She spent the majority of each day hunched over the sink washing her hands. No matter how dry, cracked, and scaled it made them, she persisted. She’d turn the faucet up until it was steaming, piping hot and lather from the tips of her fingers up to her wrists with harsh lye soap. Plunging them underneath the stream, she would count aloud, “One…two…three…,” until the soap was nothing but a memory and her knuckles were too numb to feel.
Des had been living in her aunt’s old home in the time since she’d passed away and left it to her. She barely left the Cold War-era fallout shelter which had, in her mind, all she needed: a military-grade cot from her aunt and uncle’s camping trips, a small Sterno-powered hot plate, a vast quantity of canned foods, and bars of lye soap. Her job had stopped trying to contact her months before. She was alone with the sink. She was exactly where she wanted to be.
When she wasn’t washing her hands, she was indexing the canned foods her aunt had collected during wartime, when the end of the world seemed inevitable to everyone. There were eight hundred and ninety-six cans of black beans, four hundred and thirty-two cans of Vienna sausage, seven hundred and twenty-two cans of candied peaches, and twenty-nine hundred and thirty-six bars of soap. She allowed herself two cans a day, every day, to eat along with a glass of lukewarm water from the old sink.
Des figured she could sustain life like this for several months before having to venture out into the world. Maybe even a year, and that gave her hope. She couldn’t say she quite remembered what it was like out there, nor would she even want to, because it wouldn’t be the same anymore. She wasn't sure exactly what happened, or how, but she knew that she was alone now. The bombs fell in the early days of her tenure in the bomb shelter. She couldn’t see it, because she was too busy washing her hands and taking inventory. But she heard it and felt it. The vibrations of the first impact were by far the worst, but in the days that followed, they became a welcome interruption. Des was just glad she couldn’t hear the screams of those who weren’t lucky enough to possess an eccentric old couple’s relic of '50s paranoia.
The funny thing is that Des didn’t seek shelter here to preserve herself from apocalypse. No, she was far too ignorant of current events ever to suspect a thing. She simply felt more comfortable in sterile, enclosed spaces. Cold, calculated places, where you didn’t have to interact with others or explain your idiosyncrasies to them.
Des would gladly join her contemporaries in the cold hereafter, if only she had possessed the courage. Her uncle had even left a well-oiled Ruger in the bomb shelter, and enough ammunition to ward off several waves of scavengers. Sometimes she would take it out, load it, and hold it to her temple. But she could never pull the trigger. No, she’d empty the chamber, drop it on the ground, and return to the sink where she’d continue to attempt to wash away the skin that she was trapped in.