Leonora slumped down at the kitchen table, unwilling to start on the chores for the day – she should start the fire, or wash dishes, or take the compost out. Yet she could not encourage herself to move, she could hear footsteps upstairs – probably her father going out to the barn to feed the horses. Mother would likely still be asleep, weary in the late stages for pregnancy. Leonora got to her feet and knelt by the fire, slowly piling up wood chippings and small twigs, going outwards to logs. It was so hard – a year ago none of this would have been needed. She stared resentfully at the fire, reaching out for matches, before remembering that she was supposed to be leaving them for emergencies and picked up the tinder box her father had found, struggling to light the fire, but eventually it burned. She dropped her head into her hands, crying softly. She was tired, so tired of having to manage – before there had been people to help, but now everyone had their own problems. Before all she had to worry about was school, not her sibs.
Once they had breakfasted, Leonora rode over to the house of her closest friend from school, Sarah. The house was shabby, the shutters hanging off and the paint peeling; the ground outside looked dead, even with the plants that had been planed. Leonora knocked on the door, then entered as was expected. Sarah was sitting in the kitchen with her mother, trying to persuade her to eat – she had been hurt when the world changed and never recovered. The shabbiness and dirt was clearer inside, even with the evidence of Sarah's efforts.
“Hey Sarah! I was thinking, with everything that has happened, nothing is going to get better magically. I was thinking we could help each other more if we were closer together.” She paused, thinking Sarah was already closer to others, just on thee edge of town. “Have people in the town been helping you?”
“No – everyone is too busy with their own problems.”
“Look, why don't you, your mother, and Mark come and live with us? You could live in one of the vacation cottages. Then we could cook together and share all the work. There is so much that needs doing, but it would be easier with both of us.”
Sarah nodded slowly. “Ma? Would you like that? You know Mrs Riley and got on with her. Would you mind leaving?”
All she got in return was a blank stare. Sarah blinked back tears. Leonora looked away, not knowing what to say.
Sarah turned to face Leonora, and said softly, “Yes, we'll come. I'll talk to Mark tonight. Then we can pack up and try to move everything across.”
“I'll send Darian with a cart tomorrow to help you.”
Leonora returned home and went looking for her father, finding him in the barn.
“Father, we are struggling here.” She paused. “I have a plan to make things easier on us all. I have invited Sarah and her family to move into one of the vacation cottages. With them here we will be able to share the work of cooking and laundry and the like. Her mother is ill, but her brother can help with the horses and with the garden.”
He stopped grooming the horse and looked at her.
“That is a good plan! We've all become isolated by the disaster, and I can see how the extra help could make it better. But do you think we can supply many more people? There is so much that we need and there is on so many times we can reuse everything.”
“Then we need to find more people with skills to help. I know Carlos Hernandez from school's mother made cloth for her costumes for stuff (I'm sorry I can't remember the details). If they would come, then we could make more clothes – more practical ones for the work that we are doing.”
“We'd need more than that. We'd need thread to make the clothes out of, but if you ask her maybe she'd know – it could be something that we could grow on some of the abandoned land.”
“Cotton is the one I remember, well and wool; but we hardly need wool – especially as we have such supplies of it with all the knitting ma does.”
“Yes, indeed, we will be very glad of that come winter. Especially if it is a hard one, which it probably will be.”
“Should I ride into town and ask her? Can you spare me for today?”
“I can, but you should do something to make up the space for your recruits – those cottages have hardly been touched since it happened.”
“Is there anything we need from town if I can get it?”
“No, but if you see the farrier remind her that I'm expecting her in the next few days.”
The town was always really chilling to see. She could remember how it was supposed to be, but now it was now dark and unfriendly – full of people who were barely coping or just not given up enough yet to die. She rode quickly on her way, remembering the route to their house.
The outside looked decrepit as did the rest – she knocked on the door and waiting, holding the reins. After a few minutes it opened. Ma Hernandez was standing there looking at her.
“Mrs Hernandez, I've come to talk to you. I remember you used to make cloth.”
“Tie up your horse and come in.”
Leonora obeyed and was shown into a kitchen overlooking the back yard. There were herbs growing on the windowsills and pots of vegetables in the garden, but not many.
“I fear you have wasted your trip. I have no time for hobbies any more, and I do not know what you could offer that would change that.”
“It would not be as a hobby. Clothes are wearing out and are impractical for many tasks. I was hoping you would be able to help make more.”
Ma Hernandez shook her head sharply, but Leonora ignored the interruption.
“You know the farm my parents have. There are several cottages there (they used to be vacation homes), and we are trying to find people to live there - to be helpful members of a community. Look, the situation is such that none of us can survive without help, but being spread out makes it hard to help each other, and this town is failing in that!”
“So a roof over my head, or our heads if Carlos and Julia are included in this invitation.”
“But that I have already. What form would any other help take?”
Leonora hesitated, pulling her braids back out of her faces as she tried to put her idea into words. “It depends what is needed. For Sarah – she and I will be sharing our cooking and cleaning work – it will be much easier with help; and her brother will help on the farm – and between us we can look after her mother. We have enough food to share, especially with more people to preserve it last or to grow more.”
“I see. So if I do this I'd be expected to make and share cloth; and probably help out in other ways. Would you be setting a value on what things are worth to ensure that what I get in return is fair?”
“I don't know I hadn't thought of that, and indeed I would have no idea how to set a value to it – or to other things, except to a degree, food.”
“So how do you expect it to work?”
“I'm not sure – I hadn't thought that much. Do you have ideas?”
“Maybe a council of some sort – take one person from each family for now and between them they can settle anything that does not need everyone involved in the discussion.”
“That sounds good for now. If there are many more people later it might be less practical. Will you come?”
“Yes. Have you considered asking David's family, Carlos is dating him and would be more likely to come if he was also invited? His father is good as carpentry and that would probably be useful. There are five of them – including his grandmother, who still knits despite being frail - yet clings to life harder than many in this age.”
“I hadn't thought of it, but I'll ask. That would bring us up to eighteen people.”
“Sounds like a good number for a beginning.”
In a month they had five families there and were starting to plan; in a year it was fifteen, and starting to become a community; but Leonora reflected that as the world was still changing who knew what the future would bring.