An older woman appears from one of the rooms we haven’t been in — “My mother,” Elsie says — and hands us each plates before beginning to dish out a spicy-smelling mess of vegetables mixed with some kind of fish.
“How’s the food?” Elsie asks.
“Good,” I say, and Daka and Cory agree. Elliot isn’t impressed; his face is scrunched up and he just pushes his vegetables around on his plate.
Cory nudges him. “You’re being rude.”
Elliot pulls a face.
Elsie just laughs. “We’ll find him something else. I have a picky eater myself.”
Her mother comes over with plain vegetables and a chunk of fish and tips them onto Elliot’s plate. Cory nudges his brother.
“Thank you,” Elliot says obediently. Elsie’s mother smiles at him and leaves the room.
“She doesn’t talk,” Elsie says. “She and my husband and a dozen other people were in an accident a number of years ago and she took a blow to the head. She’s not been quite right since.”
“I’m sorry,” Cory says unexpectedly.
“Thank you,” she replies. “It’s okay. She likes to help. I think she remembers when I was small and sometimes forgets that I’m grown up now.”
As we eat, we fall into easy conversation; Elsie tells us about Portland, I talk about Granite, Cory makes the occasional comment about Chicagoland. And Daka falls asleep at the table.
“Walter probably gave him something,” Elsie says. “We should probably put him to bed.”
The three of us look at Daka. He’s a lot bigger than any of us. It was hard enough for me and Cory to support him when he was helping out. I’m having a hard time imagining carrying him anywhere.
“Maybe we can just stick some blankets on the floor and tip him out of the chair,” Cory suggests.
A snort of laughter escapes me. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I shouldn’t laugh.”
Cory stares at me and then bursts out laughing. “Shit,” he says. “We’re terrible people.”
In the end, between the three of us we manage to drag Daka into the other room and get him up onto one of the nicest beds I’ve ever seen. And we only jostle his leg twice. He’s so out of it he doesn’t even move.
“You sure he ain’t dead?” Cory asks once we’ve deposited Daka in the bed.
I stare at Daka until I see the slow rise and fall of his chest. “Nope,” I say. “Definitely alive.”
That established, I actually take a minute to look around the room. It’s gorgeous. Real wood furniture — lots of it. The blankets are all a little thin, but there are lots of them and lots of pillows. The window is intact and looks out over the city.
“I guess you guys must have scavenged furniture and stuff,” I say. “This is some of the nicest stuff I’ve ever seen.”
“But you must have much nicer things,” Elsie says. “All our stuff is at least eighty years old.”
I shake my head. “You only get nice stuff like this if you’re rich. Like my uncle. Me and my mom didn’t have much at all. Most of us don’t have a lot.”
“Does everyone here have nice stuff like this?” Cory asks.
It’s a rude question, but I’m curious too.
“I guess,” Elsie says. “Portland had a population close to a million when the bombs started falling, and even with all of the damage there was a lot salvageable. More than enough when there’s only a couple thousand of us.”
I’m kind of jealous. Not that I’d like to have grown up in a plague city, but to be honest I think the survivors in Portland actually have a nicer life than we did in Granite. Which is just plain weird since we’ve all grown up afraid of the city. I think I always figured if there were any survivors, they’d be diseased and horrible, like the monsters I believed in when I was a child. And they’re not. Well, Walter’s a bit unpleasant, but Elsie’s real nice, and I have to believe that more people are like Elsie than like Walter.