt was the last one left, sitting next to me. His eyes were shining with tears and I didn’t dare look at him directly; my throat was already thick with emotion and meeting his gaze would just set me off. I hadn’t expected the toast to go that way, stuttering around the circle.

He swallowed and lifted his candle rather than his glass. I don’t know if he did it on purpose or not. “For the things that make all the shit worthwhile,” was his quiet contribution.

One by one, the candles lifted, as if we were all part of some great birthday cake, burning our occasion into the air before we brought them down and snuffed them out. The scorch of burnt wick curled around us, comforting in its familiarity, and the toast was completed with the obligatory mouthful of drink.

I had to clear my throat before I could speak again, because it didn’t want to work. “Now, no birthday would be complete without presents. We should have something for everyone, so… bear with us.”

Sally got up to help me hand out the things we’d hidden away until today. I didn’t realise until then that none of us had had Christmas. That’s what all this reminded me of: the celebration we were robbed of when the bomb went off. Something felt right deep in my chest as we gave the bags to their recipients, as if maybe this was a step towards mending what was wrong in the world, even though I knew it couldn’t change the sky, or the rain, or the shamblers threatening our doorstep.

Their reactions made it all worth it. A wealth of razor blades and shaving gel for the boys (they struggled to keep their faces shaved with no water to waste on it, except Dillon, of course). Heavy-duty gloves for Thorpe (he lost his firefighting gloves some time ago). A soccer ball for Dillon (with promises that we’ll kick it around when his leg is better). A shirt with ‘My bark’s worse than my bite’ across the chest for Masterson (he was amused, and I didn’t tell him that Sally helped me pick it out). A knitted sweater with a cat on the front for Nugget (she grinned and went to show Thorpe). A pair of maternity pants for Sally (she looked at the stretchy waist in puzzlement for a minute, then quickly folded them away). A jaunty black-and-white scarf and gloves with each finger a different colour of the rainbow for Matt (he laughed at the gloves, putting them on and wiggling his fingers).

Even the Wolverines were included, though from their expressions they weren’t expecting to be a full part of this. I wasn’t going to skimp, though; it’s not like any of this was costing us money. They got knitted ski hats with a wolf-like logo, from the one supply of winter equipment we found.


There was drinking and talking, and after a while some singing. I still miss Sax’s voice riding under ours, carrying us along in the tunes. I still miss Ben’s hand in mine. Jersey might not have been referring to them when he offered his addition to the toast, but I’m glad he said it. Our friends haven’t been forgotten.

Matt caught up with me when I was fetching more drinks and stole a hug. He had his scarf knotted decoratively on one side despite the chill, like I knew he would.

“You don’t mind that I hijacked your birthday?” I asked.

“Are you kidding?” He grinned like I haven’t seen him do in so long and flipped one end of his scarf extravagantly over his shoulder. “I got presents; I’m happy.” He took my face in his brightly-gloved hands and leaned in to kiss my forehead. For one heart-thumping moment, I thought he was going to kiss me properly, and I was almost disappointed when he didn’t. “Thanks, Faithy.”

He hasn’t called me that in years, not since I asked my friends to call me ‘Mac’. It’s the form of my name that my dad has always used and brought a lump into my throat again. I hugged him tightly with my one good arm until he laughingly groaned in protest, but he stroked my hair while he waited for me to let him go again, as if he knew that my eyes were wet.

When I had control of myself again, I gave him a smile. “Happy birthday.”