the pearl

Excerpt from 'Life After, An Oral History' by Linwood Porteous Junior: Chapter Three - Jake Jensen

Transcript of interview with Jake Jensen, August 21, 2051

JJ: I should've never taught you to read.

LPJ: Now why are you saying that?

JJ: If I hadn't taught you, then you wouldn't've been a historian — you would've been a farmer or a fisherman or a hunter like your sister... How is your sister, anyway?

LPJ: They think it might be twins.

JJ: Goddamn.

LPJ: Yeah, that was Mom's reaction.

JJ: I bet. [pause] So you want me to start from the beginning?

LPJ: Not if you don't want to. I got all that from Mom and Dad already.

JJ: Yeah, but your parents were too busy worrying about you to really keep track of what was going on.

LPJ: So do you want to talk about what happened?


Or we could talk about something else.

JJ: Yeah...if that's okay. Maybe later? Or something?

LPJ: Whatever you're comfortable with. [pause] Why don't you tell me about when Uncle Cougar came back?

JJ: That again? Jeez, you were old enough to remember.

LPJ: Yeah, but I was five. It's not as if I understood what was going on. [pause] Come on, Uncle Jay. You always had the best version of this story.

JJ: [long sigh] Yeah, okay. So, we thought...we thought that he had died when the Eastern Seaboard had gone under, y'know? went to go get Kim and Jamie, know, let's just skip this, okay?

LPJ: Okay.

JJ: [long sigh] Okay.

LPJ: Do you want me to stop the tape?

JJ: It's not even a tape, it's a digital recorder.

LPJ: Semantics. Do you want me to stop?

JJ: No, no. Don't stop it. Um... Basically, we thought he was dead, okay? That's all that needs to be explained. And we — your parents, me, Aisha and the Colonel — we were travelling across the country, trying to get information about Max and what had happened, heading up north during the summer and down south during the winter. Your parents had that old motorhome, Clay and Aisha were sharing this old VW van, and I was alternating between both until they found me that bus.

LPJ: The Internetz.

JJ: Heh. Yeah.

LPJ: Why did you call it that?

JJ: At the time, we didn't know if what had happened was just around us or over the entire world. We had no news, no connections, all the power stations and telephone networks were down. There were still satellites, but you had to know the codes for those, and even then you couldn't be sure they were still up there and working.

All that information people were used to having right at their fingertips — it was just gone. Maybe if you were lucky, you had an old encyclopedia set at home, but everyone else, they had gotten used to Wikipedia and Google. So when your kid got a sniffle or you found some mushrooms you thought you could eat or you wanted to find clean water, you couldn't just type in "types of poisonous mushrooms" or "how to dig a well" or "childhood diseases" — you guessed. And you died.

So we were in this tiny little Nebraskan town — doing what we normally did when we found small towns. Talk to the survivors, barter, trying to get food or cooking oil — your dad had converted the motorhome and the van to biodiesel pretty early on. And next to what used to be the city hall, there was this ridiculous looking bus — covered in trees and rainbows and other pictures that totally made it look stupid as hell. It said Custer County Bookmobile across the side, and there must've been something in my eyes, because suddenly Clay was bartering an entire crate of ammo for it.

LPJ: He must've known what it would mean to you.

JJ: I think he was just tired of me bitching. Hell, I know your dad was.

LPJ: So you were given the bookmobile.

JJ: Heh. Yeah. I got the bookmobile. We had to stay there an extra week while Pooch pulled together enough shit to get it running on that barrel of grease he got off of the abandoned McDonalds, but I spent that time going through all the books, picking out the ones I thought were important and which were bullshit. Fuck, there was a lot of Dan Brown in there. And Oprah book club bullshit. All of that shit went out — got turned into insulation for some of the families in the town, just stacked up against the walls. And I stocked it full of almanacs and nature guides and survival books...whatever I could scrounge up that'd be helpful without taking away things people'd need.

The school let me take an entire curriculum away — K through 12 for one, from beginning reading to calculus — just for you. I wasn't planning on teaching you, though.

LPJ: Sure you weren't.

JJ: I wasn't. No way I could teach kids, y'know. That'd be fucking ridiculous.

LPJ: But you did.

JJ: Well, your mom was busy with food, your dad was busy with supplies, nobody wanted to let Aisha teach you, 'cause then it'd just be how to blow shit up, and Clay'd just teach you how to pick up bad women, so...I don't know. Once you started playing with my books, it just seemed natural to just teach you how to read, and then it was teaching you math, and science, and...I dunno. It just sorta happened.

LPJ: Thank you for that.

JJ: Aw hell, don' know what a sap I am.

LPJ: So you had your bookmobile.

JJ: Yep. And I stocked it full of books and got some leftover paint to repaint the side.

LPJ: You never did explain why you called it 'The Internetz'.

JJ: It was an Internet thing. Back before...before it happened...people just used the Internet for any old shit. Memes flew faster than the fibre optic cable they transferred on. Online message boards would have hacking wars with each other with major sites and systems caught in the crossfire. It was a place of absolute insanity and inanity and brilliance. And, fuck, did I miss it.

But we had books. And information. And if I couldn't have Anonymous and Caturday and Xzibit, I could, at least, be that source of information for people across the country.

LPJ: That's...pretty deep.

JJ: I got layers, kid. I got layers.

LPJ: So you were travelling in a bookmobile. Mom, Dad and me were in the Winnebago, and Clay and Aisha were in the van.

JJ: Yep. I mostly slept on the roof, though. Better view of what was happening and I could fill up with more books.

LPJ: Yeah, I remember that.

JJ: You thought it was the coolest thing when you were three. Kept on begging your mom to let you sleep up on the roof of the Winnebago.

LPJ: She let me do it eventually... [chuckle] It was in Michigan, wasn't it?

JJ: Yeah...yeah... [pause] Your dad had a lead on some auto parts — what we couldn't use on ours, we could definitely use in trade. We were in this town right by Indiana, and your dad saw him first. He told you about that, right?

LPJ: Yeah.

JJ: Yeah. He didn't even think, just saw him and ran to find me. I had found an entire bookcase of Time-Life books on how to fix everything, and was trying to figure out what we needed out of them, and when he told me...

God, I don't even know how to describe what I felt. It was like my insides had collapsed into themselves, like a black hole where my stomach had been — all compressed matter and sucking. I think I would've collapsed, if I hadn't already been sitting down. As it was, I had to drop my head down so I wouldn't faint...

Heh. Me. All 180 pounds of muscle, fainting because Cougar's back.

I go outside, still a bit wobbly, and your mom had already seen him and nabbed him, holding on to him like he was gonna bolt at any minute. Hell, I think you were hanging on to him too.

LPJ: I was. Wrapped around his leg.

JJ: [chuckle] That's playing dirty, you know.

LPJ: Probably why Mom had me do it. [Laughter] Did you suspect it wasn't him?

JJ: If I had seen him first, yeah, I would've doubted myself. Hell, for the first few months after, I thought every man with long dark hair was him. But your dad — he was Cougar's best friend, y'know? Cougar was his best man at their wedding, and if he had any doubt, he wouldn't've come running for me. But he did, and it was Cougar.

LPJ: What happened when he saw you?

JJ: Same thing that happened with me, I think. We just stared at each other for a few minutes. I was so stunned that I couldn't move — frozen, looking at him, my head all crammed with questions. Where were you? Are you okay? Are they with you? Did you get them? Are you safe? Are you hurt? Why did you leave me? Will you stay with me? Do you still love me?

LPJ: I remember you kissing.

JJ: Well, yeah. Once he started moving, I started moving, and then there were lips and embraces and how he managed to look and smell exactly the same...I honestly don't know. I mean, shit, you don't remember what I looked like before, but it was different. I had different glasses, I didn't have the dreads, my beard was a goddamn work of art... All that changed when all I had was a bucket of cold water and whatever soap I could scrounge up.

But he hadn't changed at all. Same haircut, same bit of a beard — hell, I think it was even the same hat. It was Cougar. And all I could babble was "I thought I...I thought you...You didn't...I didn't..."

Thank God Clay and Pooch stepped in. I probably would've burst into tears or something ridiculous like that. Or if I hadn't, Cougar might've, and that would've really been the goddamned end of the world.

LPJ: He never cried?

JJ: Only once. Back when the end of the world meant 22 kids in a burnt-out chopper and not... [sigh]

LPJ: [pause] What had Cougar been doing in Michigan?

JJ: Would you believe he was looking for us? It was just sheer dumb fucking luck that we ended up in the same town — he was hitching rides or walking from town to town, and we were driving all over the goddamned country, and it was just a dumb coincidence that we were in the same town.

He would've caught up to us eventually — he always was the best tracker of the team — but who knows how long that would've been? He didn't even know it was us when he heard there was a convoy in town that'd be going west — just figured he could catch a ride as far as the next town.

LPJ: But it was you.

JJ: Heh. Yeah. And, damn... Let's just say that it was a good thing your mom didn't let you sleep on top of the Winnebago that night, 'cause you would've seen things that'd scar you for life.

LPJ: [pause] I think I'm scarred now.

JJ: Yeah, well, the Internetz was filled up with those "How to Survive Everything" books that I had snagged from that gun shop in Fort Wayne — great for barter purposes, not so great for sleeping on — and your parents wouldn't let us have the Winnebago for the night, and we hadn't needed a tent before, and Clay and Aisha... [pause]

LPJ: What about Clay and Aisha?

JJ: Um... [slow exhalation] You never heard?

LPJ: Heard what?

JJ: Really? Your dad never mentioned...?

LPJ: Uncle Jay, why would Clay and Aisha be a problem?

JJ: Okay, um, shit. Um...remember how, like a month after we found Cougs, we picked up that tent? And how Cougar kept on sleeping in the tent and I was sleeping on the roof?

LPJ: Yeah.

JJ: What excuse did I give you when you asked?

LPJ: You said you liked the stars.

JJ:, kiddo. I lied. Cougar was kind of...really pissed off with me. And... [long sigh] We were kinda not talking to each other for a few months. Or anything else.

LPJ: And this had something to do with Clay and Aisha?

JJ: This had everything to do with Clay and Aisha...and me.

LPJ: ...And you? [pause] Oh. Oh.

JJ: Yeah.

LPJ: Seriously?

JJ: Yeah. [sigh] Look, okay, you were too little to remember what happened, but when it did, it was fucked up. It fucked up the planet, it fucked up people, it fucked up my life. And Cougar — we had only been officially married for less than a year, and then he was gone and my entire family was gone with him and it seriously messed up my life.

And Clay and Aisha...yeah, they were fucked up as well, but they made it easier. If it wasn't for them, I don't think I could've coped.

LPJ: And he couldn't understand that?

JJ: That was the kicker — he did understand. Fuck him for understanding too well. He knew what I was like, he knew what I would need, and he understood all that, but he was still so goddamned angry that I did that. He had sacrificed so much to find me again, and here I was, having a threesome in a VW.

LPJ: But he said he understood.

JJ: Yeah, but that didn't mean he had to like it.

LPJ: What finally patched things up between you?

JJ: Clay talked to him. Or maybe picked a fight with him — I'm not sure. It was when I had that infection.

LPJ: I remember that.

JJ: Yeah, and it's why your mom always makes you wear shoes, even after all these years, because stupid Uncle Jay stepped on a rusty nail and was lucky to not get tetanus but still got a raging fever and nearly blood poisoning with no antibiotics around.

LPJ: So you were injured.

JJ: I was at fucking death's door. And he still wouldn't talk to me.

LPJ: But you got better. And you two were back together. I remember that.

JJ: Yeah, and neither of them ever told me what happened. All I knew was that when my fever finally broke, Cougar was the one sponging my forehead and looking at me like I was the biggest idiot.

LPJ: He loved you.

JJ: He did. He really fucking did. [pause] Um. Do you think you could stop the tape now? I don't think... I can't...

LPJ: Yeah, yeah.


This The Losers story was written by Kate Bolin. If you liked it, there's plenty more at And you can feedback her at