Tuesday, 18 August 2009 - 8:46 pm


Dale came to talk to me today. He’s a private guy, though not in the way that Thorpe is, so I wondered what was up when he came to give me a hand where we wouldn’t be overheard.

I haven’t spent much time with him since he recovered from his shambler-inflicted injuries; I’ve been preoccupied, mostly with all the stuff around Ben. Before then, our exchanges were underpinned by his pain as I changed dressings and checked wounds. He always made an effort to keep his spirits up, though, always tried to bear a smile, even if it was strained. Or he’d make jokes of the subtle, wry kind.

Today, while we were looking through pillaged cupboards for any scraps of food that might be hiding, he couldn’t find that smile. He kept glancing at me, until I eventually gave in and asked him what was going on.

“The others told me what you did,” he said. “For me, at the landslide.”

I stared at him as I tried to figure out what he meant, what might matter that much to him. Then I remembered the CPR, the taste of dirt and growing dizzy as I tried to give him oxygen. They’d had to pull me off him when he came around. And then Dillon–

“I’m the only one who knows how.” It wasn’t the most inspired response, but it was all I could come up with on short notice. I hadn’t noticed how intent his eyes could get before then. They’re blue and just a little bit green.

“Yeah, but you still saved my life.” He shrugged and that strained smile ghosted past us. “I just wanted to… thank you.”

I hadn’t even realised. In all the hurt that followed, that one little fact had slipped right past me. Something small and hard swelled in my chest as I looked up at Dale and realised that he was right: I had saved him. I couldn’t save the ones closest to me, but I did save someone. It felt like that had to mean something, though I’m still figuring out what.

I didn’t want to make a big thing out of it, though; we all kept each other safe. And my tongue didn’t quite know what to do with itself.

“We’re all in this together.” I felt so lame. But what was I supposed to say? “Look after each other, you know?”

I went to pat his arm and he flinched. That was when I realised he was hurt – we were all battered by the landslide, flesh and bone bruised by the rocks and weight of earth, but he had been buried and hauled out rougher than any of us. I hadn’t even checked to see if there were any serious injuries at the time; I was too caught up in Dillon. Today, though, I had the chance to catch up with that. I made Dale show me his arm, saw the familiar swelling and bruising, and went to dig out the forearm brace I had at the bottom of my pack.

I paused when I got it out. I remembered, so clearly, the first time I saw it. My wrist was so sore, and Dillon had found the brace in the hospital and brought it to me. He had looked like such a good puppy when he handed it over and that alone had made me feel better about being broken.

I didn’t want to give it up. It felt like a part of us, Dillon and me, and there were so few left within my reach. But it was silly – just an object we had shared, one I had stained in the weeks that followed that moment, and Dale needed it. I put it on him before I changed my mind. He saw my hesitation and asked if I was all right. So I told him. There didn’t seem any point in beating about the bush. His face fell, but I fastened the straps anyway. It’s not like anyone else was using it.

After Dale’s hurts were dealt with, I went to check on everyone else. Late, but at least I got there in the end. I hadn’t even realised how many of us were still mud-coloured and smeared with the dirt that tried to swallow us. We’re clay people, different shapes made from the same pressed earth.

I’d do anything for a shower. There’s plenty of soap but no water to spare. I think that sums us up perfectly: so many intentions but a vital piece missing.

We have enough to drink, enough to get by. That will have to do for now.