Gail Newton – When the War Comes

# 56 – Glasses

When the war comes, there won’t be any glasses. Eye glasses, I mean, not the kind you drink from, although those will probably be in short supply as well. And you can rule out contact lenses. There won’t be any soap so it will be impossible to wash your hands properly to put them in. I don’t wear them these days, because you don’t want to be stuck at the end of the world with your contact lenses in and no way to safely remove them, and no glasses. Because then where would you be? Eaten by a feral dog, most likely.

My left eye is -5 and my right -6.5. We haven’t evolved well for a world where you must survive on wits and strength alone. Natural selection now favours those able to touch-type, or create engaging PowerPoint presentations. When the world ends and the computers are dead and videoconferencing seems like a strange hallucinogenic dream, then all of the office workers, with our short-sighted eyes and stiff necks, will be absolutely screwed. I’ve taken precautions, and so should you my friends. Take advantage of ‘buy one get one free’ offers at opticians. Get four pairs, if you can, and hide them in your radiation shelter. Because when the world finally comes crashing down around us, there won’t be any optometrists.  There won’t even be any–

Dave turns from the screen in annoyance – his wife is calling up the stairs that dinner is ready.  He clicks ‘Save’ and then shuts the lid of his laptop. Dinner is always ready just when he is in the middle of something.

They are having salmon and new potatoes and they don’t talk much. Eventually Christina looks up at him over the bowl of salad in the middle of the table.

‘So, how was your day?’

‘Fine,’ he says, taking some more tomatoes. ‘Is there any balsamic vinegar?’

She nods and goes to the cupboard. ‘Did you get that article finished?’

He looks over at her blankly.

‘The one for the magazine, reviewing the new Planet 48 game. You told me about it.’

‘Oh, that. Yes.’ He scrolls back through the last week in his head. He can’t find the moment he mentioned this to his wife, but supposes he must have. She has a good memory, when she wants to. He sometimes throws her these bytes of information to keep her happy. She would go mental if she realised he hasn’t written anything worth submitting for about three months.

She looks unconvinced as she places the vinegar on the table. He forks another piece of salmon into his mouth. It doesn’t taste of much.

‘So, I was thinking …’ she says some time later, when they are eating cherry pie and custard, ‘maybe we could go down to Cornwall for the weekend, see Dianne and James. What do you think?’

He mumbles something through a mouthful of burning hot pie.

‘You could take your laptop with you, if you needed to work. Working on the beach, that would be nice.’

He thinks of the sand working its way in between the keys of his laptop. Suncream on the screen. And they have a lot of floods down in Cornwall, especially at this time of year.

‘I think it’s probably safer to stay here,’ he says before he can stop himself, then looks up guiltily at his wife.

‘Safer?’ she says. She puts down her spoon and it clatters on the tabletop. She runs a hand through her hair. ‘Not this, Dave.’

He takes a sip of iced tea to cool his mouth. ‘It’s just, you know, all my provisions are here. And I need to collect my new glasses from the opticians.’

‘You ordered another pair of glasses? That makes six pairs. What are you doing with them all? And how are glasses really going to help you if there’s a nuclear war? Won’t you already be nuked?’

‘It’s not nuclear war that’s going to do us in, Chris. If you ever read my blog you’d understand that. People aren’t scared of nuclear bombs any more. There’s more imminent danger.’

‘Right, are they poisoning the tap water now?’ She stands up and pours herself a large glass straight from the tap. ‘Is that why you only drink iced tea now? Why iced tea, for God’s sake?’ She guzzles the water in one go and slams the glass down on the table in front of him. ‘Right, that’s me done for, then.’

After she has left the kitchen, Dave finishes his pie and then goes back upstairs.

–medical doctors. I urge you to stock up on medicines now, while you can. It won’t be long, not after the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake in New Zealand, the storms in the US. Even here in Britain we are not safe from floods and extreme weather. No, my friends, we have been foolish. For so long we worried about nuclear war or alien invasion, but those are not our greatest threats. The Earth itself is waging war, as we should have known it would after the years of pain we’ve inflicted on it. The industrial revolution alone was surely enough to push it to the limit, and now we have filled the seas with sewage and the ground with rubbish and the air with chemicals and gases that have no right to be there in such quantities. The world is fighting back and soon I expect some sort of disaster on the largest scale yet to sweep each country and erase life as we know it. Strong words, but it’s time to prepare. And today’s advice is to stock up on glasses. Tomorrow I will look at ways of preventing scurvy in the post-apocalyptic world.

Dave reads it through once, then hits ‘Post’. It’s not one of his best, he knows. He is still rattled from the argument in the kitchen and has started ranting again, spewing out warnings he has issued before with far greater eloquence. The main point of the blog, the advice about glasses, has taken something of a backseat. He didn’t even detail proper storage or safe ways to clean the lenses in the absence of all cloths. He regrets posting it. There will be negative comments on the site later.

Sure enough, within minutes, a comment appears under his blog:

If you’re so concerned about global warming, isn’t it a bit hypocritical to be sat at your computer writing blogs all day?

He looks at the poster – BlogWidow89. New to the site, it would seem, and wholly missing the point. The Earth is already on the brink of war. Too much damage has been done and there’s no point trying to reverse the process now. His fingers itch to type a reply, but he decides against it. He will only write something he’ll regret.

He is always careful not to alienate his fellow bloggers. Often, they are his saviours from despair during the long hours he is home alone in his office, after the biscuits have run out and the words have dried up. He suspects he isn’t really cut out for working from home – he wasn’t functioning well as a freelance journalist even before the blog commanded so much of his time. He was much, much more productive when he worked in London, thriving in the busy office, the bustle of the commute. Things have been so quiet since they moved to the country. Too quiet. He can go for days without seeing another human being apart from Christina, who is prickly and irritable and still not pregnant, as she keeps reminding him. Sometimes he thinks she only wants him for the sex.

Another message pops up.

BlogWidow89: Maybe you should at least turn the lights off?

He writes back:

Bad for my eyes. As I said, they are already -5 and -6.5. I need to preserve what I have left.

BlogWidow89:  Have you considered candles?

She’s taunting me, he thinks. I should never have replied. This is exactly the kind of thing he hates about blogging. When he first started looking at the sites he had been appalled firstly by the spelling and the grammar, and secondly by all the sniping. There are so many rivalries and alliances in the blogosphere. He’d decided to start a new blog, one which would be articulate and grammatically correct and which would build a supportive online community to openly discuss the apocalypse and share ideas and survival tips. He had looked at it as a project, at first, possibly even with a view to getting an article out of it.

Another message:

BlogWidow89: I’m going to Cornwall, by the way.

She must be on the computer downstairs.

Christina doesn’t approve of the blog. She didn’t know about it, for a while, but eventually he had to tell her why he was spending all night in his office. She’d thought he was having an online affair. He gave it up once, for her sake, but in the end it had pulled him back in. Itchy fingers.

There’s no going back, he thinks, once you have realised that all the smaller disasters are part of something much larger, a global war on a scale mankind has never yet encountered, and that the very Earth underneath us is the enemy. You can’t just sit around all day writing about computer games. You can’t even play computer games now that they all seem to focus on dystopian futures in which we could actually be living within the next few years. You have a responsibility to educate and become involved in the discussion about how to rebuild society. Once the Earth has won the war, it will be too late. We need to be organised, now.

BlogWidow89: I understand from your blog of 5th February that Cornwall is one of the most dangerous places in the country, but I think I’m going to take the risk. Maybe you can get started on your radiation shelter while I’m gone.

She adds a link to the end of her post. It takes him to blog # 39 – Radiation Shelters: When the war comes, all the nuclear power stations will be destroyed and the radiation will leak from them. Thousands will die. Some will mutate. Others will just be horribly injured. It is advisable to start preparations for a radiation shelter immediately, somewhere easily accessible –

He types back:

Dorset would be safer for you. If you must go.

BlogWidow89 : I think I must.

BlogWidow89 logs off. A few minutes later he hears the front door slam and a car pull up outside. He wonders if he should watch her leave from the window or something. He navigates instead to the SpecSavers website. He has just realised he might need a pair of sunglasses.


Gail Newton

Gail Newton is 25 and currently lives in Oxford. She has a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from UEA and works in book publishing. She prefers to write at an old typewriter, wearing fingerless gloves if possible and with a glass of wine nearby.


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