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I suggested to my wife we go to the grocery store to stock up on food and water. Calgary’s Elbow and Bow rivers were flooding. The water, like kids rushing out for recess, was spreading over its banks, giggling at the freedom. The adults were not amused. The police were evacuating neighbourhoods. Cars were submerged. Basements were becoming dank wading pools. It was awful.
I add that we should go that night, while people are either leaving their homes, or at home watching the leaving. This is our window of opportunity, I explain. Our chance to be successful survivors. She says not to worry, we’ll go first thing tomorrow.
The next morning, my chest falls as we turn onto the street that leads to the grocery store parking lot. It is full of cars waiting to make the turn, too. We creep along. The lot is full and vehicles are patrolling the rows, marauders looking for an empty space. It’s like trying to grab a spot at the mall at Christmas. I sggest that maybe we can park on the road and walk. I get the icy stare that says, “If I am going to go into that fray for you and the kids, I am not going to walk to a car on a street.”
Just inside the doors, a few straggling carts are left. I lay claim to one. The store is packed. I leave my wife in fruits and vegetables and tell her I’ll get the bottled water. I bolt, hoping for the best. The shelves are empty, except for one bottle of lemon-infused Perrier. Why there is one unclaimed bottle I have no idea. I suppose in every run-on-water scenario, there is always one lone bottle of lemon-infused Perrier that serves as a beacon to everyone’s bad luck in coming late to the survival game.
I find my wife in the deli section getting shaved ham and turkey – for what, one wonders. End of time sandwiches? I look in the cart. Three potatoes. An onion. A couple of tomatoes. Some strawberries. A section of watermelon and some dried cranberries. I look at her and she gives me that stare that said, “Don’t tell me how to shop for Armageddon!” I deliver the bad news about the water.
I tell her I’ll look for tinned meat – tuna, salmon, ham. She scrunches up her nose. I shoot off to the canned food aisle. It’s been ransacked. However, on a low shelf at the back, as if waiting just for me, there are three cans of tuna. I grab them with a silly smile on my face. We are not going to die.
She’s checking the expiry dates on some chicken wings when I proudly show her my trophies. She informs me that we never buy solid tuna, but flaked, and never in oil, only in water. I am sent back, where hungry eyes are waiting for me to reshelve my prizes.
When I find her again I look at our cart. Crackers are on sale. Always good for a flood? Some chicken and bacon. Okay. It looks like we are planning a Welcome to the Flood dinner party, not getting ready for days without open stores. This can’t be right. I grab my smartphone and Google “food for disasters.” Apparently we need water, rice, oil, tinned meat and vegetables. Vitamins. And syrup. I show her the phone. “What do we need oil for – there is plenty at home,” she says. “But,” she continues, “syrup is good – we can have pancakes!”
And then I see him.
The survivalist. The man who lives for these times. He’s clearly left his wife at home. He is a lone wolf. He is a forager. He is a hunter. His eyes are lasers scanning the shelves for supplies he knows he’ll need in the days to come.
His cart is a thing of beauty, a masterful essay on the grammar of disaster. Not a single can that isn’t needed. Zero perishables. I immediately hate and envy him. Our carts brush and he glances into ours. He does the survivalist math. When I’m starving and near dead in four days, he’ll be thriving. He smirks and pushes on.
We get home. Dinner tonight is chicken wings, salad and wild rice with the dried cranberries. It should be a portioned-out can of tuna and a small cup of water.
Tomorrow will be blueberry pancakes with syrup and bacon for breakfast. Bread and cold cuts for lunch. And then mashed potatoes and leftovers for dinner.
If the rain doesn’t stop we might last another half day on the crackers.
But after that we are done.
In a thousand years, I think, they will find my mummified, starved body. A professor will explain the flood and catastrophe. Researchers will examine my stomach contents to try to answer the question – why did he die?
They will find remnants of blueberry pancakes and syrup, a dried cranberry or two, and some crackers that were on sale.
And one can only imagine the discussion that follows.
David Bannister lives in Calgary.