Updated: Apr 21
The next day Siah wanted to continue looking through the Storage units. She packed one of the mini cans of propane she’d been saving, several cans of the soup they'd found and the necessary dishes so they wouldn’t have to walk home to eat. She also packed a few blankets so Sharlie would take her nap while they were there. Eric could carry it. It was so nice to have a young man around to do that kind of thing.
They finished the last of the boxes in the first unit, finding some kitchen equipment that she had to explain to the kids. They had never seen standing mixers, blenders, food processors or heavy pans before.
The second unit held mostly camping equipment.
“Hey Siah, what’s this thing?” Siah looked up from the box she was opening. The boys turned the large cardboard box towards her. She leaned over and read the label with a picture of a huge tent on the label.
“’Ger: fits 4-6 people comfortably.’ Well if the measurements on the label are correct I could see how. This thing is huge.” She paused and really looked at the strange looking tent on the picture.
“The picture on the label reminds me of something I saw on a documentary about Genghis Khan.”
“Who?” Eric asked.
She wasn’t surprised the boys didn’t know who Genghis Khan was. From what little she’d been able to glean they hadn’t had much education. She decided to stick with the cliff notes.
“Genghis Khan, he was a warrior from an ancient society of nomadic hunters and warriors in North Asia. They were called the Mongols. He single handedly led his people in victory after victory, united the fractured tribes of his day and remapped the north Asian continent. I remember learning how ancient Mongols lived in large round tents in deep snow country and wind swept plains. In many ways their way of life mirrored Native American tribes throughout the continental United States. The peoples of the plains and mountains also lived in tents called teepees and moved to follow big game.”
An image flashed in her mind of her, the boys and Sharlie all living out of a large tent like this one. She roused herself. What was that about? She hesitated- but the call was unmistakable.
“This is too big to take right now, but I want to keep this. Put it into the back of the unit.”
Oh, to have a car.
She’d done the math in her head the night before and between the coffee and the valuable sweets they’d found, they certainly had enough money to hitch a ride to Boulder to get the reward money from Holsun’s bounty. With that money, they might have enough to afford a working vehicle.
Lord Jesus, please let Manaen be able to take us all to Boulder. I know it’s a big ask for him to leave the shop for a whole day but you know we need to get there...
Keep looking. In the rest of the storage units?
All she felt by way of a reply was a feeling of peace.
They finished the second unit quickly, finding several more tents like the first, more MRE’s and toiletries, and, of all things, an actual wood burning stove.
“Good grief.” It was like something out of a western era movie. “Someone was really getting ready to go off grid. The only time I ever seen somethin like this was on a rerun of Little House on the Prairie.”
She was going to have to get used to explaining pre-Ruin cultural references to the boys.
“It’s a book series that was written in the 1880’s and made into a television show back in the 1970’s and 80’s. In its time it was very popular.”
“And they used a stove like this?”
“Very similar yes. This one is modern of course, not an antique, looks like it was made not long before the Ruin actually.”
Again, something about the thing struck a chord in Siah. A scene flashed in her mind; an icy snowy night with her and the boys living in a tent like they had found in the other unit and keeping warm with a stove like this. It was absurd but the scene pressed clearly on her mind.
Father, what are you trying to tell me?
The boys’ usual composure died when she opened the door to the third unit. There were wall to wall metal shelves filled with a variety of auto parts and tools. Huh. Surprising.
She did a double take at the boys. She’d never seen anyone drool with their eyes before. She practically had to drag them out.
“But, we can take-”
She shut the door on their protestations.
“Boys, that stuff isn’t going anywhere.” She locked the door to emphasize her point. “We still have four more units to check through. Let’s see what’s in those before we get caught up lugging all that back home.”
They stopped whining but still looked longingly at the unit they’d just left. She was grateful they were this mature. When she was their age she would have pitched a fit.
This unit was larger than the rest and held several pieces of nice furniture, dressers, tables, nightstands, headboards, a full dining room set- nothing antique, but still nice stuff. The sleek, modern style furniture reminded her of her parents’ house before the Ruin. Checking through every drawer and door, she saw nothing they could immediately use, but in her head Siah was already considering how to sell the furniture.
No way was she going to keep it. The days of her enjoying modern chic were long over.
Nathan saw a few large boxes stacked on top of each other in the back corner. Picking his way through the scattered furniture; he was surprised to see the box sealed. So far most of what they’d rummaged through had been only folded shut. He pulled out his pocket knife and carefully cut the box open.
Eric noticed what he was doing and opened the box while he put his pocket knife away. He stilled as he took in the contents. Nathan returned his spooked look with a questioning gaze. Eric tilted the tall box to him.
Nathan could only blink. Eric swallowed before he spoke.
“Hey, Siah.” he croaked.
“I think we found what you were- praying for.”
She came over to them. “Blankets! And pillows! Ha! Thank you Jesus!”
It turned out to be more than Siah had prayed for. The first two boxes held buckwheat hull pillows and not just blankets, but beautiful handmade, patchwork quilts!
Made with vivid fabric, imaginative Asian style designs and brightly colored thread, they were the kind of quilts that made you smile just by looking at them. She opened one just enough to feel it; the quilts were soft enough to let her know they had once been well-loved. Siah smiled and held back tears. She’d been doing that a lot lately. She had the boys pack up every quilt to take home with them. They would be well loved again.
Two other boxes held big, bulky, shapeless packages that made Siah’s heart skip a beat.
“It couldn’t be…” Siah reeled. She lifted one out. It felt right. She carefully unwrapped the knots holding it together. It was exactly what she’d hoped: an Asian style futon mattress.
“Yes!” she punched her hands in the air as she shouted. There were four of them total. “Oh thank you Lord, thank you!” She didn’t care if praise made the boys uncomfortable.
The last box was bigger than the rest and oddly shaped. It held some kind of weird green things that at first Siah couldn’t place. “Hey Eric, slide one of them out.”
He quickly obeyed, as curious as she was. The thing was stiff and made a scratchy sound as she helped Eric pull it out of the box. Then it dawned on her…
“No way…” she unfolded it. They were tatami mats! Actual tri- fold tatami mats! Stiff and strong, they folded out into about the size of a twin size bed. The box was full of them.
“Kids, we’re not going to have cold feet in the house anymore.”
She explained what they were as they lugged the bedding home.
“Tatami are woven floor mats made from reeds. You unfold them to use like a carpet. As soon as we get home, we’re going to take off our shoes, clear everything off the floor in the living room and sweep it all up. Then we’ll spread these out.”
They all made quick work of the sweeping. She had Eric put her old mattress in the backroom where they were keeping the rest of the loot they’d been bringing home. Only when the floor was completely cleared and swept clean did they put down the Tatami mats, then their new futons.
The kids loved it, the joy on their faces as the shrink wrapped quilts magically puffed up was something Siah would cherish forever. She was relieved the quilts all smelled so fresh and clean. She puffed the first one up and held it to her face. Oh it smelled wonderful. Siah was grateful to whoever had put so much effort into protecting them.
“This one is called a Patchwork quilt. Quilts are made using three layers. The bottom layer is usually one big piece of fabric. The middle layer, the filler, is what makes the quilt light or heavy; the top layer is what makes it beautiful. The top layer is made with so many mismatched shapes and scraps and pieces, sometimes in a design, sometimes not, that are all sewn together. The quilter takes those three layers and sews them together, one stitch at a time, until it’s a work of art. A strong backing, some good filler and a lot of careful stitches, go into making quilts like this.”
She stood and lifted the elaborate scrap quilt so the kids could appreciate the full beauty of the design.
“Whoever did this, they were an artist.”
Siah was still awake after the kids were asleep. She fingered the new used quilt over her. She closed her eyes and remembered the quilts she, her mother and grandmother had made together.
Those treasures were long gone. She held Sharlie and looked at the boys. They were sprawled out in more comfort than they’d ever known.
She smiled at her new treasures.
Siah woke up before it was light out. The fire was low; the kids were all still asleep.
She gently rolled out of bed and put some fresh kindling and a log on the fire before grabbing an extra quilt from the folded pile against the wall. She wrapped the extra blanket over herself before padding to the kitchen to call Elaine, her socked feet making a pleasant little scratching sound on the tatami.
She dialed the number from memory.
The phone rang as her mind wandered. Elaine and Manaen’s daughter Candice, was only a month younger than Sharlie, the two girls had once been inseparable- but they were so little, it had been months since they’d last seen each other- “Carvers Trading post.” It sounded like a cacophony in the background. Too bad. She had been hoping that by waiting to contact them, she would have missed the glut of business they would have experienced their first few days in Tinplate. She didn’t want to bother them.
“Elaine, it is so good to hear your voice.”
Sudden relative quiet filled the background. Elaine must’ve gone into the backroom behind the counter.
“What have you been up to? Everyone coming in here has been talking about Holsun. And what’s this about two boys you took in?”
“Yes, things have been quite queer of late.” She laughed in her best imitation of a crisp British accent. Elaine was silent for a moment. When she replied, it was in an equally snooty tone. “Strange times we live in.”
Good. Elaine remembered what the signal meant: Someone might be listening.
“Yeah,” she went back to her natural voice.
“Eric, he’s only sixteen, dragged Nathan, his thirteen old brother to where I’ve been staying. The poor boy’d been shot in the chest.” She heard Elaine gasp.
“They’ve been staying with me ever since.”
More noise invaded the relative quiet Elaine had managed to find. She shouted back at some non-de script shout.
“So how’s Sharlie? Did she see what happened?”
“No. the boys protected her. She never saw a thing.”
Elaine breathed a huge sigh of relief. “Thank God. Sounds like you got a couple of young lions there Siah.”
“Yeah, I really do.” She could hear the smile in her own voice.
“Hey, it’s slammed in here right now. But Siah, you think you could come over sometime soon for dinner? We’re closing at three now. You can bring the boys. You could even spend the night. It’s been forever since we had us some girl time and Manaen would love some male company.”
“Oh Elaine, I feel the same way. We can’t spend the night right now, but I’d love some girl time too. When should we come?”
“How about Friday?”
“Ok. What day is it today?”
There was pause on the line.
“Elaine, you there?”
“Girl, you seriously don’t know what day of the week it is?” She asked flatly.
“Not a clue.”
“Okay, so two nights from now, we’ll come over to spend the night.”
“Ok. I’ll bring jam.”
There was another pause on the line.
“That’s right honey, two nights from now. Friday night.”
She was glad her friend had understood her second use of code in the conversation. “Jam”, meant not the day said, but the day before.
Despite what Nathan had been able to pull with tipping off the Marshall's and not getting caught, that was then and this was now. She would not be taking any risks on an unsecured line.
They chatted for a few more minutes about food and clothes before saying goodbye.
She hung up and turned to see all three kids staring at her.
“You know the Carvers?” Nathan blurted. Was it just her or did he sound a little- impressed?
“Yes. They’re friends of mine.”
Siah packed a picnic lunch again, this time being generous with the MRE’s. She was looking forward to trying some of the self-heating stuff but still packed propane and a pot just in case.
When they arrived at the fifth unit it looked like a bust. So far, every box they’d searched contained nothing but useless electronics the Ruin had fried. When Siah pulled out an Apple laptop, identical to one she had owned during her residency, she couldn’t help but reminisce. She rested her elbow on the box as she remembered opening it up the second the Amazon drone had delivered it. It had been brand new and state of the art. She had been so proud of it, seen it as a mark of her success- now it was resting somewhere about half a mile underwater, same as the rest of Corpus Christi.
She shook herself, plunked it back into the box and went back to rummaging.
Her pulse quickened as she opened a heavy box and saw rough looking cloth covered in plastic.
Lord is this it?
She pulled the heavy laundromat bags out of the large box.
It was what she’d been praying for – coats! Frantic with hope, she rummaged through the huge box, taking each bulky item out and carefully looking for tags, 100% wool. Yes!
She quietly pumped her fist not wanting to tip the boys off to her find.
2XL. She snickered. Not many men that size anymore. She remembered a time when food was cheap and staying slim was a chore. Strange, that part of the past she no longer missed.
Those days had led to these.
In all there were four thick, heavy coats in this one box, each a different shade of blue or green, all the same size, all a double breasted design. The fabric was thick and had a heavy drape. It felt tough and durable. She recognized the brand. Before the Ruin it had been considered very high-end. She looked sideways. Sharlie was taking her nap. Both boys were on the other side of the box pile, engrossed in some more tools they’d found. Neither had looked as she’d silently spread out her find.
She set the coats back in the box and set it aside.
She laid hands and prayed over the next box before opening it. Lord, please bless me with Silk for the lining. She knew she could just resize the nylon lining the coats came with, but she had always wanted to try lining a coat with real silk.
But box after box held only fat men’s wear, mostly business style with some dress casual thrown in. It was nice stuff but completely impractical for the world today. She opened the third to the last box, and felt a thrill- wrapped in a thick transparent plastic garment bag, she saw dark fabric shining back at her.
She tugged and pulled the ridiculously long, hard plastic bag out of the box. The boys looked at her over the pile as she huffed and grunted.
“Well don’t just stand there you two, help me!”
They rushed over and helped her lift the thing out.
“What is this thing?”
“I think it’s a dress.”
“It weighs a ton!”
“How did a woman wear this?”
“For it to weigh this much, there must be more than one dress in the bag.”
Please Lord, let it be silk!
Finally they had it out. Through the clear plastic, it looked like so much jumbled up fabric. She had the boys set it on the ground, knelt and unzipped it. She took out the first dress, a beautiful navy-blue full-length ball gown and looked for a tag.
It said a fancy brand name she remembered from before the Ruin and most important of all, 100% Silk!
She unzipped the whole garment bag and looked through the rest of the dresses. They were all full-length gowns with different styles and cuts and colors, made with 100% Silk fabric- made for size 2XL! She would have plenty of fabric to work with! She quietly pumped her fists as she looked at the ceiling. “Thank you!” She whispered.
The boys watched as Siah’s mouth broke out into a slow, full smile, her eyes looking kind of crazy. Maniacal, that was it, she looked maniacal. She closed her eyes and held her fists to either side of her head in a gesture of victory.
“Thank you.” She whispered to the ceiling. They just looked at each other. They weren’t even going to touch that.
Siah assessed what she needed to do to make adequate coats for the boys. There would be plenty of extra fabric for her to make hoods that would match the coats.
She looked at the subjects in question as they dug through the last box in the unit. She didn’t like how they hid under their hoods. Every time they went out, they walked with their shoulders slumped and heads down, especially Eric. She knew not to push them but prayed for the day they would walk like the young warriors they were.
She looked out the open garage style door as it began to drizzle again. Sad truth was, hoods were just practical these days. God had promised his rainbow would never leave. The sun would come back someday, but would she live to see it?
Lord Jesus, let me live to see a sunrise with my kids.
They stayed and rummaged until Sharlie began to whine about being hungry and whether he admitted it or not, Nathan looked tired as well.
“Hey kids, let’s call it for the day.” Five units down, two more to go. Both boys nodded and they headed home, each hefting a pack of merchandise.
They walked in companionable silence. Would now be a good time to bring it up Father?
Again, she felt a catch in her spirit. Like a hand being held up, telling her to wait.