Plague Journal 3: Short story interlude

We wrote a short story:

A window after landing


Alice always liked one lump of sugar in her tea, Steve habitually gave her two.  Today he gives her a single cube.  He wants to be kind; he’s going to kill her.  Murder her, he supposes.


He takes the cup to the stairs, has to pause to breathe normally.  Past the lift she’ll soon not need.  Better soon not need, than soon not want.  Pink carpet.  She chose it and he hated it in blood red silence.  Holiday pictures on the wall.  She chose the holidays.  Mostly near where they lived, in Seattle, once to Florida.  The best they could afford with the little they had.  Again: hated them.  And – while he was at it – he hated the fucking pictures, too.  For the longest time he hated her, almost as much as he loved her and half as much as he was indifferent to her.


A window on the landing.  Outside on the street: a bored camera on a lamppost, head bowed to the junction.  Cameras everywhere. Schools and hospitals.  Roads and even on satellites in  skies.   Their son, Pete, was something to do with satellites cameras.  Steve didn’t really care or understand exactly what.  Steve had wanted Pete to be a mechanic.   Cars were everywhere was Steve’s argument.  Pete had ignored him, and drove a Mercedes.  Steve looks at the sky.  It’s still cloudy.  He should never have lived here.  He should have had a cloudless life.  A good one. Well, too late.


“Here you go, baby.  How you feeling?”


“Thanks honey.  I’m ok.”


He kisses her on the top of her head and sits on her side of the new bed.  Next to her. Her hair is like wire now.  The new bed is too haughty.  For years, decades he supposes, they had sunk deeper into the sides of their old bed, further and further.  His side and hers and a rising cliff between them.  Dreams weigh you down, same as everything else.  After her diagnosis and second fall; this new bed.  Hard with rubber sheets and pitiless slivers of pillow.  The cheapest insurance was his choice.  No softness in the bed and no time left to sink, either.  Her slippers on the carpet, still.  As if at any moment she might fart, declare herself better, leap out of bed.  The old days could come back and he could go back to hating her.  He looks at her throat, then his hands. He can’t unclench them from the cup. He looks at her throat. That’s where it is. Looks out the window.  Still cloudy. She’s not seeing him cry, no way.  He can kill her, murder her even, but he couldn’t do that to her.


He swallows too hot tea.


She doesn’t drink hers.






He helps her dress, shit, dress again, down the stairs and into the station wagon.  A huge car, a mockery now Peter has gone.  He comes back to visit, say s he’s sorry and goes again.  Steve should have had a sportscar.  He thinks about all the cars he should have owned as he drives.


“Did you make your sandwiches?  I don’t want you going hungry.”


Her voice voice rattles.  Like she’s exhausted.


He didn’t.


“I did.”



The car ticks and tocks as it cools.  Steve leaves the radio on for a moment.  His fingers on the wheel look like they did on the cup.  They both look out the window.  He daren’t sigh, despite how much he wants to.

Talk radio on the radio.


Word after useless word.


“Oh, turn that off, “ she says.  “Let’s get going.”


A final turn of the keys.  Anticlockwise.


The station wagon ticks and tocks.  Maybe it has seen the future, and disapproves.  Maybe it just disapproves.  Maybe it’s just cooling.


He helps her out the car.  There’s a sign to the cliff, although they both know the way.  The weeds to the side are wild but the earth is soft and smooth where it has been worn away by people.


He thinks murderers over complicate things.   Simply, quiet in kind stillness, they walk up the cliff path.   Wisps of cloud unspool from cotton wool air.  Sea shushes the shore, impatient.   Probably a gull swoons.   He doesn’t notice.


He can’t see anything but history.  They stand together on the edge a while.  He does sigh, he has to. He feels so light he might float.  His hands in his pockets are curled.


“Look at that, baby.”


She leans over to look and he pushes her.  She has her eyes open but he has his shut, because he knew what he was going to do.  She falls as she lived; simply.   At first in shock and then in almost gratitude.


“Bye baby.”


Dressed in his best pair of shoes, he scuffs the cliff as if she’d slipped.  Sits down on damp grass. Sobs and waits for a witness.  Tears flow fast as memory.  The way she dimpled when she smiled.  Her cheese sauce, the way she held the steering wheel.  Her filthy laugh.  He couldn’t have done it in the hospital.  If only he could kiss her again.  The way she dimpled when she smiled.  She’d have been in so much more pain, soon.


And up above, and up above the clouds, staring satellites record unblinkingly.


While Steve waits, Peter ensures he dies, too.  He gulps his tea, his colleagues wincing at the sound.  He steals a doughnut from the box for the stability engineers. His colleagues see but can do nothing.  He’s brilliant at improving satellite camera technology.  And this morning, he committed his code, electronic pulses sang through the skies and algorithms improved visibility.