Author: Joanne Feenstra

A woman pounds on our front door. She is gaunt and tall, wet hair: short roots tipped with long dyed blond ends. We’ve seen that look before here in the Mercy Valley: city people. We’ve pretty much lived through the first couple waves of city folk. Now the gates are up: hardly anyone comes through.
“Emilia!” She pounds again. If I don’t move, she might not see me. I sit very still in the warm dark, in the heat of the wood stove, my hands stopped from pulling apart a green wool blanket. The blanket will be a sweater, something beautiful and practical.
The woman is illuminated by the faint moonlight that’s come out after the rain storm. She’s wearing wet wool pants and a huge black slicker that comes down to her knees. How does she know my name? I wish we had dogs. I’d just let them out. We don’t have dogs anymore, hardly anyone does, it’s too expensive and some of them, well you know, some of them got eaten. She probably saw the name on the faded wooden sign we had installed in the halcyon days before this.
It’s after 7 pm, when the electricity shuts off, so it’s dark in our house. The wood stove heat is warm. In the Mercy Valley, I’m the Knitter. I reknit anything to make sweaters and then trade for vegetables, fruit, fabric. Martin darns his own socks with the leftover bits, and I patch up our jeans. We do this in the quasi-dark and it’s comfortable and secure.
There’s a gun in the back of the closet. We mostly use the gun for hunting: deer and last winter, a bear cub. We tried wild turkeys but haven’t got one yet, too flighty.
She cups her hands around her wet face and presses it against the glass. I don’t move. We’ve decided that no matter who was at our door, we’d pretend we weren’t home. Then they’d go away or if they didn’t, Martin would take out the shotgun and then they’d leave. It makes it hard to sleep sometimes at night, not knowing if a stranger is lurking around. That’s why I wish we had dogs.
She kicks the door. “Emilia. Let me in. I came through the Ashfall Pass.”
The Ashfall Pass? I heard of people coming to the Mercy Valley from there, you come out in the park. There’s no gate on the trail.
My feet are warm against the heat of the wood stove but we can’t let her in. We only have rations for the two of us, beans and rice, doled out a week at a time, from the market. Used to be a store but now it’s a Ration Station. I’ve lost a lot of weight of course, we all have, and the skinny ones, well, they suffered the most during the early food shortages.
Martin takes out the shotgun, opens the door a crack and points the barrel at the woman. “Get out,” he says. “Leave this place.”
I slowly put down the unravelling and tug a blue quilt a bit tighter around my shoulders.
“Emilia!” she shouts, crying. I watch her bend over, bracing her bare hands against the door frame, her hair sloping down over her face. I hear her more clearly through the partially open door. “It’s me. Jocelyn.”
Martin turns to me. “You want me to let your sister in?”