Becca could not remember where she picked up the canvas bag. It was at least two years ago. It had been white at one point, white and perfect. Now it was a road map of stains, rips, tears, discolorations marking her life on the streets since that pandemic business started three years ago.
The text was too faded to read, but she thought it used to say Costco. It was one of those cloth things people always used with an air of smugness.
She remembered her granny, bending low, the already candled cake held in her too thin arms, whispering in Becca’s ear, “Every day we are alive is special, sweetheart. Never forget that.” Her grandmother’s voice had been a dry wind that tickled her ear.
Becca wiped her eyes.
She peeked out from under the overpass; the warm, yellow rain was still falling. She hoped it would stop soon; it was a special day after all.
She looked inside the bag, making sure all seven phones were off. Then she remembered. They were all dead. Becca had taken them off the leftover people, the quiet ones lying in the street, not the others. She did her best to avoid the others.
It was weird how all the phones had died at once, on a Friday. Becca had been so careful only to turn them on a few minutes at a time. There was never any phone or internet service, of course, but for weeks she had roamed the city trying to find something, a signal, Wi-Fi, another human, a connection to something, anything.
Becca liked looking through the photo albums and reading the text messages and emails. It felt like contact with someone else. Her granny lectured her against snooping on people, but she thought granny would be okay with this.
Becca played a few games on the phones early, but when she realized that she had no way to recharge the phones, Becca decided to use them only sparingly. Three of the phones had cracked screens; one of them had a Hello Kitty case; one of the cracked phones had SASSY written in sparkly, multicolored ink across its back.
Some days Becca would turn one of them on before going to sleep and read text messages or look at photos for a few minutes. She would keep an eye on the battery meter and tried never to use more than two percent of the remaining charge before shutting it off and sleeping.
On one of the phones, the one with the attached wallet, Becca had found a text message with an embedded video. It was a seven-second clip showing a nameless little blond girl Becca would never meet. In the video, the girl, who was all teeth and pigtails, smiled as she opened a present. Inside the lavishly wrapped box had been a golden retriever puppy. The little girl cried every time she opened the box. Becca cried every time she watched the clip.
Then there was the night with the bright lightning. She hadn’t understood it. It came without rain or thunder; bright flashes of light lit up the entire night sky that reminded her of trips to her grandparent’s farm to watch her skinny, pimply-faced cousin Billy set off about a billion fireworks. If anything the lightning had been even brighter than Billy’s roman candles; for an instant, the nighttime became the daytime. After it had passed, Becca had laid under the overpass, beneath her tattered, dirty blanket, shivering for hours.
She wiped her eyes and remembered her granny again telling her how big girls never cry.
She kept a little calendar in her bag with the dead phones. It was weird how they all stopped working after the lightning. She was sure that they all had at least forty percent battery left, but the next day, after the flashes, none of them would turn on again.
She snuck into a grocery store. They were almost always a longshot and she had learned to keep her expectations low, but it was a lucky day for Becca.
She found another phone, one she hadn’t had to remove from a dead leftover. This one was lying behind a newspaper rack. Becca was careful to avert her eyes from the familiar headline as she picked the phone off the ground. She pocketed it and told herself it might not work and not to cry like a baby if it didn’t.
She found three cans of soup and a half-eaten package of Oreos. She scooped all of the items into her other canvas bag, the little, white one with its Save the Whales logo still legible.
Then she saw the little package of candles and stuck it into her bag. She took her loot and carefully made her way out of the store, praying she wouldn’t meet any of the other type of leftover people. The other type didn’t lay still in the streets; they were mean, angry, and violent.
As she turned down an alley on her way back to her current camp, she thought about the candles and decided after eating one of the soups she’d just found she would have a little birthday cake in the form of some arrangement of Oreos and candles this evening. If her little Bic lighter still worked, she would light the candles and make a wish.