© Gilad Fogel
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Tales from Another Future
By Gilad Fogel
The drone hovered at the open door to my apartment and passed me a green sheet of paper. I took the paper and stared at it, noticing the scales of justice logo at the top.
‘It’s Sunday morning, for pity’s sake … I mean … I’m in my bathrobe.’
‘Sir, it is my duty to obtain your response to this petition in viva voce.’
‘Your *duty?*’ The inscrutable collection of glass and gunmetal hummed and bobbed before me. ‘I tell you what, why don’t you do your duty and just *piss* off?’
The drone said nothing.
I thought I'd slam the door in the blasted thing’s face; not that it had a face to speak of.
But the door wouldn’t budge.
‘As an officer of the court,’ the drone said, ‘I have assumed control of this door. Sir, I ask you again, do you agree to this petition?’
The drone hovered in silence for a few seconds, its scanner flickering yellow and orange.
‘Rejection recorded,’ it said. ‘Thirty-minute hearing scheduled for … tomorrow … 11 am. Good day.’
And off it whirred down the corridor.
But the drone had already glided halfway downstairs and didn’t stop.
A cold draft whipped through the corridor as the drone left the block.
I closed my front door and leaned back on it staring ahead at nothing in particular.
I inspected the petition.
It felt almost comforting to clasp the crisp, thick paper between my fingers, and the green colour was soothing—not at all like reading words out on a screen or having them squirted wirelessly into my skull-chip.
I held it up.
*The National Commissioner hereby petitions Abe Pater to present Isaac Pater for destruction at the nearest Control Centre within 14 calendar days.*
Did they *really* expect me to agree something like that viva-bloody-voce in the middle of a corridor?
I took a deep breath and read over the petition again.
Of course, I knew this day was coming—during their campaign, Tony Shanks and his cohorts had called upon all those affected to make a ‘sacrifice for the greater good.’ And, as everyone knew by now, there was no chance of fighting it out in court. All hearings of that sort had led to a court order that superseded the so-called ‘petition.’ If I gave my consent, it would avoid the ordeal of a trial.
And, of course, to give my consent *would* be the right thing to do... But the unexpected feelings I had for my son were deeply confusing… Those were things I’d not felt since … well, not since the night the boy was born.
Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul.
— Genesis 2:7
*Seven months earlier*
On the first day of our summer holiday in a rented villa in New Cyprus, my wife told me she was going out to the village street market to get some provisions. She said we needed more nappies and milk for Isaac but that if I would cook them a nice lunch, she’d also get us some *loukoumades* for dessert. Sara put Isaac in the buggy and he fell asleep almost immediately. She reckoned she’d be out about an hour to let the one-year-old have his nap—in those days Isaac slept better in the buggy due to the motion. I then kissed her goodbye and never saw my wife alive again.
Around two hours after Sara left, I got a little worried, but I figured Isaac must have still been asleep and that Sara wouldn’t want to wake him. She used to say that if Isaac slept well in the day, he slept better at night. The moussaka I’d prepared was ready when the doorbell of the villa rang. With a wooden salad bowl in one hand, I opened the front door to find a policewoman standing outside, holding Isaac in her arms. The buggy was next to her and there were two bags of shopping where Isaac ought to have been. She introduced herself in broken, accented English as Police Constable Galatas and told me that my wife had been in a traffic accident.
At first, I pictured Sara lying in a hospital bed with a nasal cannula and bruises across her face. But just as I began to imagine worse things, Galatas went on to tell me that Sara was dead. As her words sank in, the most horrendous shiver ran up through my arms and down my spine. It lasted only an instant, leaving a sickening emptiness in its wake. At the same time, I dropped the wooden bowl. Olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese lay strewn over the tiled floor, and Isaac began to cry.
I immediately noticed the dark bags under the boy’s eyes. Still at the door to the villa, Galatas stretched her arms out to pass him to me. I took my son to my chest and tried to soothe him. Isaac had always been a ‘good’ baby—good in the sense people use to refer to babies who don’t give their parents too much trouble. But this time, he could not be consoled. Galatas stepped into the house and waited in silence while I danced around with him, stroking his hair, offering him milk, biscuits, toys or anything that might distract him. Asking him to please not cry and dabbing the endless tears from his face with a piece of muslin.
Not less than fifteen minutes passed before tears resolved into the shuddery catching of breath that children make after a long bout of crying. Those intermittent sobs continued while Isaac’s eyes were shut—he had cried himself into an unhappy sleep.
I don’t know what would have happened if Isaac hadn’t started crying but, looking back on it, I think I felt, of all things, relieved. I started to walk to the bedroom with him but Galatas put a hand on my shoulder. I stopped mid step and turned to her.
‘I drive you to hospital now.’
She nodded at the window.
Following her gesture, I noticed a blue-and-white police car with the dove-and-olive-branch insignia parked in front of the villa.
‘You must to identify your wife. Is procedure.’
‘You mean now? But I need to put him to bed.’
‘Very sorry, Mr Pater. I have car seat. We not wake little one.’
PC Galatas helped with opening the door to her car. As I strapped the sleeping child into his seat, it occurred to me that the accident must have interrupted his nap.
‘Have you been looking after him?’ I asked.
‘A little time, sir. There was lady at scene. She see little one in stroller and stay until we arrive.’
‘Oh… I really must thank her.’ Even as I said it, I knew I had no wish to thank anyone for anything. The words were spoken by someone else. Someone sensible and polite. Someone in a land far, far away.
As we got into her car, Galatas apologised for the delay in contacting me.
‘Your wife … her skull-chip is damage in accident. We run her photo through International Borders Database.’
I learned that Larnaca Police took a while to identify Sara Pater and link her to Abe Pater, the two English tourists staying at a villa in Kiti, a small village south of Larnaca.
The drive to Larnaca General took fifteen minutes along Dromolaxia. Compared to London, New Cyprus was relaxed and traffic-free. As I sat in Galatas’ car, I recalled driving on an old motorbike on that same stretch of road more than eleven years earlier. I was twenty-five at the time. A twenty-seven-year-old Sara had been with me. She had her arms behind her back as she held onto the handle at the end of the pillion. She wouldn’t have dared embrace my waist; we were not yet lovers. Of course, we *were* lovers—we just didn’t know it yet. Perhaps we’d always been lovers—even before we’d met. In any case, by the end of that week, Sara had been holding onto my waist a lot. My waist and a good deal more.
A sharp stinging arose in my eyes and I screwed them shut.
I opened them wide again and blinked a few times to find that Galatas was now winding her way into the hospital complex, set in a valley between two hills.
She parked the car at a bay marked for emergency vehicles.
After entering the main building, Galatas walked confidently through the various corridors as she led me, with Isaac, to the hospital mortuary.
‘Before we enter, I must to tell you what we know. It will give you understand injuries.’
She told me that Sara had been pushing the buggy over a crossing when a dark blue saloon came speeding towards her on the wrong side of the road. She wasn’t even looking that way. Not at first. She must have heard the engine because she turned to look and, perhaps by instinct, pushed the buggy forwards, rolling it out of harm’s way. The car missed the buggy and hit Sara instead.
That’s as much as Galatas could tell me then, but according to witness statements included in the coroner’s report of a few weeks later, Sara was launched several yards into the air like a rag doll, turned upside down and landed with her head on the windshield, creating a spider web pattern on the glass. She rolled off the hood and onto the road, leaving a blotch of blood on the windshield right in the middle of the web. Though still conscious, her knees were smashed, and her pelvis fractured. By the time the ambulance came, she’d passed out. Sara died on the way to hospital from internal bleeding.
The most important witness, Yorgos Alexandrou, was driving the car behind the one that hit Sara. Alexandrou testified that the man in the car that killed Sara had been trying to overtake a series of cars on a slow and narrow road. He’d sped past the leading car, the one Alexandrou was driving, but ran out of space and time to nip back into lane before the pedestrian crossing. He was forced to drive past the island in the middle of the crossing on the wrong side, the side that Sara and Isaac were on. When the driver saw Sara, he slammed the brakes, hitting her, but managing not to run her over after she’d landed on the ground. The driver was Jamal Khaldun, a thirty-year-old male immigrant from Yemen who’d been on his way to Larnaca railway station where he worked as a driver and was running late for his shift. Apparently, New Cyprus Rail had introduced disciplinary action for any train drivers whose tardiness interfered with the timely operation of the rail service. This time, Khaldun was worse than late; he didn’t make it to work at all.
Galatas found a nurse to look after Isaac and led me into the cold chamber. Inside, I saw that a woman was laid out on a steel trolley in the middle of the room. A sheet covered most of her body.
When I walked up to the trolley, Galatas said, ‘This is your wife, yes?’
I looked at the dead woman. She had Sara’s brown hair and high cheekbones. The strong dark eyebrows and nose were there. The mouth was similar, the lips a little thin and drawn. The dead woman’s eyes were closed, whereas Sara had eyes like onyx. They shone and smiled and touched me. Warm, silent, secretive and knowing.
‘It’s not her.’
Well, I wanted to say it, but the words wouldn't come out. Instead, I just nodded.
‘I leave you alone,’ said Galatas and walked out.
Except for the dead woman and me, the room was empty.
*It’s not her*, I repeated silently.
I touched the back of my hand to her face. It wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be. I bent down till my face was close to hers. I felt no heat from her cheek.
‘It’s not you,’ I whispered with a twist of a smile.
I brushed a lock of her hair to one side as the stinging returned to my eyes.
Then I heard Isaac crying again.
I turned to look at the closed door of the cold chamber then back to the woman.
The stinging intensified.
‘I’m sorry, I have to go.’ I wanted to keep the dead woman company. I feared she’d be alone in that empty room.
I touched my lips with two fingers and placed them on her mouth.
‘Don’t be scared,’ I said, ‘I’m always with you. Even if you can’t see me, I’m always with you.’ It was the litany that Sara would recite to Isaac when she put him in his cot for the night. ‘And when you sleep, I’ll sleep. And we can meet each other in our dreams.’
To Sara, Isaac stood over all else. She called it a love like no other.
She would have died to protect him.
*My God*, I thought, *she probably did.*
Rohat Zilan loved his job. He stood by the glass wall at Gate 17 looking out to the airport apron. Four baggage handlers were loading a casket into the cargo hold of a medium-sized commercial plane. It was sweaty work in the summer heat. But, like his, it was simple, honest work. His current assignment was a bit like a stakeout from his days in the force in the old country. But without the tedium of having to follow all the stupid rules about paperwork, privacy, public interest and all that massive pile of stinking shit.
Great, the casket was loaded. Tick.
‘For flight CA1835 to London,’ announced the tannoy, ‘we are now inviting passengers with small children to begin boarding. Regular boarding will begin in five minutes. Thank you.’
Zilan looked around the departure lounge. He saw his mark approach the gate.
*And there he is! The man of the moment, right on cue. *
Zilan watched as his mark reported to the desk. The gate agent scanned the side of the mark’s head and let him through. Him and his noisy little tyke. Zilan made a mental note, *skull-chip behind left ear*. After years on the force, Zilan had learned of the importance of contemporaneous notes in his aide-memoir. One never knew what titbit of info would come in handy later. Luckily, he now had his own skull-chip to help him remember. He scratched the side of his head where his chip had recently been fitted. The small cut itched as it healed.
When regular passenger boarding was announced, he watched a few more passengers go through the gate before presenting himself for boarding. It wouldn’t do to be spotted by the mark. It had happened before, many times, but not this early on in an assignment. If he got burned by a mark further down the line, he had more options to deal with the problem. At this stage, he had to be extra careful.
Of course, his size—all seven feet of him—was why he couldn’t do undercover work back in the day. They never let him do the fun stuff. They’d only wheel him out when they needed someone who could sort out a rumble and shit like that. He’d been better off when he was armed detail for a private security firm. That was fun. It was like Dirty Harry in those old movies—except that old Harry was a midget compared to Zilan. Unfortunately, with some of the more modern security tech reaching the old country, there was little demand left there for a man with a gun.
‘Arthur Meakes?’ the pretty young thing said as she scanned Zilan’s skull-chip.
‘Yes,’ he answered in what was now a near-perfect English accent.
*Thank God for language apps.*
Once the new chip was in, he learned English in a day. Previously, he’d hardly got beyond, ‘Hey, beautiful girl, you want kiss-kiss?’ Not even after five years of English classes at school. The accent was still hard, but the chip could usually take over his speech and smooth it out for him. Shame there was no Internet access, though. But they said comms needed to be encrypted and all that shit. Still, it was better than having no chip at all. Back in the old country, only the very wealthy had them. Even the force still used normal phones to talk to each other.
‘Thank you, Mr Meakes. Do go through,’ said the pretty young thing. *Fuck*, she was hot. He’d have liked to hang around a bit to see what she was up to. But work was work. He joined the end of the queue just in time to see his mark boarding the plane. Him and his tyke. Tick!
A few minutes later it was Zilan’s turn. He was ushered through to the aisle on the far side. His seat was right at the back. Just how he wanted it. From the back he could see exactly what was going on. The only downside, of course, was that he’d have to walk past the mark. And Zilan was hardly inconspicuous. As he walked past, he thought the mark probably clocked him, but he looked like he was in a daydream. Really not with it.
*Must be a mental case*. Even the tyke looked more switched on than his dad.
Zilan got to his seat. Seats, actually. He’d booked two on account of his size. That was the other thing he liked about his job. No expense was spared.
‘Sure,’ Mr E had said. ‘Buy two economy seats. You’re worth it.’
*Worth it? You bet your white-collar arse, I am. *
Did he say that out loud? He didn’t think so. He looked around, just in case there was someone there, an associate of Mr E, who could read his face somehow. He reminded himself that it was important to respect the client. The client gave him stakeouts, tailing, undercover and a good measure of the more physical pursuits. From time to time, there was also a nice bit of wetwork. Not just with guns, either. There was all sorts of fun stuff he could use. Plus, it paid the bills. *And look at the arse on that one! * At the end of the day, Rohat Zilan was all about putting the customer first. As long as they kept the booze, girls, money and wetwork coming.
The seats were comfy enough but there was nothing he could do about his legs. He had to leave one of them poking out into the aisle.
The plane took off and it wasn’t long before the flight attendants went around offering drinks.
‘Yes, love,’ he said to the cleavage now all but hanging over him, ‘a double whisky for me… Eight pounds?… Okay, just put it on my chip.’ The cleavage smiled and strode on, leaving waves of sweet perfume in its wake. Zilan tilted his head into the aisle to watch its hips sway. He shook his head in honest appreciation of how good life could be.
He fucking *loved* his job.
It was sunny for an English afternoon this late in summer, and too warm to be shivering. And yet, Elin shook like a leaf. She focused hard on *not* shaking and it stopped. She couldn’t help analysing herself: she wondered into which part of her psyche she was sublimating her anxiety; and what if her suppressed emotion were to surf—
Her husband, Jay, would have stopped her right there. He would have told her off for ‘over-shrinking,’ as he liked to call it.
She shook her head like a drunk trying to sober up. Then she took a deep breath. Then the tears started to stream again.
*I must look a wreck.*
She wiped a tissue under both eyes. She didn’t want her mascara to run, or for Louis to see how much his big sister was suffering. At twenty-five, he was still so young, to her mind. She had to be strong for him.
Sensing a presence, Elin glanced to one side and noticed a middle-aged woman observing her. She was one of the fifty or so friends and relatives attending. Elin didn’t recognise her. The woman gave Elin a concerned tilt of the head with that brief twitch of the lips some people do that somehow contrives to be a kindly smile.
Elin wanted to tell her that the compassion in her expression, the care in her eyes, the sympathy in her smile, were all so…
She *wanted* to tell her that, but the better part of her held back the tears and smiled with all the grace she could muster. She didn’t wait to see how the woman would have no doubt nodded back in supreme and tender understanding. Instead, she returned to watching the men lower the casket with ropes into the grave.
Abe had left Isaac in his buggy next to Elin. She glanced down at her sleeping nephew, lowered the back of his seat to a flat position and pulled the canopy down so that the light wouldn’t disturb him. She wished the boy could remain oblivious to his mother’s death; but how *could* he? She’d asked Abe if he’d noticed any change in Isaac’s behaviour, but her brother-in-law had little to say. In fact, Abe appeared cold and unemotional—she hadn’t seen even a tear since he returned from New Cyprus. He was, she knew, in the early stages of grief: shock, denial, and all that. But Abe was *so* flat that Elin feared for Isaac’s wellbeing. Right now, what the boy needed most was to feel securely attached to a warm and loving carer. And that person wasn’t Abe. Neither was it quite right for *her* to care for Isaac; she was, after all, just as much in grief. But she had the self-awareness, training, emotional resilience and maternal instinct that Abe probably lacked, and there was no other way. She resolved to speak to Abe later… for Isaac’s sake.
When the casket hit the bottom, they dropped the ropes in and Louis grabbed a shovel. Earlier, he’d told Elin that he ‘needed’ to bury their sister himself. Though she’d tried, Elin couldn’t think of a valid reason to object. Louis began to toil with the shovel. The distance between him and the casket meant the soil just scattered mid-flight, landing softly on the wood. The mourners watched his progress in silence. Five minutes later, the pile of soil heaped next to the open grave seemed no smaller.
Elin tracked Louis’ every stroke. He looked so different today. There was something about the eyes. It was pain, of course, but it was like nothing she’d ever seen on him. His eyebrows, his forehead, the muscles of his face: all were misshapen. And yet, all worked in concert to contort his face into a mix of anguish and disbelief. Perhaps those who didn’t know him well saw Louis. But Elin could see little of the brother she knew.
‘Jay!’ she said, elbowing her husband. ‘Let’s help him.’
The big man looked down at her, while she kept her eyes on Louis.
‘What … why?’
She looked up at Jay for a moment, shook her head and turned to Abe as though appealing to him to intervene.
‘Jay,’ Abe said, ‘why don’t you get hold of someone to bring us some more shovels?’
How did she end up marrying a man with such thick skin? Elin sighed and turned her focus back to Louis.
By the time Jay returned with a few shovels, Louis was sweating as he launched another tiny clod of earth into the grave. Jay walked up to him and put his hand on his shoulder. At first, Louis looked confused, but when he noticed the shovels on both Jay and Abe, he understood they’d come over to help him out. His chin trembled, he dropped his shovel and started to weep. With nothing to lean on, Louis didn’t bend down or anything. He didn’t even cover his face with his hands—he just stood there weeping. It was deep, loud and unbearable.
The middle-aged woman who’d smiled at Elin led Louis away. He hugged her and cried unabated. Elin figured the woman must have been one of the motherly types that Louis always seemed to draw to himself. Perhaps a colleague from work.
Louis’ crying made Abe uncomfortable, reminding her, once more, that Abe was not in a fit state to look after Isaac. She also knew from several chats with Sara that Abe had trouble bonding with his son. Having that chat with Abe was a must. Today.
She looked around to see where Louis had gone and spotted him standing by a tree about twenty yards behind, talking to that woman. The woman wiped a tear away from his flushed cheek with her thumb.
*Keep your hands off my baby brother!*
Abe and Jay got stuck into the shovelling. She wanted to help them but she had to look out for Louis. She didn’t want some interfering harpy messing around with his feelings. Plus, there were a lot of strangers here and she had to keep an eye on Isaac too.
*Someone has to. And if Abe can’t then I—*
She had to stop thinking this way. It was being overprotective.
More like overbearing, Jay would have said.
But she couldn’t help it.
It was a defence mechanism, of course—needing to control and protect everyone.
Whereas *she* was the one who needed protection…
She looked at the fresh soil and tried to see through it. She pictured Sara lying in her box beneath it all.
She wished she could hear the soil land, but it made no sound. She wished she could drum her fists on the lid of Sara’s casket till they bled. She wished she could scream her name at her till she answered.
The shivering resumed as did the tears. Elin didn’t try to contain it this time, allowing herself to feel the depth of her sorrow.
When they were done shovelling, Jay returned to stand beside Elin. She threaded her skinny arm through the crook of his pudgy one. Her Jay-bear felt hot and he was breathing heavily.
Jay touched the sweat on his temple.
‘It’s hot. Have you got a tissue?’
‘Millions of them... Mostly used.’
She fumbled in the side pocket of her jacket.
‘Here’s a clean one.’
He took it and wiped his brow.
‘It’s not that hot, Jay. And anyway, that’s not why you’re out of breath.’ She patted his rotund belly.
Jay studied her face. It was an odd sight to her when it happened. She certainly didn’t marry him for his sensitivity. So when he did his mind-reading act, it usually made her laugh. Like being tickled. Even now, she let out a nervous giggle. His face softened into a smile and he looked away. It was a miracle, she thought, that even on a day like this, her Jay-bear could somehow give her comfort.
By late afternoon, the air was much cooler. The crowd of mourners gathered outside the small Abrahamic Union temple at Islington Cemetery. It surprised Elin to learn that Sara had a will. Not at all in character for her younger sister. But more surprising, was that she chose an AU burial. Or any religious burial for that matter.
Abe was standing in front of the entrance to the temple with one hand on the buggy handle as he rocked it back and forth. A light breeze rippled over his wavy brown hair. Elin walked right up to him.
When he noticed her, his eyes held hers for a long time.
‘*What?*’ she asked, biting her lip.
‘Your eyes. They look so like Sara’s… I—’
He looked away, pain lining his face. Turning back to her, he gave her a wistful smile. For an instant, he looked completely helpless. She felt guilty for wondering about his lack of tears earlier.
‘Abe, why don’t you let us look after Isaac for a while?’
‘I just think you have a lot on your plate right now. Sorting out Sara’s affairs… Your work.’
But Abe’s attention shifted. He was looking over her shoulder.
‘I just want to help. We have the spare room and the girls would love having their little cousin over for a while.’
‘I’ll be fine, Elin. Really.’
He was staring at something in the distance.
‘Are you sure? I mean, are things okay between you and Isaac?’
Abe returned his focus to Elin and his eyes flashed.
‘What do you mean?’
Elin’s throat felt dry and, despite her efforts to block the reflex, she gulped. It was the same whenever her patients got confrontational—even after all these years. But she’d taught herself to overcome her anxiety in such cases. What her patients needed from her was the certainty that she could take it. And now was no different.
‘I don’t mean to upset you. Look, Sara told me you were ambivalent about Isaac. She said you didn’t want to give up hope for—’
‘Hope for *what*, Elin?’
‘For a *real* child?’
‘That’s not what I was going to say.’
‘No, but it’s what you meant.’
‘I was going to say hope for a natural conception.’
He started to rock the buggy with added vigour.
Elin took a breath, planning to say something. Something that would help him get in touch with his mixed emotions. But Abe was staring away from her again. She’d lost him.
In fact, she’d mishandled the whole thing. What the hell was she doing getting into that business about Isaac? This was Sara’s funeral, for goodness sake; not a bloody therapy session.
‘Abe, I’m sorry. I …’
But he was looking past her again—at whatever was behind her.
She turned to look. The sun was low that way and it was hard to see. She put the palm of her hand over her eyes and squinted. As her sight adjusted, she could make out the silhouette of a man standing among a row of cedar trees that lined the main road to the cemetery. She couldn’t see his face properly, but he was extremely tall. The man sidestepped behind a tree.
When Elin turned back to look at Abe, both he and Isaac were gone.
Coming through my skull-chip, the phone rang in my mind. The damn thing must have been updated by the manufacturer, erasing my default settings. Again.
‘Transfer call to home,’ I ordered.
The ringing continued from the apartment speakers.
‘Tranter … col … tome,’ garbled Isaac as he toddled through the hall and into the living room.
I let the call go to voicemail and took off my black jacket, the sleeves still dusty from the shovelling earlier. I hung the jacket on one of the pegs on the wall in the hall and watched Isaac from behind. Smiling, I turned to look at Sara, expecting to see her face light up as she also watched Isaac making tentative steps. Of course, Sara wasn’t there.
As I followed him, I wondered if I’d be able to enjoy Isaac’s antics without her. Isaac stopped, as though sensing I was close. He twisted round and gave me the cheeky smile he wore when he thought that someone was about to tickle him. He giggled as though he was already being tickled. Isaac bent his chin down to defend his neck and raised his tiny fists there for extra protection. The giggling made him stumble and he plopped onto his nappy-cushioned bottom.
When I walked over and squatted in front of him, his anti-tickling defences were still up. I stared into his honey-brown irises and smiled. He registered the connection and I felt the soundless reply. His eyes were smiling and familiar—he shared that knowing look with his mother, but Sara used to say, ‘He has your eyes.’ And it was true that, when Isaac was born, he had my eyes. Ever since, when I looked at him, the recognition between us was so intense, I felt as though I saw the reflection of my own soul.
‘You have voicemail,’ piped the hidden speakers.
‘Who’s it from?’
I was still squatting in front of Isaac who was now trying to push himself upright from the floor.
I rubbed my eyes for a second and pinched the bridge of my nose as I stared at the floor.
‘Okay,’ I sighed. ‘Play.’
‘It’s me.’ Her voice was brittle. ‘I know I hurt your feelings, Abe. And I know you’re in a lot of pain… Me too.’
I realised how little I’d stopped to consider how this was affecting Elin or Louis—the little brother and the bigger sister who were so close to Sara.
‘But I have Jay to help me look after the kids. He’s got nothing better to do anyway. He’s on his stupid sabbatical and just sits on the bloody sofa all day. Watching TV and cultivating diabetes. Know what I mean?’
It was funny. I wanted to laugh but couldn’t. I admired Elin for her spirit.
‘Anyway, we can look after Isaac for you. We have a spare cot and it’s no trouble at all.’
I heard her breathing.
‘Abe, be angry. You need to be. But not too much. Okay?’ A beep marked the end of the message.
I slumped, my bottom hitting the hardwood floor just as Isaac managed to raise his off it.
*Was* I in a lot of pain? I certainly didn’t think I was feeling like a man ought to be when he’s just buried his wife.
*Ought to—what does that mean?*
I was punishing myself for something. I’d even thought about that on the flight. It was *my* idea to have a holiday in New Cyprus. It was meant to be a celebration of Isaac who’d turned one a few months earlier. It was meant to be for Sara. I’d wanted to take us back to where we met. It was a surprise and she was thrilled when she found out.
But I knew that part of me hated being trapped in parenthood. Part of me wanted to just be my old self. That part wanted to go to New Cyprus because they didn’t have driver-less cars. Because they still let you get on a motorbike at your peril. Because they still let you feel the thrill of being in control. Because they still let you get killed.
The now-familiar stinging in my eyes returned and persisted. Relief came when I noticed that Isaac had managed to get to the kitchen area. Perhaps he was hungry.
I got to my feet, walked to the freezer. Inside, I found a batch of Isaac’s homemade meals that Sara had put into individual containers. I had about three days’ worth, and I hated cooking. It made Elin’s offer tempting.
I prepared Isaac’s dinner and fed him. Half an hour later, he yawned and I knew it was time for the boy to wind down. I didn’t have long enough to bathe him, and if I had, Isaac would have probably ended up going past his bedtime and there’d have been no end to the night-time drama.
As it was, when I put him to bed, Isaac asked for ‘mama.’ I had no idea how to respond. In the past, when I put him to bed without Sara, I would distract him with things like ‘Mummy is sleeping.’ or ‘Mummy will be back to kiss you goodnight.’ or ‘Mummy is working, but she’ll hug you when you wake up.’ But I couldn’t say any of those. They would never again be true. As I scrabbled for what to tell Isaac, he mumbled something and fell asleep. I sighed, switched off the light and walked out of Isaac’s bedroom, leaving the door ajar.
I returned to the kitchen, made myself a salad and sat down on the white leather sofa to eat it. The apartment was open-plan with the lounge blending into the kitchen. The walls were mostly white except for one, to the right of the sofa, which was made entirely of glass and spanned the longer edge of the apartment.
Through the glass wall, I saw that outside was twilight. Blue light scattered downward through a thin veil of cloud that mixed with the light of the setting sun to produce a violet afterglow in the distant sky. Nearer to the apartment, a tower of heavier clouds etched a dark shadow that arched over the afterglow.
The glass wall was the feature that made us buy the place. I’d come to see the apartment with Sara five years earlier and she gasped when she saw the wall. She proceeded to look around happily, passing her hand lightly over various features. We’d already seen over twenty homes in our search.
‘We’ll buy it,’ I told the estate agent after ten minutes. The agent raised her eyebrows and Sara whipped her head round to look at me. I glanced back at her, smiled and returned to the agent. ‘We’ll pay the asking price.’
The agent confessed she hadn’t expected such a quick sale. Sara looked surprised too, but she’d figured it out. She grabbed my hand as we walked out of the apartment. When we got to the lift, she pressed the button for down.
‘You knew,’ she said, her eyes bright.
‘That’s because you’re as transparent as that wall back there.’
Her eyes narrowed.
‘*So* not true!’
‘Actually,’ she said as we walked into the lift, ‘no one knows me like you do.’
‘Is that so?’
‘Yes. And, frankly, it’s about time you realised that.’ She pressed the button labelled G. ‘There’s something else you don’t know.’
‘And what would *that* be?’
The lift jolted into motion.
‘What you don’t know, my dear,’ she said, tiptoeing to kiss me on the cheek, ‘is how utterly in love you are with me.’ She came down off her toes and squeezed my hand. The lift doors opened. Sara walked out to the ground floor and I followed. ‘But you’ll get there, buddy.’
Ever since she said that, I’d occasionally look at her and say, ‘Am I there yet?’
And she would pretend to examine my features as though searching for the right signs and say, ‘Not yet, buddy.’
That dance of ours had been a constant, open-ended invitation not meant to be answered. A journey without a destination. Except that now, it seemed, the journey *was* over. The realisation hit me with a clarity and intensity I hadn't felt since Sara died, and it was unexpected.
My eyes stung, reminding me once more that something was happening ... something I’d have preferred to ignore.
‘Am I there yet?’ I asked out loud. I put my hand on my mouth and glanced at the open door to Isaac’s bedroom.
I stood up, closed the door and returned to the sofa. I grabbed one of the orange cushions on the sofa and put it on my lap. I closed my eyes and put my hand back on my mouth.
‘Am I there yet, Sara?’ I whispered through my fingers.
*Not yet, buddy.*
Eyes still shut, it made me smile. No one else could make failure sound like success. Sara was funny and way smarter than I was. Sometimes that bothered me but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. She had a dirty mind, which jarred with a lot of people, but I loved her cynical wit. A music promoter and herself a double bass player, she never let go of her dream of recording an album one day. Compared to her, I felt dull. I was the blank slate onto which she cast her radiant personality. But whenever I put myself down, she’d say, ‘Don’t be so bloody self-deprecating.’ No one else could admonish me and still make me feel good. And she had the warmest, most giving smile I knew. She was Sara. I’d loved her with my heart and fucking soul and she was dead. When I opened my eyes again, tears trickled out. I didn’t even know I’d been crying.
I took a deep breath that fluttered as I exhaled. I lifted the soft orange cushion from my lap and pressed it over my face. I pushed the back of the cushion so that some of it went into my mouth. Then I made the sound I’d been longing to make.
In between tearing at the cushion with my teeth, standing, kneeling, sitting, pulling my hair, slamming my thighs, and punching the floor so hard it cut my knuckles, I wept and screamed into the cushion while it muffled the sound of my agony for the rest of the night.