Miriam McEwen

When your care aide leaves for the morning, you make the mistake of following her out the side door because you think that will be the easiest way to get back in. You tell her to keep the screen unlatched, and you shouldn’t have any trouble pulling it open. You’ve done it before; you bet you’ve done it a million times. You just want to blink in the sun for a few minutes. You haven’t been outside since that freak ice storm three weeks ago. But it’s very nearly hot today, and you think it’s amazing how things can change so quickly. From here, you have not-the-most-ideal view of your neighbor’s rusted metal fence, your neighbor’s weed-frenzied backyard. And there’s something in the middle of the ground there; what is that? A dark strip. A tarp, maybe. Why can’t this guy just pick up his trash like everyone else? You snort-laugh so hard that you hurt your sinuses because it’s not like you pick up your trash, either.

You’re still reveling in the strength of this really excellent disabled joke when your neighbor walks through his back door, down into his jungle of a yard, and immediately spots you. “Well, hey, little lady!” he says, waving his arms over his head as if he’s found you at long last. “It’s your neighbor Ernie. You remember your neighbor Ernie, don’t you? Sure you do.”

He’s glad he caught you. He didn’t know whether you would be home today, it being one of those tremulous days where the sun burns bright enough to start you thinking of spring. But he’d like to show you what he’s been working on back here, if you’ve got the time. You’d like to say otherwise, but the truth is, you’ve got the time. So you let him hold the gate open while you drive your wheelchair on through to his side, where he tells you to mind you don’t roll over his garden bed; planted butter lettuce and sugar snap peas only yesterday. And he’s dug a root cellar a little farther on, see that? When the end times come—and mothers in New York City or Los Angeles or wherever else are driven to gnawing at their babies’ flesh just to save their own—your neighbor wants you to know that he will be ready. You better believe that your good and trusted neighbor Ernie here will be right down there: down in his root cellar with the beets and turnips and onions. The door is coming, don’t you worry; the door is coming last. It’ll be a sturdy door, too: nigh on impossible to open from the outside. He really wants you to move closer to this black-green rectangular cavity in the earth. He would like to take you down there. He would be glad to carry you. You’ll need protection. You’ll need protection in the end.