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Parting Gift

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The tap-tap-tapping of Virgil’s cane as he moved along the road matched perfectly with the beat playing out of the one working earbud in his ear. Whatever town or residential area he had stumbled into was quiet and barren though seemingly not nearly as destroyed as the last one he had been in. Changing direction slightly as he has started to stray into wet grass he continued along what he assumed was a sidewalk, carefully feeling for the edge to make sure he was centered before continuing to sweep the cane in front of him to avoid whatever rubble or trash or non working car might have ended up on the side of the cracked road.

Virgil didn’t know what the world had looked like before and he could only imagine what it looked like now. Everything had happened so fast he doubted he’d be able to recognize it anyway. He had never been able to see and it had never bothered him as much as it did now; with no way to know if someone was on the road other than the sound of footsteps he hadn’t heard in months and nothing to keep him company except his music and- well he supposed he couldn’t complain. Tripping slightly over a stray rock he hadn’t felt brought him back from his thoughts and into the real world once again, shivering as he realized just how cold it was getting and how truly tired he was from walking all day.

Continuing on only a couple more feet revealed a pathway leading off to what he hoped was a house or a store. As bad as he sometimes felt about it, there was no one around anymore- at least as far as he had managed to travel thus far- no one would miss a couple cans of ravioli and a few bottles of water if he could manage to scrounge them up. The walkway seemed pretty thin leading away from the main road so he assumed he was in a residential area with houses rather than near anything like a general store or pharmacy; he really hoped he came across one soon he was running low on band-aids. He could only do so much with a cane and though he wished his palms and knees were tougher by now that he wouldn’t have to bandage them every time he fell sadly his callus just wasn’t thick enough.

Long grass brushed his ankles under his too short jeans, wispy blades rustling quietly as he passed. He took his headphone out as he walked after turning on the beat up ipod and pressing where he knew the pause button was from years of the same motion. Crickets began their evening concert as the birds finished their own, the air growing cooler as Virgil imagined the sun finally dipping below the horizon. He shifted the weight of his book bag more to one shoulder as he slipped it off the other hoping to reach an entryway of some sort soon since his feet were protesting the day of doing nothing but picking a direction and walking. Hitting a step he nudged the cane up until he could judge how high it was- sometimes they were high enough to trip him and other times they were so low they were more of an annoyance than anything else- and carefully made his way up all three of them. There were plastic feeling columns on either side of the top step so he assumed he was on the front porch of a house, some careful prodding revealing one of those rubber welcome mats he was constantly getting the soles of his shoes stuck on since when he was tired he refused to pick his feet up properly. He faintly heard his dad telling him to straighten his back and walk like he was alive but he shook it off with an eye roll. Posture didn’t matter if there was no one around to see it.

Fumbling around a minute for the door handle he stopped as his cheeks reddened, reaching up to knock first. Just because he hadn’t run into anyone yet didn’t mean it couldn’t happen and he really didn't want to break into someone’s home if they were still there and startle them. He didn’t fancy getting shot after so long of surviving o his own and to have that compromised because he was a heathen who didn’t knock anymore would be an idiotic way to go for sure. KNocking, however, proved fruitless. Nothing answered but the crickets though as he knuckle raps turned to rather loud pounds on the door they began to quiet. A part of him still wished sometimes that someone would answer, it had been so long since he’d heard another voice. He knew realistically that if he was still here there would have to be other survivors and that if he kept walking he was bound to run into them.

After years of doing nothing but that had yet to turn anything up though, and it seemed that this time would be no different. His hand fell to the knob once again as he took a breath and held it before twisting and pushing open the door. Hesitantly sniffing the air revealed nothing but old, unaired house smell and dust that had been kicked up from the bottom of the door brushing the carpet in the entryway. He sneezed loudly, the sound echoing sadly as if the house had missed the concept of sound, and wiped his nose on his sleeve before sighing in relief. Sometimes he entered a house or store and there would be...different smells. Ones that would make him gag and bolt from the building so the hot, cloying scent wouldn’t stick to his cloths. Those days were declared laundry days anyway, sullenly dunking his clothes in the rivers he always stuck close to trying to rid himself of the memory with the fresh smell of laundry detergent and sunlight. The day after that was spent moving as far away as he could as quickly as he could to get away from the dark scent that hung on the streets. It was safer to scrounge out granola bars from the bottom of his bag on those days than to risk looking for anything more substantial in the buildings he might be able to get into.

As it was Virgil stepped in the house and carefully closed the door behind him, swinging his bookbag around and cringing at the sound of the zipper echoing faintly in the doorway. Grabbing a smaller, padded drawstring bag out he opened it and carefully set the Roomba down, giving it a little pet before turning it on. It beeped out a pleasant little tune before the whirring sound of it starting up and moving away filled the house and he smiled, leaving his bag by the door and getting up to explore the house with Stuart.

Stuart the vacuum, as dumb as it was, was Virgil’s only source of company and had been since he was about four. The world was already crumbling at that point and rather than risking going out and about to find Virgil a seeing eye pet that wouldn’t last his whole lifetime if he lived long, his dads had modified their small vacuum for him in the hopes that it would last. And it had. Rather than having to plug into a power source it was solar charged, which the front of the bag it was kept in and his backpack was clear plastic to allow it to charge during the day, storing hours of energy to be able to work when Virgil needed it. Instead of vacuuming it simply went about bumping into things and storing a digital map of any small area, letting Virgil then walk beside it and stop when it beeped, nudging him in a different direction so he didn't bump into or trip on anything. This of course was before he was proficient with feeling his whereabouts with his cane adn at this point it was like letting a trusted pet out for its nightly walk rather than out of any necessity but Virgil loved it as if it was a dog. His most loyal companion...who he kept in his bag all day. He snorted as he felt out what was feeling to be the kitchen; he’d take anything over the oppressive silence of an empty house.

His mouth tightened as he felt around in cabinets for cans- all smooth labels of course, nothing to differentiate the corn from the beets from the manwich spread. He hated the fact that dinners were so often a surprise just because no one had thought to universalize a system to put a bit of braille on cans. Even some raised lettering underneath the label spelling out one word descriptors would be fine, instead he could only go by smell and taste and hope to god nothing he put in his mouth had expired. He missed grilled cheese and fried chicken and french fries- all things he didn’t have the means or resources to make. He never learned to hunt or slaughter anything and he doubted he’d be able to learn when he didn’t even know how to tell what parts of an animal to eat, let alone see what he was doing to cut it out and cook it. He was lucky he taught himself how to start a fire some years ago- he couldn’t imagine actually catching a fish and knowing when it was cooked enough to eat without just burning it to a crisp. Sighing as he opened a can with his old can opened he tentatively sniffed at the contents.

Baked beans were good. He’d rather have them hot but he had no motivation to go out and start a fire right now and there was no way in hell he was going to try inside- so cold bean jelly it was. He’d had worse. He grabbed his cane from where he had leaned it against the counter and began walking back into what he assumed would be the living room as Stuart beeped to notify him he was done. Smiling as he felt a small nudge he changed direction to navigate around what felt like a dusty leather couch and settled on the floor in front of it to eat his dinner. Stuart came to rest beside him while he dug a spoon out of the smaller bag he always carried and he smirked slightly, feeling around to place a single baked bean on top of the vacuum as a reward for a job well done.

He tucked in as he thought of what his dads would say about him doing that; both of them would more than likely find it endearing but relentlessly tease him about it for the rest of his life. He imagined his father’s face wrinkling up in an amused smile, scars tugging around crows feet and wispy hair tickling his fingertips. Dad’s smile was a lot smaller but no less sincere, mostly held in his eyes that had his lower eyelid just barely lifting. He missed feeling their faces- they’d let him do it whenever he’d ask to make sure he knew what emotion they were displaying. Both of them were awkward when it came to voicing their feelings and Virgil was always terrible at picking up social cues from simply listening, so being able to read a face as easily as a book often helped put them all at ease.Idly he brushed the top of Stuart’s “head”, feeling nothing but cool, hard plastic beneath his fingers.

He cleaned up as best as he could, throwing the top of the can away in a trash bin after wiping it off and setting the actual can on the back porch with another full one for whatever might come by. His cane was carefully tucked just underneath the couch as he unrolled his sleeping bag and small pillow to get comfy for the night, placing his little vacuum by his head before snuggling down into bed and sighing quietly. Reaching out he felt for the button on the side of the roomba, a little rough and worn from years of the same routine of day. Biting his lip he pressed it in before snatching his hand away and tucking himself in completely, squeezing his eyes shut like he’d been sleeping all along.

“Is he asleep?” His father’s silky voice cut through the silence.

“I should hope so, it’s dark out and he needs his rest.” Dad was always very matter of fact, Virgil could imagine his arms crossing as he sat on the edge of the bed.

“...Do you want to start or should I?”

Virgil’s dad sighed. “I hope that you got to sleep at a reasonable hour this time, and that you had a good dinner that was as balanced as you could make it. That- that you’re somewhere safe-”

HIs father stepped in smoothly. “We hope that you’re taking care of yourself as best as you can, and taking care of Stuart as well. Hopefully there are people around that can help you when you need it and you aren’t afraid to ask for it- but if there aren’t I know you’re capable enough on your own.”

“We wish you only happiness, no matter how bad things are or get, always remember that it has the capability to get better as long as you are willing to work for it. I know whatever you’re working on or towards you’re doing the absolute best you can do, and we couldn’t be more proud.”

“We love you, Virgil. So, so much and don’t you ever forget that. take care of yourself and please stay safe.”

“Goodnight, Virgil.” He could still remember Dad brushing his fingers through his hair before the weight had disappeared from the bed.

“Goodnight, Virgil. Sweet dreams.” He felt a phantom kiss on the cheek from memory long since passed, the blankets pulled up and tucked around him. The door creaked shut and the recording ended, Stuart beeping softly to indicate he was shutting down. Safely tucked into his sleeping bag with a full stomach in the silence, Virgil let his eyes drift shut, a smile still on his lips as he fell into a peaceful sleep.