Dacing on a Sunday Afternoon

I’m no good at slow dancing. I have two left feet at the best of times but at least when there is a thrashing beat I can wobble my body about to some kind of rhythm. My wife on the other hand moves like a piece of gossamer through the wind; all hips and legs flowing one movement into the other.

I always wanted to give in to her whim; to that perfect ideal of the two of us gliding bare foot across the kitchen floor on some lazy Sunday morning. Today I thought I’d indulged her.

I see her in a new light, her beautiful face lighting up with that smile that she saves just for me. She’s whipped her hair up into a messy bun, a few blonde strands falling down around her ears; effortlessly perfect. As I take her tiny waist in one hand and her delicate fingers in the other I can feel a happiness pouring into me, one that I have not felt for some time now.

This is how we should live, in that unutterably absolute moment, enjoying and loving the other in equal golden harmony. Her sweet face and perfect form flutters in front of me in her pure white dressing gown and everything else in this world seems to blur out of all existence.

As we skim across the tiles, the cold seeping into my feet she brings her head to rest on my chest, fitting around me as if she were made to fill up all my empty spaces. I gaze hazily over her head and look around with an unseeing eye at the flowers on the table, a small mountain of white and red. I don’t take in the cards; the scrawled words of comfort and sympathy, but I can’t ignore the urn that’s still sitting on the wooden surface, glaring at me with sharp disapproval for my blatant disregard.

Before I have time to savour the moment it is over, vanished an slipping from my grasp as she has slipped from me like water through a sieve. Now I’m just a widower, dancing on my own.

There

There’s an old Earth book, I forget what the title was, but it gave me the best advice a lonely little girl could ever have hoped to absorb.

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.””

I liked it because it reminded me of my father. Every time my eyes skipped over the bold black lines that formed the words on the dull, yellow page I could hear his voice. Now, it drips with nostalgia; thick globs of memory trickle down through my brain and his face invades my waking vision.

My childhood was such a happy one, it seems like such a shame to spoil it. When I think of how we lived, free and easy, flying above the clouds in our little floating ship; I want it to stop there. Like re-reading a book you have devoured time and time again, knowing something terrible is going to happen to your favourite main character. Wanting to stop before you get to the part where it all goes horribly wrong but unable to put it down, entrapped and enslaved by the horror that binds you to the spot.

I never really understood what happened; I was only ten. We’d been sailing out from Eranta’s space port into deep space. We’d been in a hurry, I don’t really know why, I think Mother was a little ill. For a long time we drifted in space, in quiet blackness that was so different from the love and laughter I had known before. I’d been told to keep to my room and like the good girl that I was I didn’t question it; trusting in my kind Mother and Father to the fullest extent of the word. It was only when a whole day had passed and I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of either of them that I ventured out into the darkness.

A blue light above me flashed down the corridor, bathing everything in a sickly glow. Somewhere off in the distance I could hear the grinding, whining of an alarm bell screeching its endless siren.

“Da?” I called out, suddenly a little afraid. “Da?”

No one answered. My Father’s work boots sat outside my bedroom door, I’d been wearing them when the soles broke off mine. I used to sit in the hammock in my bedroom keeping them on with just the ends of my toes as I swung through the air gently, reading some old book or another. They felt comforting and familiar on my feet.

We were listing slightly, a tiny touch of the gravitational field wearing off as I have walked, half bounced down through the ship down into the living quarters.

“Mumma? Are you down here?” I pushed on the door to the living quarters and shuddered at the cold breeze that was rushing across the back of my bare little legs. The fire was smouldering, some embers left but nothing else. They always stoked a fire. It was so unusual for Mother not to have one going that it made my stomach sink right down into my Da’s boots and settle there, like lead.

I crept from room to room, questioning at every door and finding nothing. I finally reached the bridge; I wasn’t allowed in there, too many big enticing buttons for a young girl to push. I didn’t think they’d mind, not this once and it had been such a very long time now. So with shuddering hands I pushed open the door.

The alarm was louder in here, blaring into my ears and the shaky AI voice was screeching a warning through the rusting old speakers Father had never got around to replacing.

“Escape pod ejected, escape pod ejected.”

My eyes grew wide and I turned to look at the escape pod exit, through the square hole of glass I could see the air lock open into outer space on the other side. Straps and insulating flapped free in the still vacuum outside. I could feel the prick of tears as it suddenly dawned on me that my parents had abandoned me, for no good reason at all they’d left me here, ten years old and floating in space.

That was five years ago now. Five years of endless drifting in deep space, not a soul around, no sign of a habitated planet. I asked the AI to send us to the closest planet with registered life; she estimated it would take us twenty years. We ran out of fuel two months ago and even for all my rationing I used the last canteen of water and tin of food yesterday morning. I’d been feeling ok about it actually, knowing it was the end but when AI finally gave up two hours ago I decided to call time on everything. I can’t drift forever, with no food or water, no fuel, no comforting voice and companionship even if it is an artificial lie. I can’t drift with no hope.

I have had advantages, I’ve had caring and loving parents until something drove them away. I can’t help but criticise though, all the pain and the suffering and the abandonment I’ve endured does not bow to the philosophy I once held so dear. It is that quote that reminds me of my Father and how much of a hypocrite he was.

This will be my last entry. I’ll leave it unlocked on the system for you, whoever you may be. Maybe you can find the answers that I never had, maybe there are no answers to be had now. Whatever happens now, at least I will have a legacy. Even if my parents didn’t remember me, maybe you will.

Incoming Message

I started getting the texts last month. At first I just got the odd one here and there, maybe once a week or something like that. The flickering of the blue light of my phone forced its way into my life like some great, terrible beacon that I couldn’t ignore.

It’s cold in here.

I was pretty sure someone had the wrong number. I tossed my phone to one side and forgot about it.

A few days later my phone bleeped again.

When did it get so dark?

Where am I? 

I decided to text back, maybe it was a stupid idea but it seemed like the most logical thing to do at the time.

Who is this? 

I waited exaclty one minute before the screen lit up with an eager, sickly glow.

Did you forget about me?

My stomach flipped over.

Who is this? How are you using this number? 

I got no reply to that. I sat up nearly half the night next to the phone waiting for something; nothing happened.

It must have been about a week before I got the next one. I must say I was starting to miss the interaction, the flutter of exciement and fear in the pit of my stomach has grown into a stimulus I craved.

I miss you.

I felt the keen prick of tears at the back of my eyes, sharp, vivious little needles digging into my retina.

I miss you too. 

I’ll be home soon. 

I sucked in my breath, tears propelling themselves down my face now.

When?

Soon, Jack. 

How would they know my name? How would they know if it wasn’t her? Maybe It could be true. I waited. I sat, crossed legged on my bed until I lost all feeling in my feet, pins and needles giving way to a fat, nothing sensation.

I was excited, the messages had given me new hope. I wanted to believe it. It had been a comfort to me, receiving all these messages. It was just a shame that Grandma had been burried with her mobile phone.

The Shopping List

I’ve still got her last note. Stupid really, keeping it all this time, it’s nothing more than a glorified shopping list but I can’t bring myself to let it go.

Don’t forget to pick up some milk and bread! You know what happens when I don’t get my morning cup of tea! 

xxx

I don’t know how I managed to hold onto it in all the confusion but somehow it survived, tucked out of sight in my old, beaten up leather wallet. I hate the fact that I can remember snatching the note up from the kitchen sideboard, the morning winter sun bouncing off the cold marble surface, but I can’t remember the sound of her voice anymore.

I shift underneath my blanket, it’s so full of holes I can feel a draft coming through it like wispy fingers; it’s a good thing it’s a warm night. My wallet is open in my lap, limply hanging across my thighs, bedraggled and worn out as if it’s run a marathon. I know how that feels. My wife’s face stares up at me, grubby around the edges and fading slightly with age and exposure to the elements. She’s got a brown tint that she never had before, marring her perfect pale skin and wavy blonde hair. Only her green eyes remained solid, colourful and piercing through the grime. Alysa, always perfect.

Our last day was so extraordinary, dull and average. Our screaming bundle of terror had woken us up at least 5 times that night, teething. I’d got a deep, gnawing pit of irritation starting up in the pit of my stomach as I sat at the breakfast bar watching Alysa shake a formula bottle agonisingly slowly, fatigue making her weak.

I spooned slow mouthful after mouthful of soggy, tasteless cereal into my mouth. The mush of bran squealching and wriggling across my tongue like a hoard of slugs. I swallowed the last bite with difficulty and offered my girl a watery smile.

“You don’t suppose they do refunds on these things, do they?” She said, jiggling the whimpering lump of snot and dribble on her hip.

“I think we’re way past the 30 day trial period.” I run a hand across my face and pull at my beard in frustration. My daughter’s chewing on Alysa’s hair, extra gummy, extra dribbly, making little snuffling noises whilst she does it. I should have got a dog instead.

“Damn. I guess we’re stuck with it now then.” She teases, kissing our girl on her sticky forehead. My smile reaches my tired eyes and the fatigue lifts from me a little, they look so perfect standing in the morning light; they were made this way, just for me.

Before I can lay a hand on my car keys and work file the TV blurts out a warning that demands my attention.

We are interrupting your scheduled programing to bring you this special news bulletin. An outbreak of a new virus has caused chaos across the north of the UK this afternoon. The highly contagious disease has symptoms similar to the norovirus and is spread in much the same way. 

Alysa isn’t really listening, still cooing over our girl; I lean over and turn up the volume. My wife comes over to stand next to me, even the baby is quiet as a pretty, young newsreader steps into view, her chocolate hair running helter, skelter under the bright red umbrella she was holding up against the wind and rain.

The Sheffield Teaching Hospital has been the hardest hit. Huge numbers of patients have been coming through thick and fast since the early hours of this morning. Staff here are overwhelmed. It’s been suggested that they currently have no working cure for this violent strain of the virus.

Alysa and I glanced at each other; a tiny frown appeared between her eyes. A haggard looking male nurse slid in from the side, he had dark circles under his eyes and something I couldn’t quite make out splattered across his scrubs.

We urge the public to stay indoors unless absolutely necessary. The norovirus is highly contagious and we want to minimise the infection field as much as possible. Symptoms you should be on the look out for are: a raised temperature, headaches, stomach cramps, aching limbs, sickness and seizure. If you feel unwell or think you may have contracted the virus, please, please do not leave the house and call the emergency services immediately. 

Within two weeks, 1.75 billion were dead worldwide. The dehydration hit thick and fast and no matter what the doctors seemed to do they just couldn’t replace the fluids the sick lost before they succumbed to death.  Before long bodies were pilling up in the abandoned streets, sunken eyes, staring out of gaping sockets, fingers clenched on cold hands as if they were still trying to grip to their weak, lost lives.

Naturally, we bolted like everyone else; loaded up the car with a few precious essentials and made for the coast. The boarder had been shut down long before we got there, it was just a seething, hot mass of desperate bodies wriggling and shrieking towards the military personnel charged with keeping the peace. After the first panic stricken shots began to ring out into the fray we decided it would be safer to hold up somewhere close by and wait for the hysteria to die down and the boarder to open up again. It never did.

“Dad.” The urgent whisper hits my cold ears like a jet of steam forcing unwanted reality down my throat. “Dad, there’s a noise. Something’s outside.” My daughter stands in the door way of the next room, the boarded up window behind her cracking a little moonlight across the floor. She’s the picture of my dead wife, even at twelve; the same yellow hair.

I reach for my gun with shaking fingers and stagger to my feet with all the stability of a drunk. I take a moment, just half a second to reflect on what our lives have become. My poor daughter, born into this now harsh reality. I’m sorry for that.

Suddenly I hear it; that banging on the door. Someone wants to come in.