There are no words. The words fled from us, or were taken. Civilisation ended, as the silence spread, and people, cities, what we once called nations, joined the ranks of the wordless.
I sit here in the empty house, watching through a gap in the boards as a pack goes by. Human bodies, moving, foraging, yet missing something, something gone from their eyes. You look into those eyes, the liquid stare like that of a dog or cat. They still have intelligence, yes, but there is no familiar mind behind it, only the wordless comprehension of a trousered ape.
From the bedroom comes a groan. She’s awake. I know her instinct is to get out, to join the scavenging tribes. I can’t let that happen. From the table I pick up the bowl of tinned tomatoes and fusilli pasta that I’ve prepared. I open the door.
“Good morning, darling,” I say. She stretches out, naked in the summer warmth, and unashamed. For a moment as she stretches, she is so familiar, like all those times she woke blinking from a Saturday lie-in, and I would bring her morning tea. “How are you today?”
But when she looks at me, there is no recognition, no affection. Just smells the food and reaches out for it.
My morning greetings die on my lips. I hold out a fork to her, but she does not use it, just grabs the bowl and scoops the pasta and tomato by hand, splattering it down and around her. I know she can use a fork. I’ve seen her play with cutlery in the long days shut in with her. But she doesn’t understand any need to. No need to be neat, no words to tell me to straighten my shirt.
“I fixed the power generator last night,” I say. “Found some more petrol. Don’t know how long it will last, of course.” If I give her enough of my words, will she learn to use them again? She chomps at the food, burying her head in it.
I look at my wife and love her, but she is gone, only her moving body left. I use a towel to wipe her down, remove the splattered tomato juice as she fidgets. I remember all the theories from those last few panicked days. Viralized dementia. The zombie apocalypse. The judgement of God. All of them just words, not answers.
I take her by the hand, lead her to the bathroom. She lets herself be led, like a housetrained pet. But perhaps she is better off. Perhaps they all are. No words, no ideologies or beliefs, promises or lies. Just the moment. Sensation. Desire. Gratification, or frustration. Warmth of food or flesh. It would be so much simpler, to turn off the rattle of my thoughts down their well-worn tracks. Why has this not happened to me?
But I watch her smile, and there’s a word that remains, that won’t let me go. Perhaps I’d be better off without it. But it’s there, a gnawing, consuming word I have come to hate but can’t destroy. A word called hope.