We Live Unknown
by Audrey Prado
It’s been like this for two years now.
Just him — Andy and I for two long, isolated years. Nuclear war takes its toll on people . . . who would’ve thought? Well, no one, no one is really around to think anymore. Our thoughts became too out of control I suppose.
“Ilinca,” he starts. “Why did’ya parents name you, ‘Ilinca?’”
I’ve grown used to his questions. They’re random, but sometimes they’re kind of entertaining to answer. I wish we didn’t have to ask each other random questions to fill the time.
“My father is Romanian; he liked the name, so it’s my name. My mom liked it, too,” I answered truthfully. “Why are you named ‘Andrew?’”
“What d’ya mean? Andrew is a traditional name of the Bronx,” he said, shaking his head. “I see why you wouldn’t know, of course, seeing as yer from Connecticut.”
I snickered and rolled my eyes at him. “At least neither of us is from New Jersey,” I said sarcastically. I’m not even from New York, and I don’t hate New Jerseyans either; it’s just fun to make fun of them, or what was them.
“Yer damn right!” Andy exclaimed. “Did I ever tell you how glad I am that I got stuck with you?” He paused for a moment. “ I mean, you pull your own weight is all.”
I’m not sure what Andy’s and my relationship is. I don’t want us to become too attached to one another; I don’t want him, or me to feel the pain of losing the only other person in the world. I’ve already lost everyone else. I refuse to let either of us die and be alone in this hell.
“Uh, I’m going to go look for food.” I looked at the rifle to my side. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” I looked to the side awkwardly. I saw him look down and say something under his breath.
“I didn’t mean that — well, I did, but just — be safe?”
“Yeah. I will.”
I used to go hunting with my father; he’s the only reason I’m good at it. He was only good for about that much though. He was in the military, and I hated him for it. I started to hate anything related to the military, and for the longest time, I hated hunting. It’s not the killing I do it for. The rifle is just such a technical tool, I wanted to use it as much as possible. The more time he spent away from me, the more I hated going. Every time I fired a shot, all I could see was another person on the receiving end. I’ve never even seen a battlefield, and yet I feel traumatized by human conflict — and my father’s eagerness to participate in it.
Before all this, I was only 19 and on my way to becoming an ER nurse; I wanted to get away from the violence . . . an ironic decision on my part really. I’m glad I never got to see the end of my education, or the beginning of my medical career. I often wonder if I had done just one small thing different in life, maybe I could be with everyone else. I try not to think about these days though.
I’m traveling along a different route today; the one I usually go along has only squirrels or bunnies as of recently. We’ll both take what we’re given, but I don’t mind staying out a little longer to look for something bigger. It’s been a year and a half since I’ve seen a deer. I remember how happy Andy was when I put the thing on the sled and pulled it back to camp.
A year and half is a long time, considering everything . . . they’re probably extinct.
“Maybe they resorted to cannibalism, haha . . . ” I chuckled to myself. I thought about it for a little longer, then decided it would be better not to. I remember when Andy cooked the deer, we had only been together for about six months. It was the first time we had a real conversation; it was the first time I started to see him as something other than another unlucky survivor.
“Yer pretty handy with that thing, huh,” he said motioning towards the rifle at my side. He didn’t look at it.
“Thanks, my dad was pretty good with one, so I guess I learned a thing or two from him.”
“I never met my old man. I didn’t know that’s something usually taught . . . not many gals walkin’ round with their pa’s rifle, ya’ know?”
“I never used my dad’s. He never let me; I guess I broke that rule though . . . ”
“What’s it matter? He’s dead.”
I looked down at the venison in the plate we stole. “Yeah . . . Listen, You’re — you’re really lucky you never got to meet your dad. My dad — he wasn’t the best father. I’m jealous of you; you’ve been saved from the pain of loving someone and them just — just leaving you,” I answered, relieved to finally be able to say something.
“Let me guess,” he looked up at the sky, then back to me. “Dead-beat?”
“Ah, I see, a dead-beat alcoholic. You’re right, I am lucky.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “He was in the military.”
Andrew’s smirk vanished quickly, but quickly returned. “The worst of the worst, don’t ya think?”
I used to hate the military unnecessarily much. I really don’t give a damn anymore. It doesn’t exist anymore so there’s no reason to get so sensitive about it.
“I blamed the whole thing for a while, but I’ve realized it was only really my dad I was angry at. I still think the whole military is crappy, of course, but I have all the time in the world to accept my issues. Doesn’t mean I have to like it though.”
“You know how I got this scar on my face?” Andrew inquired.
“You — you don’t have to tell me. I’d understand. Maybe another time, or never?” I wasn’t sure if I should bring it up tonight. I wanted to ask, but it’s really not my place to even think about it.
“Nah, you got all gushy; I should be able to do the same,” he said, pausing, then continuing, “If I tell you, you think you could promise not to hate me for all the time we have left?”
“I promise. I won’t hate you.”
“I got burned, chemicals, fire, a chemical fire. Hurt like hell. I was 20 when it happened, so five years ago now.” He took a breath in. I’m not sure why I would hate him, but I’ll just let him finish.
“ Wasn’t part of the contract I signed when I joined the Army.”
The rest of that night was a blur. I never hated him, not then, and not now. I feel bad for him. The scar’s pretty big, covering most of the right side of his face and running down his neck. I wonder how far down it runs.
He told me once that his right eye is permanently damaged. He can’t see anything out of his peripheral vision, and has trouble seeing all together in that eye when the light is low. When the day turns to night, or if it’s just a dark day in general, he uses an LED lamp we got a while back.
He uses the light to draw — he likes drawing. I know I shouldn’t, but when he’s not looking, I look at what he draws. He’s very talented. Every time he draws a self-portrait, it’s only his left profile.
He’s even drawn me a couple of times. He draws me prettier than I actually am. One time he drew what he thought I looked like before we met. It wasn’t really accurate, but I guess it’s the artist’s interpretation.
I spotted a duck about 20 minutes ago. I’ve been following it, trying to see if it lives with others. I always make sure to observe my surroundings; I don’t have trouble remembering where I’ve been. Currently, I’m about three miles southwest of camp. The terrain is becoming more marsh-like. I hope the mallard is leading me to a lake or something of the sorts. It’ll take me 45 minutes at the shortest to walk back, so I hope this thing stops soon.
I track it for another five minutes and low and behold, there’s a lake. I look around me multiple times, keeping the location in my mind.
Six ducks in total, I’ll be able to get four, but I’ll try for all of them. It’s important to be quick, I’m not going to wait around for them; I’ll do it before they even leave the ground. Lucky for me, two of them are right next to each: killing two birds with one shot. I smirked to myself, even though it wasn’t very funny.
This excursion was a major boost to my ego. I got five with only four shots. I didn’t need a follow-up shot or anything! Unfortunately, one of them I got with one shot that hit two survived. I never liked killing things after the fact, but it is what it is. I try to make myself feel better.
“It would have just had a painful life not being able to do anything on its own. I was doing it a favor . . . killing it. Ilinca, it’s just a duck, no need to dwell on it.”
The sun is low in the sky. It’s about 4:00 in the afternoon; I need to start heading back. I know I’m heading the right way when I see them. A skeleton, a human one. It’s slumped against a great oak tree. It looks like an amalgamation of multiple trees, branches going in all directions. Every time I see it, I stare for a minute or so, then head back. Sometimes I think they’re lucky, sometimes I don’t.
We’re about 70 feet from each other; we’re both running to one another.
“I got five — ducks — I got five ducks!” I yelled at him.
“What?!” he yelled back.
I waited until we were closer to show him what I had. “Five ducks, Andy! I won’t have to leave you again for a while. I know where they live too, we won’t have to move for a while. I’m, uh, I’m happy.” I smiled at him.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen ya so happy. Christmas come early?” he joked. “Speaking of Christmas, there’s something I wanted to give ya.” He looked down and smiled — nervously?
“Can you cook this first, please? I’ll know you’ll make it good, please. Andy, I’m really hungry. You’re hungry, too, please,” I pleaded. It’s been too damn long since I had something I genuinely enjoy eating.
“Okay, okay,” he chuckled, putting his hands up in surrender. “Think ya can wait another hour?”
“Yes!” I set the ducks down and went to go hug him. We’re both surprised by my action, but hold onto one another nevertheless. We don’t say anything for about a minute, just enjoying the touch of another person, the only other person. I reach to about half of his head; we both stare at each other, expressions unreadable. I start to shift my gaze to the right side of his face; he starts to pull away.
“Sorry,” I say to him. “I’m just tired.” I try to save the situation. “Is it okay if I take a nap? Lots of walking, you know?” I smile awkwardly.
“Of course,” he says. “I’ll wake you up when it’s ready.”
“Thank you, Andrew,” I smile. “I don’t say it, but I really do appreciate you.” I looked down for a moment. “You pull your own weight is all.” I smile hesitantly.
He’s still for a second, then smiles softly. “Rest well, Ilinca. I’ll be ‘ere when you wake.”
I went to the tent we slept in. I lay down, looking at the side where he sleeps, my heart beating painfully.
“You know,” Andy starts, “It sounds messed up, but,” he looks at me. “I’m glad we don’t live with anyone else. Sorry if that’s creepy.” He looked away bashfully. “We don’t have to share ourselves with others; there’s nobody lookin’ in on us.”
It’s difficult for me to keep doing this. I want to . . . be closer with him, but I know he won’t like me once he sees what I’m like. All the guys I’ve dated all say the same thing, I’m just not exciting. I’m just, Ilinca Cozmâncă. I gave up on trying to change myself a long time ago; dating as an adult is just tedious anyway. Those guys pissed me off. I try to be exciting, and they say I’m being too weird. What the hell, they’re all dead. I don’t care about what they think anymore. I don’t care about any dead person’s thoughts of me.
“Andy . . . I was never good at this — talking and all,” I say. “Most people, not that it matters, just don’t think I’m much. Much of anything. I’m not really bothered anymore, but we all care about what others think about us. Right? Even in death?”
“There’s something my mother always used to tell me,” he starts. “She’d always tell me how happy she was that I was born a boy.” He looks at the cooked duck thoughtfully. “She’d tell me boys are easier than girls. Tell me there was ‘no way in hell’ I’d end up like her. People are afraid, Ilinca. We’re always afraid of people. Always afraid we might see something in them that’s like us. The thing we hate about ourselves. Mom thought I wouldn’t get hurt like her; she was right. I did end up getting hurt in the end, though.” he sighed and rubbed his middle and pointer finger on his face’s right side. His left eye is open.
I’ve come to a realization. Andy is like me; he understands . . . me. He’s never treated me like a case study, or tried to change me. He just accepts the person he’s with. I want to change. I don’t want him to think this is it. I don’t want to be like Dad. He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead! Why am I thinking of him right now? Why should I care about what he would think of me right now? Why am I crying over him right now? Why did he leave me? Why am I like him?
“I really don’t like my dad,” I choke out through tears, “but I think I don’t like myself more. We look alike, we act alike, we’re just , , , too much alike. I tried to not be like him, but I can’t. I just have to accept that he’ll always be a part of me. But, he’s not me; that’s all that matters.”
Andy got up and sat right next to me, putting his arm around me. I put my arm around him. “I have to accept my past and who I am now, too. I was in the Army, not anymore. It happened; I’m not gonna ignore it. I have to accept that part of myself. I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to be proud of it. I just gotta accept it,” he says, leaning down to look at me. “I was always told to be strong, but I don’t think I can do it anymore,” he says with tears running down his cheeks. “There’s no big, scary guy tellin’ me to ‘toughen up.’ I don’t want to be tough; I don’t want to be tough around you. You shouldn’t have to be strong with me either.”
“So what, you’re some wise guy now?” I laugh while wiping my tears. He takes his sleeve up to my face to help wipe them away.
He laughs while I wipe his tears. “I was never a strong man, mentally or emotionally. People would tell me what I’m thinkin’; guess I just went with it after a while. I constantly felt like shit. Why would I ever let people think for me? I’d change here and there, as long as other people didn’t have a bad thought on it. Just a constant cycle of . . . trying to live for other people.”
“I think you’re strong — mentally and emotionally. Hehe . . .I don’t know how I should say this . . . You’re really good at drawing.” I say, shyly. I could see him stiffen slightly. “I’m sorry I looked at them, but I don’t feel guilty I did. They’re all just really beautiful. You draw good self-portraits . . . but, anyway, I always notice in your drawings that they’re emotional. They always make me feel something. A simple sketch left unfinished, or a completed work, I can’t help but stare, look for something I didn’t notice before. You’re incredible, Andrew.”
“Ahah! I knew you were sneakin’ peeks! You know I would have let ya look? Make yerself feel all secretive, huh?” He said, shaking me from side to side.
I laughed with him for a little, then became curious, “Andy . . . you never draw the right side of your face. You don’t have to right now, or ever. But, I think it’ll be my favorite if you ever decide to.” I look up at him; I smile warmly.
He hesitated for a moment. He then tightened his grip around me; I tightened mine. We’re looking directly at each other. Leaning closer, scanning each other for any traces of reluctance. Closing our eyes.
“I’ll keep you up to date.”
I am Audrey Prado, a freshman who enjoys swimming. I also love to write, and I do so in my free time.
What motivated you to write this piece?
At the time I wrote the piece, we were reading a short story in my English class that had some similar characteristics to my story. I had the idea for the story for long before that, but it definitely served as inspiration to my writing.
What artists and/or writers inspired or influenced your work?
The painter J. C. Leyendecker helped me put a face to the character. The works of Kaoru Mori inspired me to write conflicting female characters. The author Joseph Heller inspired me with the subject matter of my work.
How do you resonate with your piece? Why is it personal to you?
I wanted to write something that anyone could resonate with. Most everyone can relate to feelings of inferiority or feelings of inadequacy. I wanted to show those feelings are normal, and you don’t have to hold those feeling within yourself.