The electricity had been flickering all day. It wasn't unexpected, but Julilla hadn't prepared. Money had always been short in her mother's household, and what little there was of it was becoming more worthless by the day. Julilla had been willing to steal the necessities that made her mother's death less painful, but was reluctant to do any looting on her own behalf. Now, however, as she looked out the window and pondered the last news report she had been able to catch on the radio, she realized she would have to change her strategy.
She had been lucky to find any news at all, under the circumstances. People had been dying en masse for weeks. Food deliveries to the stores became erratic, then stopped. Hospitals overflowed with patients no doctor could cure because there was no cure, and the doctors themselves were dying. Gangs roamed the streets looking for food and opportunity, while panicked reporters urged calm on TV and radio until the newscasts stopped, the reporters and producers too ill or too dead to go on.
Someone had managed to keep an AM radio station alive, though, and this was the staticky airwave where Julilla learned that that no federal troops, or even the UN, would come to their aid. The virus had spread too fast, and the only hope was that somewhere, some scientists had been able to isolate themselves in time to stay alive long enough to find a cure.
All this left Julilla in a quandary. She had made it her life's mission to be everything her mess of a mother was not, and she promised her Aunt Veegee before she died that she would live by her principles, even if it shortened her life. But now as she gazed at the street outside her cheap tenement, she considered the matter more carefully. Of course it was wrong to steal, but was it unethical to take from the dead? If the lawmakers and enforcers were dead, were there any laws? And if not, what did it matter if she took what she needed from the empty shops and apartments?
Although she already knew the pitiful contents of the apartment by heart, honor required that she steal only what she needed. She therefore assessed once more the pantry bare of all but a few cans of beans and packets of ramen noodles, and the dresser drawers full of clothes that were inadequate to the coming winter. The bathroom was short on soap and toilet paper, and contained no medicine of any kind, except the pills that were supposed to curb her mother's addiction but did nothing, since she refused to take them. If Jullila was to survive, she would need everything she could lay hands on, and maybe even a new place to live. Perhaps with so many vacant homes, it wouldn't be so terrible to upgrade.
Her mind was spinning fantasies of luxury apartments with plush sofas and down comforters, when the lights flickered and went out for what would be the last time. Her thoughts returned to present, and she went to the kitchen where she retrieved a candle stub from a drawer and lit it with her mother's old lighter. Here was another thing she would have to plan for, now that her world would be lit no more except by candles.
Well, what of it? She took a can of beans out of the pantry. Life had always been hard, and Jullila was used to lighting her own path.
This was written for Sunday Scribblings 2.