“Eddie, what are we going to have for supper?” Sean asked. The older children were taking turns cooking supper, now that Edward was trying to do more work at night.
“I don’t care. Whatever’s in there.” Edward went to the pantry, pawed through the box on the floor, and pulled out two cans of sardines, canned potatoes, and canned tomatoes. “Here, we can eat this.”
“Or heat it up over the fireplace. I don’t care.”
“Lalasa doesn’t like tomatoes,” Sean said.
Edward clenched his fists in frustration. “Then don’t make them. I don’t care, but this is all we have. I will try to get more today, but I don’t have any control over what I find.”
“Do whatever the hell you want, okay?”
Hazel put her head into the pantry. “Eddie, we’re almost out of Abadocil.”
“Then I’ll go get some more!” he shouted. He pushed past them, ignoring Hazel’s hurt expression. I can’t do this, he thought. I gotta get out of here.
Edward walked through the twilit streets towards the Crawfords’ house. They had moved the boxes of Abadocil there for convenience and to keep them safer from looters. He knocked on the door and Nikola answered.
“Hey. I need more Abadocil,” Edward said. “Just give me a case, so it’ll last a while.”
Nikola hesitated. “Eddie, we’ve decided not to give out any more.”
Edward looked hard at her. “What? To anyone?”
“No, just to those children staying in your house. We’re running low and it’s going to be gone soon.”
“So who decided that?”
“Noah and I. Listen, Eddie, I’ll give more for you, but we just can’t afford to give them all away, just like that.”
He stared at her until she looked away uncomfortably. “Why the children, Nikola? They only take half the dose an adult does. Are you stopping them for your children too?”
“No, just the ones in your house.”
“Just mine?” he shouted in disbelief.
“They’re not yours, Eddie,” she shot back. “If they were, we’d do something, but they’re not. They’re orphans. I don’t like it either—I hate it, but there’s nothing we can do. The truth is that if we use them all up, we could all die. It’s for the greater good.”
He continued to stare at her, too furious to speak. “Look,” she said. “All the Geiger counters are dead, but who knows? Maybe the radiation has decreased. Maybe they’ll be okay.”
“Maybe?” he shouted. He reached out and grabbed her by the throat, slamming her back against the door. “Maybe? Why don’t you stop the meds and see for yourself what maybe looks like, you scrygging cow?”
“Get your filthy hands off my wife, Eddie.” Edward turned and saw Noah just inside the door, pointing a hunting rifle at him. Edward let her go and she staggered back, gasping.
“This is what I’m going to do,” Edward said slowly. “I’m going to come in and take a case of Abadocil and I’m going to go home. Okay?”
“You don’t get to make the rules, Eddie,” Noah said. “You’re not the law.”
You’re not the law. The words echoed in Edward’s head. There was no law now. No law. It was an exhilarating, terrifying thought. He could do whatever he wanted, and so could anyone else.
“You’re wrong,” he said to Nikola, who was holding her throat and looking up at him with murder in her eyes. “When you said those children aren’t mine. They are mine now, and I’m going to do everything I can for them. Okay?”
Without warning, Edward grabbed the muzzle of the gun, thrusting it into the air. The rifle went off, shooting high. Edward smashed the stock back into Noah’s chest, knocking him down and wrenching the gun from his hands.
Five minutes later, Edward left, carrying the rifle and two cases of Abadocil. He had stuffed all the bullets he could find into his pockets. He strode down the road, cursing and kicking rocks furiously out of the way. He hated the Crawfords for trying to play God with his kids; he hated the Central Bloc for starting the war that ended civilization; he hated his own government for bungling negotiations and refusing to compromise on that small strip of land, which had ratcheted up tensions until there was no going back. He hated Ramya for dying and leaving him all alone, and he hated himself most of all: for losing his temper, for being weak and incompetent, and for thinking unfair thoughts about the dead. Tears started down his cheeks at the thought of Ramya and he hated them too.
Supper was ready when he got back. Sean and Portia had made a concoction of potatoes and sardines, mashed together and heated up, with tomatoes on the side in deference to Lalasa’s tastes. Edward had to admit it was pretty good, all things considered.
“Listen,” he said. They looked up at him expectantly. “I have medicine for all of us for a while. All of you have to take three pills a day, okay? No matter what. Make sure Ernesto takes his too. We have to hide it though because people might try to take it. I made some people mad today. Keep the doors locked all the time. Nobody—nobody except us ever comes in here, okay? Promise?”
He made them promise and the solemn looks on their faces showed him they understood the seriousness of the situation. He was glad.
“Now, there is a committee meeting tonight. I’d better go and make some things clear,” he said, standing up. “Lock the door and don’t worry; I’ll be back soon.”
The meeting had already started when he got there, but everyone stopped when he walked in. He carried Noah’s rifle, loaded, but held casually in one hand.
“What’s gotten into you, Eddie?” Kaine Bowlery asked. “Weren’t you the one that said this was about us, not you, and now you assault the Crawfords and steal medicine?” Noah was there, glowering darkly at him.
“Stealing?” Edward said. “I thought we were in this together. If one person refuses to help another, telling him that his kids can go die, is that any better?”
“Are you trying to be the boss, Eddie?” Kaine asked.
“I’m here to stick up for my own, and I’ll stick up for you too,” Edward said. “What if the Crawfords decide next week that there isn’t enough medicine for your family, Kaine? Or for you, Abdul? What if only the white people are allowed medicine, or only those whose last name is Crawford?”
A few people were nodding, but most looked doubtful. “We are going to have one rule in this town,” he continued. “Everything is free. Everything. It’s free for all. That means that if I have more than I need, then I’ll give to you, and if you have more than you need, you give to me. No hoarding.”
“You’ll never have more than you need with that gaggle of brats,” someone said. “It’ll just be you, taking and taking from the rest of us.”
“Hey, I took them in when none of you would. What can I do: I’m their Uncle Octopus.”
“More like a squid,” Noah said, “sticking your tentacles into everyone else’s business.”
“So a squid is worse than an octopus?” Edward asked, but no one answered. A few minutes later, he left and went home.
The next morning, Edward got up before sunrise and walked through the town, looking for untouched houses where he could scavenge for food. He walked past the main roundabout and saw a new message spray-painted under his:
It’s free f’r all, as long as you pay the Squid first.
For some reason, it amused him and he laughed as he continued on his way.
(to be concluded)