Chapter 03

Several weeks passed like that, and despite her best efforts, she started noticing movement in the waste containers around the shopping centre. Each time she came back, therefore, she would heavily supply the containers with rat poison, till she ran out of it and had to travel to other towns to get more. She also made a “protective poison ring” around the chateau and the stables where she kept her cow and her horse, which she had been lucky enough to find and persuade to join her.

She would have felt safer with a large dog, but such were nowhere to be found. Her fear got worse each night, and sometimes she had panic attacks even during the day. Brown rats scared her out of her wits ever since she accidentally saw a video of them eating a white cat alive on the internet. Well, they had no enemies now. What if they eat her up alive as well, if there are enough of them? She was terrified by the idea of such excruciatingly painful death. Each night, she would lie in her bed, fear pulsating in her veins, preventing her from sleeping for hours on end. She started accumulating food in the chateau, only going to town if it was absolutely necessary, but she didn’t feel safe even in her stronghold. There were waste containers in the village below as well… Overall she had no idea what was happening, but was too frightened to try to find out. She also fought the urge to look for Zoran each night, each night convinced that she would set out on the search the first thing in the morning, and then never plucking up the courage.

How could she choose between two evils like that anyway? She was pretty sure that by now he would want to have sex with her. She didn’t do sex. It hurt. It disgusted her. And he probably couldn’t protect her from the brown rats anyway. Still, one night she was so desperate that she connected her laptop to the internet and went straight to Facebook. Zoran wasn’t online, but he had left her several messages, mostly updates on what he was doing, sometimes asking her to get in touch and other times realising she probably never came online now, and therefore using the messages as a kind of a diary. The last message was about a week old and mentioned him being sick, with high fever and little strength in his body. She wondered if he had recovered, but he would have messaged her by now if he had…? Suddenly she was struck down by the thought that he might have died. It was one thing going on with her life while she knew there was at least one other person on this planet, quite another to be the only one left. She didn’t want to be a guardian for the lonely Earth. She wouldn’t be. But he couldn’t have died!

Apparently, he was still staying at the dorm. Too nervous to even consider sleeping, she ran downstairs, quickly exchanged her slippers for boots, grabbed her coat and car keys and a minute later she was speeding along the narrow driveway.

She had acquired an elegant model of Audi about a month back and now she was grateful she had it at the chateau (she kept her dad’s car and the van at the shopping centre’s parking space and came back home in whichever suited her needs at the time. She made the motorway in fifteen minutes, and in another thirty she stopped the car in front of the second dormitory block at Neředín. She ran to the back of the building again to find his window lit up by the lamp on his table. It was three in the morning. She also spotted something else – a bunch of keys on the windowsill. She jumped up and brushed them down to the ground, where she had a hard job of finding them afterwards. But she did, nevertheless, and she ran to the front of the house to let herself in.

The room was as messy as ever, but also smelling of someone who hadn’t been able to get up for some time.

“Oh, Jesus,” she commented the state of the place, but immediately moved on to inspect Zoran, who was lying in bed and her arrival failed to produce any reaction in him. His face was ashen and he was raving.

“Right, you’re coming with me,” she decided at once. She packed him all the clean clothes she could find, all his cholesterol control medicine and everything else that looked important into a suitcase, which she then carried to the car and came back for him. She leaned over him, gently touching his shoulder.

“Zoran, can you hear me?” she spoke softly. He evidently didn’t. “God, you’re too stocky for me to carry you, come on!” she complained, then tried lifting him up, which she eventually managed. She made him walk in a fashion to the car, where she seated him and strapped the belt around him.

She stopped at a medical shop to get sheath catheters and leg bags. Her practice in caring for disabled people would really pay off this time, even if it meant seeing him naked. Otherwise she was sure she had all the medicines she might need at the chateau.

“Please, don’t die,” she asked him quietly while speeding home. “I’m so sorry I didn’t find you earlier…”

Once at the chateau she dragged him upstairs into a bedroom almost next door to hers. She wished she knew what she was doing, but in fact her medical knowledge wasn’t abundant. She was pretty sure, though, that if his fever was this high, she would have to bring it down quickly. She adjusted him on the bed, but didn’t cover him, and opened the window wide. As cool winter air streamed in, she ran off into the bathroom to get a sponge and a bowl of cold water. She got up once to put on a thick sweater and a coat, otherwise she kept sponging his heated up face with the cold water. Around dawn he fell asleep. Jana felt his forehead, and it seemed the fever subsided. She got up carefully and left just one wing of the window ajar, closing the rest. Then she tiptoed out of the room, found a thermometer and checked his temperature. It was down to 37.7, which she thought was safe enough. She got rid of her extra layers, and before she could think about it thoroughly, applied the sheath catheter and a leg bag.

Suddenly she realized how exhausted she was. She gave him one last careful glance, covered him with a thin blanket, and left him to sleep, while she went to her room to do the same.


She woke up at abouthalf past eleven, feeling as though someone had hit her head with a hammer. She groaned, but staggered out of the room to check on Zoran. He was still asleep. She checked his temperature, quite pleased with the result, and then carefully pulled the duvet from under him and covered him with it. The leg bag was empty; she realized he must be dehydrated, and anyway she had no idea how this worked with non-disabled people. She removed both the bag and the catheter and went to the kitchen to get him something to drink for when he woke up. Or should she wake him up now to make him drink? She had no idea how dangerous dehydration was, whether it was like with oxygen supply to the brain, or whether it was safe to wait till he woke up. She put the thermos flask with tea and a jar of cold, mild syrup solution on his bedside table and went to consult the internet. The Wikipedia article on dehydration made her none-the-wiser, although she suspected that she now knew one of the reasons for his perpetual bad mood. Eventually she decided to wake him up to make him drink at least a glass of the syrup solution.

She shook him gently, saying his name several times before he opened his eyes.

“Jane…” he whispered hoarsely.

“Shhh, don’t speak,” she shook her head. “You need to drink something. Come, let me help you up.”

With joint efforts they managed to have him sit up, and Jana poured him a glass, but he was too weak to hold it himself.

“I should have got you a straw,” she smiled, as she sat next to him, holding the glass to his lips and prevented him from gulping the liquid down too fast. “Hey, slow down,” she told him softly, “it’s not going anywhere. There’s plenty of time, and plenty more of it. It’s ok.”

When they finished the glass, she helped him lie back down.

“I’m so tired…” he breathed out.

“Get some more sleep, then. It’s ok, you’re safe now,” she ran her hand down his cheek.

“You’re the gentlest thing on earth,” he said, and she smiled: “Well, that’s one of us. Certainly not you.”

He copied her smile, and then went serious again, realising what she actually said.

“I’ll bring you something to eat when you’ve woken up again,” she announced to change the subject. “If you wake up and I’m not here, I’ll probably be next door or across the corridor, so just call me.”

“What is this place anyway?”

“Just a place I chose for my home,” she shrugged. “We’ll talk later, ok? Get some sleep.”

He nodded and closed his eyes. Jana got up from the bed and left him to sleep. She attended to the animals, apologising for coming so late, and only then did she have late breakfast.

Zoran woke up again at four, and she spoon-fed him thin soup with finely chopped vegetables.

“It’s not much, but I figured we should start slowly,” she explained, and he nodded.

“Jane,” he stopped her when she was on her way again. She came back to the bed, laying the empty soup bowl on the bedside table. “Explain to me something. You’re going out of your way to make me comfortable. You’re kind and caring and so gentle that it makes me mad with gratitude I’m unable to express in words. So why the hell did you leave me in the first place?”

She sighed. “It’s complicated.”

“Well, that complicated might have cost me my life. What made you change your mind anyway?”

“What do you want your life for, Zoran?” she whispered sadly. “This world is going to hell and we’re just going there with it.”

“Then why did you bother?” he insisted.

“I was scared,” she admitted. “Of the silence. Of darkness. Of animals. And I didn’t know where you would be, so I checked Facebook and you said you were ill and then there were no more messages, so I got even more scared that you might be dead. And I know I’d done everything I could not to be with you, but the thought of being in this world all on my own was too much to bear.”

“So what you’re basically saying is that you’ve saved me because you’re a selfish coward, and when I’ve recovered, you’ll chuck me out again. But hey, at least you’ll have the comfort of knowing that I’m there somewhere, right?”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, hurt to the point of tears by his words. She took the bowl and made for the door. There she stopped and looked back at him: “You can stay as long as you like,” she said and left.

She went to the attic room and lit a fire in the hearth. The flames comforted her somewhat, so she took a book and curled up on a sofa. Some time afterwards she was startled by a muffled thud that came from close by. She jumped up and ran to Zoran’s bedroom, where she found him lying on the floor.

“What happened?”

He gave her a bitter look and explained: “I needed to pee.”

“You should have called me.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Here, let me help you up.”

She escorted him to the toilet, but left him to his own devices there. Then she helped him back to his bed.

“I am grateful, you know. I wasn’t just saying that.”

“And I realise it hasn’t been easy for you. But it hasn’t been easy for me either. I might be able to explain everything to you one day, but for now let’s just settle for our martyr score being equal, ok?”

“I was waiting for you,” he said, without reproach.

“Like I said, I’m sorry.” She meant to add that he might regret coming here in time, but wasn’t brave enough to do it. Not now. Not yet.

“Come on, don’t go,” he stopped her when she aimed for the door again. “It sucks, knowing you’re here, and only seeing you when you bring me food, or… the other thing. You don’t think we can talk?”

She shrugged, pulled an armchair close to the bed and sat down to talk with him. It was surprisingly easy. She had already suspected once that they were essentially the same, only slightly out of phase, like two pages of the same book, calling the same things with different names.


They spent a lot of time together in the days to come; sometimes it was as pleasant as the first evening, sometimes a few sparks would fly, but overall they were both glad they were together. Only the rate of Zoran’s regaining strength was worrying Jana. Not that it was going too slowly, or that she wasn’t pleased with the progress he was making, but she was afraid that the sooner he was out of bed, the sooner he’ll want to get physical with her. She started making excuses about things that needed to be done outside the chateau, or simply kept disappearing to meet him as little as possible, usually only during main meals.

He found her in the kitchen one day as she was making lunch. He stood in the doorway, observing her for a while, till she stopped and turned her attention to him.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” he said.

“Yes,” she nodded matter-of-factly.

“Excuse me? Aren’t you supposed to deny it or something?”

“Why would I? It’s what I’ve been doing.”


“Long story.”

“You’d better start telling it while we’re young, then.”

She sighed. “Ok, let me ask you something.”

He made a gesture saying “go on”.

“Do you…” she breathed out heavily, trying to pluck up the courage to ask. “Do you want to have sex with me?”

He stared at her silently for a minute, and then said: “Pretty much, yeah.”

“Because there’s no one else?”

“If that’s your way of asking whether you’re special to me, then yes, you are special. For your information, I wanted to have sex with you even before this happened.”

She froze. She was hoping he would save her the impossible task of finding words to respond, but he was clearly waiting for her reaction, which was driving her mad even more.

“I don’t… do sex,” she managed eventually.

“Oh,” an idea dawned on him suddenly. “That’s why you wrote the essay, isn’t it?[1] You’re asexual yourself, is that what you’re saying?”

“No… I don’t know. It’s difficult. I’d say I’m borderline asexual, sort of. It’s just that… It only hurts, it doesn’t do anything else for me, it’s just the pain…”

“Right.” He was beginning to understand even more things now. “Is that why you ran away from me?”

She nodded.

“Let me ask you something as well – do you like me?”

She bit her lip. “Well, yeah, in a way. I mean I hate your guts, but I also feel equally strong affection towards you. Does that make sense?”

“I can live with that,” he shrugged.


“Do you like hugging?” he asked suddenly, and she nodded fairly eagerly. “Ok, come here,” he said and opened his arms for her, pressing her tightly to himself when she accepted the offer. It felt incredibly nice. She loved being held, it made her feel invisible, safe. She always craved that, but seldom got it because she was sure guys would expect more with time.

A burning smell hit her nostrils.

“Dammit!” she cursed, and he let her go so that she could take the bowl with part of their lunch out of the oven. She inspected the surface and breathed out in relief: “Not so bad, fortunately. But we can’t keep doing this while I’m cooking.”

He gave a short laugh. “Ok.”


He came to her bedroom that night; she was just drying her hair with a towel, and he took it out of her hands and tossed it over the bed, then reached for her and took her in his arms. She pressed herself tightly against him, hiding her face against his shoulder for as long as she could breathe, and kissing the shoulder gently as she lifted her head again. She could feel, and even smell, his desire, but for some reason he chose to ignore it. They parted.

“Do you want to stay here tonight?” she asked in slightly more than a whisper.

“Not a good idea,” he shook his head, kissed her briefly on the mouth, bade her goodnight and left for his own room.


[1] She had written an essay on the asexuality-atheism analogy for his class, and he had always wondered why she had chosen the topic.


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