Saturday, 2 November 2013

After Rubicon

By Andy Hamilton 

         “Off... Off!”
         She looks ahead blankly. Silently. His orders, barked from the far corner of the room, do not penetrate her numb shock.
          “Turn it off,” he shouts.
         “What?” she replies at last.
         “Turn. The TV. Off.” His words are slow and cold. You heard them," he continues. We have twenty minutes, that’s it. So just turn it off.”
         “But there might be more... Something we could do... something...,” she says in a sudden flurry. “Or maybe the Russians or the Chinese might do something?”
         “Nobody is gonna to do anything. You know that. Just turn it off.”
         She looks at him for a long, silent moment, lifts herself from the couch and walking to the large television in the corner of the room. A red box in the corner of the screen is flashing 18.54, 18.53, 18.52… She presses the large square button on the side of the television and holds it as fire and light flashes across the screen. There a click, and the image shrinks slowly to a single dot, that lingers for a moment in the centre of the screen and then dissolves.
         All is silent.
         “I can’t believe this is happening,” she says as she half-runs, half-falls back to the couch.
         “It’s those fucking governments,” he spits, from his seat in the opposite corner. “Those bastards. They God-dam think they’re God or something.”
         “Oh stop it. Just... I don’t want to hear anymore. What does it matter anymore?”

Her face is plunged deep into a damp cushion. He stands over her, his eyes searching the room wildly. Looking for something… anything. The room is filled with muffled screams.
         “What about them?” she says, nodding towards the sitting room door. “We should wake them. We should let them know.”
         “Wake them? No. Why should we? No. That wouldn’t do any good.”
         “They deserve to know. They are part of this world. They deserve something.”
          “Let them be... the deserve to be spared all of this.
         She tries to stand but he grabs her tightly on both shoulders.
         “You want them to come to you,” he says. “You want them to put their hands around your neck and tell you that they’re scared. You want to comfort them.”
         “And what’s wrong with that?” she shouts. “They are my children. What is wrong with loving my own children…”
         She stands up quickly, breaking his failing grip.
         “They don’t deserve this,” he pleads. “Just let them sleep.” His hand goes to his forehead. “Oh God,” he says. “We don’t deserve this.”

A minute later he is lying flat on the sitting room floor, this arms outstretch, his body formed into the shape of a crucifix. She is pacing the room.
         “Water!” she shouts, and jumps over his motionless body.
         Quietness takes him. Lying on the hard floor, staring at the whiteness of the ceiling, his mind empties. He can see brown fields and scorched mountains, grey cities with no people in them. He is the world, and the world is utterly empty.
         A noise enters his dream. He springs up suddenly, gasping for air. The bathroom, the shower, the children.
         “What are you doing?” he shouts, pulling back the shower curtain. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
         “Water,” she says. She gulps down mouthfuls of the off-white liquid. “Water. If we can get enough water, maybe we can get through this. Maybe we can…”
         “We’re not getting through this,” he says through gritted teeth.
         “If we drink enough water me might be okay. Maybe we can…”
         “We’re not getting through this. Nobody is getting through this. Do you hear me?”
         She spits out a large mouthful of water. It lands on his chest, wetting his shirt and his trousers. She starts to cry.

They walk slowly to the bedroom door.
         “Ready?” he asks, reaching for her hand.
         “I’m ready.”
         He pushes the door gently open. The light from the hallway revealing two tiny children, their bodies pressed snugly together, in the centre of a large double bed. They remove their wet cloths and climb silently into the bed, one on either side of the sleeping children.
         “Good night,” she says, as she closes her eyes.
         He does not answer.

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