Published on The Doomstead Diner on January 11, 2017
Discuss this article at the Collapse Narratives Table inside the Diner
Karl was in shock.
A first impulse was to question Karen's declaration, but in his heart he knew it was true. He had always known it was true, but he had pushed it down and rejected it, as he had rejected Maggie's love for him. He couldn't take responsibility for Karen and live the life of a Solitary Man that he had chosen for himself. His tears began to flow freely, there was no holding them back now.
"When did you find out? How long have you known?" Karl finally asked, gathering his composure.
"Mom told me in her last months. She didn't want to burden you with me and so she married Porter, who I thought was my dad. Porter turned out to be a philanderer though, always cheating on mom, and she got tired of it. So she came back to Lolo and back to work at Quinn's. I never got to know Porter all that well, since I was only 5 or so when they got divorced, and I never saw him afterward. She never wanted to tell you though, because she knew it would force you into a relationship that wasn't in your nature. She told me before she died because she thought I should know and make my own decision. I wasn't sure until I came over to the table I could go through with it, but I had to."
Karl didn't say anything immediately, he was torn with his emotions. Looking deep inside himself, he cursed himself for his selfishness, and though it was far too late now to make up for it, he was going to do what he could to make it right.
"I am glad you told me Karen. I believe I knew this, but could never admit it to myself. We need to talk more. A LOT more."
"I don't want you to think I expect anything from you. Mom said it wasn't in your nature to be with others, you mostly like to be alone."
"That was true Karen, and it's how I lived my life, but now I am sorry for it. I'm not going to live that way anymore. There are important things happening, and you need to know about them."
"I can't talk now Karl, I have to get back to work."
"When is your next day off?"
Karen pulled out her smart phone to check her calendar. "mmm, not until Tueday, but I might be able to trade with Theresa and get off Monday."
"See if you can do that." Karl replied. "let me give you my phone number and email so you can let me know." Karl wrote down his contact information on a napkin and handed it to Karen. He couldn't remember the last time he had done that.
"OK." Karen said. "Here is my contact information." Karen handed him a business card, titling herself "Engineering Consultant".
Karl smiled. "Oh that's very professional Karen."
Karen laughed. "Yea. If I could find somebody to actually consult for, it would be really good! OK, gotta get back to work. Emily is covering my tables and I told her I wouldn't be too long."
Karen left the check on the table, which was for a bit over $100, so he left two Ben Franklins on the table, and walked outside to his ZEV, his heart racing. The night was crisp and clear, but temperatures had dropped so Karl pulled his gloves and windbreaker from the storage compartment under the seat, unplugged from the outlet and flipped on the circuits.
The ride home was smooth and clear with few cars travelling, as it was already close to 9PM and the day travellers had mostly left already, and vacationers at Quinn's were settling into their cabins for the night. The drive was full of emotions and thoughts, so much to consider. How could he make up for all the lost years with Karen? How could he work with Kenny to build a resilient community? The thoughts were all jumbled, and there was no way to make any sense of them, so he let them go to just enjoy the ride, in the near silence of the ZEV electric motor, humming peacefully as he finished the drive back to his Earthship.
"It will be great to have some visitors finally." Karl thought to himself. "I'll be able to show them my permaculture garden and my raised beds, and they can meet my goats Keebler & Kookie and my horses Mr. Ed and Pegasus!"
He was feeling great about this until he opened the door and walked inside the Earthship. The place was a MESS!
Although Karl was quite organized and meticulous with his garden, he wasn't so good about keeping his digs too neat. Cleaning up could always be left for "tomorrow", although tomorrow didn't come too often for cleanup. Like many old bachelors, Karl was a slob.
"ACCKKKK!" Karl exclaimed aloud, even though there was no one around to hear him. "This place is a fucking pig sty!"
Frantically, he started cleaning up, but then realized he was thoroughly exhausted and emotionally drained from the day. "Tomorrow, I'll clean up tomorrow" he thought to himself. "I MEAN it this time" he reinforced to himself, and then flopped down on the bed. His eyes closed and he was off to dreamland in seconds. As the sleep overtook him, he realized how much his life had changed that day. He had a new friend in Kenny, another prepper who saw what was coming, although a whole lot younger. More than that, he had a DAUGHTER! Everything he had done, all he had built was not for him, it was for HER! There was only one possible explanation for such improbable events to all happen that day. It was the Finger of God. It was his last thought of the night.
Foghorn Leghorn the Rooster awoke him at daybreak, and in half-asleep fashion as usual Karl headed to the coop to see if there were some eggs to collect, and got about a half dozen nice ones. He dropped them on the counter in the kitchen, got some Maxwell House brewing in the drip coffee maker, then headed on autopilot into the shower to start waking up. The shower got him about half wakeful, and the Maxwell House did the rest. He scrambled up 3 eggs with some Moose Sausage and home fries from his potato tower for breakfast, then looked around at the disaster area he had to clean up. He couldn't remember the last time he had done a full clean up, it had to be at least a decade. He had two days to get it done!
Well, it wasn't going to get done sitting on his ass, that was for sure. First up, the Kitchen! First order of business was his breakfast plate and the skillet he used to cook with, then the stove and oven. He had all the cleaning supplies needed in his preps, just he never used them. The dust on the can of EZ Off Oven cleaner looked like Pompeii after the ashfall!
Cleaning out the refrigerator was an even more gruesome project. As he worked toward the back, there were leftovers probably from the Reagan era with entirely new forms of life growing inside. Well, he thought, at least they will make good compost! Mopping the floor was another major project to get through the layers of grime to the beautiful terra cotta tiles he had carefully laid down so long ago. Mopping wasn't enough, he had to get down on his hands and knees to scrub, scrub and scrub some more. By the end of the morning though, the Kitchen was gleaming like new!
Checking his email over lunch of a salad from his raised beds and a bowl of chicken soup, there was the usual collection of spam and newsletters from stockbrokers, but also a note from Karen.
"It was so great to finally get this off my chest and be able to tell you the truth. You are a sensitive soul, just like mom said. I spoke with Amelia and she will take my shift on Tuesday? Where should we meet?"
Karl was tempted to write a long response, but kept it short. The feelings he had could only be adequately expressed in person, face to face with Karen.
"I also was glad to learn of the truth here Karen. We have so much to talk about. I want you to come over to my place on Tuesday, but it is rather hard to find right off, unless you have a good gps. In any event, I will come to pick you up on Tuesday morning. Where are you living? Can you send me the address?"
After deleting the spam and making a couple of minor changes in his portfolio based on the latest and greatest news and recommendations, Karl moved onto the next big project, the bathroom!
The water from his well was rather hard, and the calcification in the toilet was so thick and hard he needed to use a chisel to get it off the porcelain. Steel wool just wasn't good enough. The shower curtain had too much mold on it and wasn't worth trying to clean. It went into his rapidly accumulating bags of garbage to take to the dump, or as he liked to call it, "the land of away". Despite the fact he had tried to not create a lot of waste of this sort over his life, he still had made his share of it. All the bubble wrap and blister packaging of items he bought over the years probably would have been a mountain in and of themselves, had he not burned most of that stuff himself. That contributed still more CO2 to the atmosphere.
How many computers and laptops and peripherals had he gone through since buying his first Radio Shack TRS-80 back in 1977? It was impossible now to count them all, and each one full of heavy metals and other polluting waste, most of which never really got recycled although he did bring the ones that no longer worked or were obsolete to the recycling center. How many cars and motorcycles did he go through beginning with his first Ford Mustang Convertible he bought brand spanking new off the showroom floor on credit after getting his first job on Wall Street right after college? Almost too many of them to count also, although he was pretty sure he remembered them all. How much gas had he burned in all those vehicles over the years? That was impossible to calculate.
Karl mused on all of this while scrubbing the toilet and hitting the bathtub and shower and sink with Comet Cleanser, and silently forgave himself for all of it. He didn't really have much of a choice over all those years, that was the culture and society he was born into, and there wan't really a whole lot of choice along the way. He couldn't have set up his doomstead without a good deal of money, he couldn't have brought in all the materials he used to build it without a pickup truck, and he couldn't have gone food shopping without a car either! Although he was probably 50% self sufficient now, even that had taken him years to achieve. Whether 100% self-sufficiency could be achieved after industrial civilization collapse really took off remained an open question.
Dinner time approached and the bathroom was finally done, sparkling clean now like the kitchen. He would head into town tomorrow to pick up a new shower curtain, as well as some new bath rugs since the old ones also were beyond salvation. He made an easy dinner out of a can of Campbell's Chunky Soup, to which he added some frozen tortelloni cheese filled pasta to to fill it out some more, along with sprinkling on top his own goat cheese.
Checking his email once again, there was another message from Karen off her smart phone from work with her address and a query what time he would get there to pick her up? Karl was eager to get her and easily could have got there by 7AM since Foghorn was crowing usually around 5:30 or so, but he knew she worked pretty late at Quinn's so told her he would pick her up at 10AM, and give her a chance to sleep in a little bit.
Karl worked a little bit more in the evening to get the living room cleaned up. It wasn't nearly as big a job as the Kitchen and Bathroom had been, but he took time to move furniture around and wax the hardwood floor. Monday's jobs would be his bedroom, office, and the guest bedroom he never used and had become a vast closet of preps. He would also need to rearrange the garage to fit all those preps, and probably load up a whole lot more garbage to send to the Land of Away at the dump. He might even have time to wash the windows and spruce up the outside of the earthship, as there were quite a few weeds growing around the place.
With luck, it wouldn't be too embarassing to bring Karen to his place.
Karen. His daughter. He shook his head again as the realization once again hit his consciousness.