Lenore

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LENORE


She waited until the door shut behind him as a clear mark of his departure before she rose to shaky legs and moved away from the edge of the building as quickly as possible. In a way, she was grateful that he pushed her and made her stretch the bounds of her limits, but now that he was gone she felt the need to bend over double and dry heave. Her bare feet stumbled over the uneven surface of the ground and she stubbed her toe. Letting out a loud curse, she paused to let the pain pass, thankful it did not break the skin or a bone. Once the pain and resulting tingling subsided, she made her way to the makeshift trough she had hobbled together with Davidson. The mesh wiring across the top looked a little worse for the wear, but it continued to do its function. Careful not to catch her hand on the rough edges of the wire, she began the process of sliding it across the top and laying it beside the trough.

Only once she had removed the protective screen did she realize she had forgotten to bring their refilling bucket from the apartment. She thought about replacing the screen, returning to the apartment to pick up the bucket, and repeating the entire process over again but it was not a pleasing thought. She glanced around the area adjacent to the trough and found a spare bucket sitting upside down on the ground. Picking it up, she flipped it over to inspect the inside. A bit beat up, perhaps, but looked clean enough to handle the job she had in mind. Trips to the roof took more and more out of her as days continued to pass, and with the potential of a storm brewing on the horizon, she wanted to limit the number of trips this task would take. She wondered if she would get away with just one trip and could hope for some colder water with the coming rain, but didn’t want to press her luck. The water level in the trough was getting dangerously low quickly, and she didn’t want to run the risk of someone else taking the last bucketful because she had been too lazy now.

The thick plastic bucket felt heavy while empty. Lowering it into the trough sideways and scooping up water, she did not look forward to the climb back down the four flights of stairs with a full load. And to think she originally planned on carrying two buckets at a time if she had had them available. As she lifted the bucket and placed it down on the ground next to her, just that idea felt laughable now.

Affixing the mesh atop the trough was twice the task of removing it and took four times the effort and patience. The long sheet was thin and tended to bend under its own weight, making it hard to wrestle while trying not to cut her hands to shreds. While they were on duty, Davidson and Lenore always performed this step of the process together. By herself, it took a lot more concentration.

Even with the cool air, she guessed it to be around sixty degrees, she felt herself starting to perspire slightly by the time she had righted the mesh and was ready to carry the bucket downstairs.

As she bent over to grab the sides of the bucket and lift - the handle had long since broken - the rooftop door opened. Thinking it was Davidson returning, she did not look up until she had the bucket situated safely in both arms. The sight of Daniel crossing the rooftop in front of her surprised her. Daniel had never shown interest in water duty, and she couldn’t ever remember seeing him up on the roof before. She got the impression that, like herself, he didn’t like to look over the top of the building and face the harsh reality of their predicament.

“Do you need water?” she asked, hoping the answer was no. The thought of setting the bucket back down and removing the mesh once again did not appeal to her in the slightest.

“If I could just borrow a handful from yours, I would be forever grateful.” Davidson cautioned everyone that while they started to cut back on their food consumption, they should continue a healthy intake of water. Eight cups a day was of course out of the question completely, but he suggested as least three or four while possible. It sometimes helped squash the constant hunger as well. Lenore would have been surprised if Daniel averaged two cups of water a day. She wondered if he even bothered to refill his sink in between storms when Davidson and Lenore set about the task.

“Of course.” Squatting to her knees, she returned the bucket to the ground to make the transfer easier. As she set the bucket down, his clenched fist opened and she saw the two pills he held in his hand. “Everything okay?” she asked, surprised to see he even had any medicine left. In the early days, when the situation was expected to be short term, no one had worried about conserving supplies, and pain killers and bandages were some of the first supplies they ran out of. They were fortunate enough to still find a few first aid supplies and medicines every once in a while on a shopping day, but those instances were becoming rarer, and Daniel was perhaps the last person she expected to have excess to them if they did show up, besides herself.

“Just a headache,” he replied, but she knew it had to be more serious than that to be using the sparse pain killers. His response implied that he wished not to discuss the matter any further though, so she happily obliged.

Cupping her hands together, she dipped them into the bucket. The cool water felt like a slice of heaven over her hands, and she remembered just how bad she yearned for a shower or a bath. Knowing how impractical that desire was, she wished for the skies to open and rain down sweetness upon them so she could as least cleanse a layer of filth from herself. Holding her hands up, she pressed the sides of her hands against each other with as much pressure as she could so as not to waste a single drop. Water was not a commodity to be wasted.

He popped the pills simultaneously into his mouth and then grasped her wrists gently in his hands. Moving them up, he tilted his head down to meet them. His nose brushed the tips of her fingers as he lowered his mouth to her cupped hands and drank the water from them. A shiver danced across her hands and up her arms but she chose to ignore it. Being stuck with only six other people made the yearning for human touch and interaction a constant desire, but she tried not to fall victim to the need.

Releasing her hands, he tilted his head back and downed the pills in a swallow. “Thanks,” he told her as his head dropped back down and his eyes caught hers looking at him.

“Of course,” she responded again. Then she bent down and retrieved the bucket once more.

“If you are heading back down now, I can carry that for you.”

She hated asking for assistance or favors, but her back was already starting to ache and she wasn’t one to turn down help when it was so readily offered. “If it wouldn’t trouble you, I would appreciate it, I assure you.”

It was his turn to respond with an, “Of course.” He picked up the bucket as if it were filled with feathers and moved swiftly towards the stairwell door, forcing Lenore to propel herself after him. When they reached the door, she moved around his side to open it for him before he could mess with readjusting the bucket in his arms. She held the door and let him pass first into the stairwell. Call it cowardliness, but when traveling in pairs or in a group, Lenore preferred to position herself in the rear or in the middle, especially when moving through the stairwell.

A bright glow awaited them halfway down the first set of stairs, much brighter than the soft glow that had guided her when she made the climb up. Anna must have finished her daunting task of winding up all the mechanical flashlights positioned in the stairwell while Lenore was on the roof. The warmer, brighter glow of the lights helped comfort the constant unease she felt in the stairwell. When she reached the landing on the 14th floor, however, she still paused for a moment to check to make sure the door was shut tightly before quickening her pace to catch back up with Daniel.

When she reached the landing on the 11th floor, Daniel was waiting, the bucket held between his body and the wall. His eyes were squeezed shut and a look of severe pain masked the entirety of his face. She worried that his simple headache was something much more serious, something the ibuprofen would do little to help. When she paused beside him and his eyes still remained closed, Lenore moved to take the bucket from him. “Come on,” she urged gently with a rib of her elbow into his side, “let’s get you back to the apartment.”

His eyes opened and he followed her without a word. She paused when they reached his apartment, and she decided on impulse to follow him in as he opened the door even though she was not expressly invited in. Setting the bucket down right inside the front door, she scurried as she followed him into the apartment. She passed through the kitchen and the living space, and paused only when she reached the door of his bedroom that he had entered.

“Are you going to be okay until the pain killers kick in?” she asked, perched in the doorway, unsure if she should invite herself into the deepest part of his apartment.

“I’ll be fine,” he said towards the door as he peeled off the wife beater he wore and tossed it to the floor of his closet. His movements then stilled and his hands went to rub his temples.

“Are you sure?” she pressed as she took one hesitant step into his bedroom.

He turned to face her, his bare chest exposed. “I assure you, I do not need a babysitter or a nurse.”

His tone was harsher than needed and she was tempted to turn around and exit without another word, but she could tell he wasn’t doing well. He collapsed on the bed on top of his sheets without another word and closed his eyes, reaching blindly for a pillow to pull over his head.

She moved towards the foot of his bed cautiously and then perched on the edge of end of the bed. When he didn’t protest from the intrusion, she set about removing his shoes.

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