A hint of the song played somewhere deep in her mind, and with it came the memories that were both a blessing and a curse. They only came when she slept and always with a whisper of the song that Jody had played on the school's piano.
No one else was around, and she certainly should not have been roaming the school halls after hours. But the quiet peacefulness of school was comforting when there was no one else around. She preferred the quiet, which caused people to think she was shy when she was actually a loner.
In some ways it was good that she had never needed people around.
Carmella followed the faint tinkling of the piano keys, liking the melody.
Later, Jody would explain that it was a song called "Arpeggi" by a group called Radio Head. But that would be a future—one that she would have liked to keep frozen and permanent.
Carmella stared through the glass of the closed door and watched the teen's fingers as they moved across the keys. She recognized him but hadn't known that he'd had a talent for more than reading books and making good grades. In a word, he was a nerd—but it was still one step up from being a loner.
The dream-Carmella watched the pale skinny boy with the strikingly black hair through the glass of the door, and she longed to throw open that door and fling herself at him.
But the dream-her didn't know him yet, and the real-her had lost him a long time ago.
Carmella blinked her eyes but didn't otherwise move. For a moment the memory of Jody was so fresh it sent a sharp pain right to the center of her chest. She stared at the ceiling until she could breathe. It always took her a moment to push the memories back into a place where they did not drive her mad. And perhaps there would come a day when they would no longer retreat neatly back to that special place where she kept her memories, and then she truly would be mad.
Carmella leaped to her feet as she remembered what day it was. It was Sunday, and there was a lot to do. She used the slop bucket, and as she carried it outside, she paused on the back porch and scanned the yard.
Yes, she considered the acres upon acres of farmland to be her yard. Her "yard" didn't stop at the end of the farm. Carmella's land ran as far as the eye could see to the Ohio River and beyond.
She began the arduous task of pumping and hauling water back to the house and heating it on her wood cook stove for her bath.
Sunday she could luxuriate in the bath. Heating the water and filling the big tub was too much of a task to do every day, so for the rest of the week she used a washbasin to clean herself. But on Sundays she allowed herself this small luxury. She sang old songs but only the parts she could remember. And as the water heated she tended to the bread. Her kitchen always had a pleasant, fresh-baked smell because of the starter dough that sat on the counter. Every morning she fired up her cook stove, baked her bread, milked the cow, and collected eggs. Her breakfast was usually scrambled eggs, bread with fresh butter, and milk still warm from its source.
It took nearly two hours to fill the tub. She had timed it long ago. Carmella lit several candles and situated them in her large bathroom, and then she tested the water and found it was bearable. She kept one bucket of hot water in the corner to heat the bath as it cooled. Carmella stepped into the tub with a sigh of pleasure. The most expensive bath beads that she could find in Macy's in downtown Cincinnati colored the water sea foam green and exuded a fresh ocean aroma. She picked up a book, a paperback imprinted with the image of two white people on the cover, which promised an interesting romantic journey. She had several hundred paperbacks that neatly filled one room. Sometimes she picked them because the cover made her remember something she had long forgotten, like cell phones. How could she have forgotten cell phones?
But after so long a cell phone was the last thing worth remembering …
Carmella lost track of time in the bath. She had the book half-read and the water was tepid by the time she stepped out. She padded into the bedroom naked and dried off while standing in front of her mirror. She had no interest in the way she looked, but if she bothered to glance into the mirror, she would see a thirty-eight-year-old woman with medium brown skin and long dreadlocks that ran down her back to her buttocks. She stood 5-9, and though more thickly built than thin, she was almost pure muscle. Her face was unpleasant, not because she was unattractive, but because her eyes fluctuated between a look of wild desperation and lost confusion. Her eyes rose momentarily and took in the sight of the wild thatch of black hair that nestled under her arms and between her thighs.
"When I was back at home, I used to trim that," she said dispassionately before dressing in a pretty blue dress that still had the price tag on it: "$1,799.99." She examined it before ripping off the tag with a cackle. "That one fucking penny! Always that one fucking penny!"
By the time she reached the bottom of the stairs, Carmella had tears in her eyes from laughing so hard. When she reached her neat kitchen, Carmella put the chicken in the oven. She'd slaughtered it yesterday and got it ready so she wouldn't have to spill blood on Sunday. Once a week she sacrificed a chicken to Sunday dinner, but there were enough chickens left that she would never have to worry about it. There were probably more chickens in the world than there were humans.
She knew this to be true, because she was the last person on Earth.
Not that she'd walked the entire Earth. But the last time she'd seen a person was eight years ago. Maggie. Maggie was mad, the crazy kind of mad—though she was angry too, which was why they couldn't continue to live together. So yeah … two people on Earth.
Carmella and a crazy white woman named Maggie.