A cheerful voice woke me from my reminiscing.
"Hello? Hello, hello, hello?"
I blinked my eyes, focusing them on the source of the sound.
"Uh ... hello," I replied to a pale girl with black hair. Her appearance brought to mind a moon shining out from under the night of her dark hair. I wonder who she is?
"Hello, hello!" She cried again. "I'm Ursa! Your neighbour, that is. I was wondering - oh, dear me, I guess you should introduce yourself first, oughtn't you?"
"Um - yes?" Something about her rendered me speechless. "My - my name is Avani."
"What a pretty name . . ." she trailed off dreamily, her big blue eyes shining like stars. "Anyways, I was wondering if you'd like to come with me on a trip? There's nothing left for me here, and neither for you, I think, that is, your mother ... well, anyway, I thought we could head north, where there's more farmland."
She sounded so decided, like she'd already planned the trip, it didn't even cross my mind to say no.
"Well, then, it's settled!" She laughed. "Come, we must plan the trip."
The next few days were spent packing. Ursa took the stairs from her apartment down to mine, and sat at my kitchen table reading a list. She got up once in a while, and walk around the room. "I can't stay still," she explained. As the days passed, something new was always added. One day it was pillows, the next it was a flashlight.
"Soap?" she asked.
"Spices?" I asked.
"Yeah, like, oregano and pepper and sugar and such?"
"I know what spices are," I said. "I just didn't ... think of that."
"Well," Ursa said, sounding slightly exasperated for a second before regaining her cheerful composure, "do you have any?"
I got up from my seat at the kitchen table and walked over to the cabinets. They were whitewashed, though some paint was peeling and the handles were getting loose. Like this world.
"Avani?" Ursa sounded amused. "You gonna open that thing?"
"Yeah, yeah." I swung the door leading to the spices open, leaving me face to face with piles of packages. It resembled to me rather a dump, filled with mountains of garbage. I couldn't remember a time since the dumps hadn't been out of space. Since Earth hasn't been out of space, come to think of it.
I scanned the labels looking for a familiar name. "Um ... fennel - ew, hate that stuff - ... sugar ... garlic ... cayenne pepper ... salt ... ajwain ..."
"What the heck is ajwain?" Ursa interrupted.
"Something my mom used to cook with."
Where was I? salt, ajwain ...
"Jalapeno pepper ... sweet cicely ... dill - gross - ... bay leaves ... sage ... cinnamon ..."
"Okay, okay," Ursa put in, "You don't have to read them all aloud."
Thanks goodness for that, I grinned to myself. I was super worried.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing, nothing," I quickly said
"Bring them over here, we'll sort what we want to bring and what we don't want. Fennel, for example, is, as you say, disgusting. By the way, does your computer work? So we can see what each spice is for?"
"Without electricity?" I snorted. "Nope."
"Sorry, sorry." She sounded wounded. "I'm just not that technical."
Either way, we spent the rest of the day sorting spices into two piles - bring and don't bring. Ursa was much more decisive than me, so there was no maybe pile.
She said she'd stay for dinner - which really meant she would help me scavenge the nearby stores for some food and then eat some of it.
At one store, with some stupid name like Fresh.com, we found cheese that wasn't mold and eggs that weren't rotten.
"Score!" Ursa exclaimed. She didn't point out that it took a long time to find anything still edible.
"Why do you always look on the bright side?" I asked her before I could stop the words from escaping.
"Because there is one," she answered simply.
I couldn't think of a reply, so I continued dumping the food into a bag that had belonged to my mom. It said, The only BS I need is BAGS & SHOES. She had been a fan of funny quotes.
"What are you thinking of?" Ursa asked.
"Hmm? Oh, just stuff ..." I replied, escaping the answer. My mom. Ursa didn't push me for any more.
After that we went to a convenience store my mom had gone to lots - Melany's Mini-Market.
On creaking wooden shelves there were rows and rows of canned soups, cheeses, jerkies, herbs, sour cream, and other canned things which I didn't know the name of. My mom had never bought jerky in particular - too many preservatives, she claimed. But seeing as most of the food left had preservatives, there wasn't much me and Ursa could do about it.
"Why don't we bring some of the jerky home?" Ursa suggested. "To pack for our trip?"
Ursa spied some Italian Wedding Day Soup and grabbed that, along with powdered milk.
"I don't really like powdered milk," I informed Ursa when I saw her add that to the bag. By this time she'd filled the BS bag and was using one that said, To save time, let's just assume I'm never wrong.
Ursa grinned at me. "Well, there isn't any regular milk, is there?"
I sighed. As we left the store, I caught sight of a aisle with jell-O. "Ursa! Jell-O?"
Ursa's mouth stretched in a grin much bigger than before. "But of course!"
After Melany's Mini-Market we headed back to my apartment. My apartment. How funny that sounds.
Many staircases later, we reached the door. I heard a scratching sound just inside the door.
"Do you hear that?" I whispered to Ursa.
"What should we do?"
"Open the door, of course," Ursa said, growing excited.
"Shhh! Hey, what are you -"
But I was too late. Ursa had set the bags down, and her hand stretched towards the doorknob, turned it, and pushed the door open.
"Didn't I lock it?" I wondered aloud.
As the door swung open, a terrible sight met our eyes. "Oh no," I cried out.
Everywhere, chairs were tipped over and cabinet door left hanging open. Sofas ripped and windows cracked. Mom's favourite vase, a turquoise one, was shattered. The whole apartment was torn top to bottom.
Ursa's eyes opened wide in amazement. "Wow!" she seemed almost to respect whoever had done it.
"Ursa! Don't you see? All our supplies were here!" I groaned. Just at that moment, though, we heard a scraping sound. Oh gosh, the burglar is still here!
We turned towards the sound and saw a black glove slide the only not cracked window shut.
"The burglar took the escape route," Ursa noted, still calm.
"B-" I stopped and just shook my head.
"Don't just stand there!"
"You're the one just standing!"
Ursa ignored me and opened the window, slipping onto the rackety stairs that led downwards. I sighed and pulled myself after her.
"What are you planning on doing?" I asked her, running as fast as I could down the rusting stairs to keep up. Every other step I looked down to make sure the next step wasn't broken.
"Tackling the burglar, what else?"
Again I shook my head. She must be crazy. I voiced my doubts but Ursa just chuckled and continued running full speed ahead, velvet black hair streaming behind her.
Being on the fifteenth floor, it's very easy to imagine how out of breath and full of cramps I was by the time we were on the ground. Ursa looked around for a moment, before she pointed towards a black figure slipping around the building and into an alleyway.
"Classic. An alleyway."
"Eh," Ursa smiled before sprinting after the figure.
I had enough cramps for ten people, let alone one."Oh, you've gotta be kidding me. I'm waiting here."
Ursa ignored me. As usual, I ended up following her. Down the alleyway, which was draped with shadows that seemed to catch at my legs. Or perhaps that was because my legs felt like lead.
Ursa led me from one alley another, each darker and more stinky than the next. She ran around a particularly decrepit corner, and I followed ... bang smack into her boney back.
"Hey!" I exclaimed.
"And all that for nothing."
Ursa grinned. "But a great exercise."
"What about all that food? Don't you even care?"
She ignored me, dusting off her navy blue track pants and rearranging the matching necklace that swooped down around her neck.
Finally she turned to me, a grin on her face. "Don't worry. I have a stash back at the ranch."
"What ranch?" I asked, confused.
I never got an answer.
Together, we trudged back home. My muscles ached from running straight out for what seemed like hours, and my throat was parched. My hat - a pretty forest green hat that sat on my head sideways - was more askew than usual. My jean shorts were sticking to my legs, and my shirt was stained with sweat. Ursa, on the other hand, was calm and tidy looking. Her hair was meticulously braided - I didn't know how she did it, seeing as she could stay still or quiet for long - her shirt not at all crinkled, her track pants with not a stray fluff sticking to them.
"Aren't you hot? With those sweats?" I wondered.
"Sweats? Track pants, more like. And no, I'm not. I'm cold, if you must know," she replied.
Just then the apartment building stretched above us, supplying me with merciful shade. We reached the glass door which Ursa pulled open, ushering me inside. "Ladies first!"
I muttered something about us both being ladies but Ursa just rolled her eyes. "Jes go with it."
We climbed up the stairs for what seemed like the billionth time that day. Finally we arrived at the my apartment - Ma and I had painted the door a cheerful, deep red when I was little.
"Here we are! Let's see what's left," Ursa said cheerfully. I just raised my eyebrow. How could they? I wondered to myself. How could they ruin the house Ma and Pa worked so hard on together, tear my remaining reminders of them?
Oblivious of my internal plight, Ursa pulled me into the room. The carpets were stained with wine from a glass Ma had saved in memory of him. His favourite wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon called Lost Valley. He had always told me it tasted "Of blackberries and green olives," but I had never interested myself in testing his knowledge.
The paintings on the walls were hung crooked - the ones that were still there, that is. The one of Pa, among others, were gone.
I took a deep breath, and then another. "Oh," I choked back a sob. "P-pa's portrait is gone."
Ursa leaned over and hugged me. "Hush, darling. Hush. It's all alright."
I shook her off and ran out of the room. She didn't follow. I heard her opening some cabinets, probably taking stalk of what was left.
I passed the forgotten grocery bags as I crossed the hall to old Mrs. Montgomery's place. She had told me she was named after some famous writer, some Amy or something, but I hadn't paid much attention. Now I wished I had as I scanned her old oak bookshelf looking for something to bury myself in. I found some cookbook called Emma's Elements in the Kitchen and plopped myself down on the gushy blue couch, sinking into the leather folds.
I flipped through the weathered old book, trying to read, but I wasn't really reading. I was looking through the pictures, at recipes Mrs. Montgomery used to cook me. Mexican bean salad, spicy pecan soup, mushroom sauté.
Before I knew, the light was dimming and I had to strain to see the pictures. I didn't want to go back to my apartment, so I stayed where I was, crumpled on the couch with a book on my stomach.