Siren’s wail and loudspeaker’s bark are dampened as Adam closes the door against the night. One, two, three padlocks go on. Two deadbolts scrape across the pitted iron of the doorframe. The smell of the flat welcomes him home – mildew and rusty water.
Adam lights a candle using the box of Cook’s matches. A man at the food line had told him that, pound-for-pound, matches were now worth more than gold. The expectation had been that Adam would have been impressed, or even disbelieving, but who had use for gold anymore?
The candle is placed atop the cardboard box that serves as a table, and Adam uses its guttering light to place plywood over kitchenette and bedroom windows. It doesn’t stop the wind whistling through the blown insulation, but it might persuade the after-darkers to move on to the next house. The next target.
A dinner of cold lentils, soaked all day, is eaten. Adam’s eyes never leave the guttering, tremulous flame. The wax is cheap. It runs down the sides of the candle and pools, translucent, on the cardboard. The candle occasionally pops and fizzes as it burns, like fireworks.
Adam glances covetously at the book he is halfway through, but he knows he cannot spare the wax. Licking the tips of his thumb and forefinger, he pauses, and then pinches the flame out. The lumpen, darken shapes that he knows so well immediately rush into the grey. The sofa, stuffing removed to supplement his duvet. The bank of bottled water that has to last until spring. The squat radio in the corner – his one link with what now passes for civilisation. Adam only switches on at 5pm Sunday for the emergency broadcast.
It was alright, he thought, picking a lentil from between his teeth. The Prime Minister’s budget would get people working again.
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, Best MicroFiction 2021, Writer’s Egg, Idle Ink, The Wild Word, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0