Tomorrow is my anniversary.
Bastard’s gonna get it.
Bastard’s had it coming to him for three whole weeks.
Thankfully, I’m a woman of patience. I can bide my time.
# # #
Louie rolls over with a grunt, flinging the duvet aside so he’s not the only one to experience the biting morning chill.
The pretence of drowsiness comes easy as I watch him through lowered lashes. All women have it mastered. There’s only so long the headache excuse works for, after all.
“You iron my shirt, Belinda?” He doesn’t look at me.
Happy Anniversary, Darl’, I mouth. “It’s on the wicker chair.” Where I’ve placed it every day for the past eighteen-hundred days, moron.
“Humph.” The firm flesh of his butt tautens and relaxes with each step across the room.
I’ve always loved that arse. Shame it’ll never cross the room again after today.
Maybe I should hack it off. Keep the best bit about him as a souvenir.
I snort at the idea, not realising I’ve done it out loud until he turns and frowns at me.
“What’s so funny?”
My smile is lazy, but I doubt it reaches my eyes. “Nothing, babe.”
He stares at me a moment longer and goes back to his task of spiffy dressing.
On goes his tie, snapped around his neck like a dominatrix’s whip. I could think of a few good uses for that myself—none of them sensual. I successfully suppress my next burst of amusement.
Today will be good.
# # #
Until three weeks ago, my daily routine never altered. Out of bed, once Louie’s departed. Make the house look spanking. Head out to the shops to buy dinner—fresh, just as Louie likes it. The afternoons are my own—those I spend in the park with a book.
It’s amazing what one can learn from books.
Even more amazing is the people one can meet in parks.
# # #
I glance at the clock.
My body is tremulous with anticipation, the promise of a new beginning feeding me like a drug.
# # #
The supermarket heaves with lower-classed bums too lazy to get out of bed at a reasonable hour. I should be irritated by them—would be if not for my inner excitement and the potential mass of witnesses. The trolley wheels squeak at the aisle corners, and I almost collide with a stroller as I work out my mobile.
Ten minutes until Louie takes his lunch-break.
# # #
Ham on wholemeal sub, with horrid bitter-tasting lettuce, has been his favourite for as long as I’ve known him. He used to let me make his sandwiches … until he decided I didn’t do them right.
‘Not enough lettuce, Bel,’ he said. ‘Damn, woman, it isn’t that difficult to judge.’
So I relinquished the task of preparing his lunch to him.
I was happy about that.
Until he went and forgot his fruit three weeks ago.
‘Got to have fruit, Bel. It’s what keeps a man regular.’ He always puffs out his chest when he says it. Proud of his looks, is Louie.
I grabbed a banana that day, and walked to his office, figured I’d make my regular visit to the park on my way back.
Everything would have been sweet and good, if …, actually, everything would have been catastrophic if I hadn’t heard the sexual grunts before I reached for the door to his office.
To be sure, I peeped through the gap in the drawn blinds.
The view inside hit me with nausea-induced dizziness.
Him … on his desk … with another woman.
Not his secretary, as one might expect. A client.
As sad as it sounds, I’m relieved about that.
As mad as it sounds, I still want to cut her throat.
# # #
My thumb against the key illuminates my mobile.
My lips curve up.
Three weeks is a long time—for rage to boil, for ideas to fester, for plans to be made.
Three minutes seems longer when I’m waiting for revenge.
I know he won’t be late. Louie’s never late for his lunch-break. I know, because for the last twenty days I’ve gone back, to be sure I didn’t make a mistake, to remind myself why I have every freakin’ right to be this goddamned pissed.
I steady my breathing, which in turns regulates my pulse, and the alarm I set on my phone sends vibrations tingling through my forearm.
Closing my eyes, I picture his teeth wrapping around his sandwich. Imagine the work of his chewing jaw. Mentally urge him to make that first swallow.
How can the wife get the blame when everyone who knows us knows Louie makes his own sandwiches? She can’t, right?
Replacing the bitter lettuce in the salad bag had been easy.
Finding something to replace it with had been easy, too.
It truly is amazing the kind of people one can meet in the park.
Take another bite, Louie.
In my mind, he’s almost finished. He’s taking the last bite. Then his ‘guest’ will arrive. I give them five minutes.
Five minutes to hit the desktop—it never takes them more than two.
Five minutes for the toxicity to work its charms—just like the nice old granny assured me.
Five minutes to wipe the smug smile off my face, move my rear around the aisles again, and look like a normal person.
Then I hit dial.
I know he won’t answer. He wouldn’t, anyway, not whilst he’s busy—but he certainly won’t answer today.
Paralysis is the first symptom—paralysis from the brain down.
The dial tone hums a mantra of patience in my ear. Eight rings later, the answering machine picks up.
I listen to his voice one last time. Listen to his false cheer, and the charm that’s never really existed beneath the façade. Listen to the offer to leave a message.
At the beep, I smile. “Hey, Louie. Happy anniversary, darl’.”
Lloyd’s wife straightened his bow tie. “I can’t believe it’s been forty years,” Sarah said with a smile.
“I know.” Lloyd chuckled and thought of the day he started in the mail room of Keltronics. “Seems like only last year I accidentally delivered Henry Boyd’s dismissal slip to him instead of his boss. Never lived that one down.” He took a comb from the dresser and slid it through his short, graying hair.
Sarah smoothed hands down the skirt of her old blue gown. “Do you really think it’s okay for Randall to come? They’ll be serving spirits.”
Snickering, Lloyd drew up behind her and kissed her bare shoulder. “Our son is twenty-five, not exactly a boy anymore.” The realization made his heart lurch. “This will be one of few opportunities he’ll have to taste liquor, with the short supply.”
She nodded. “I suppose you’re right.”
Lloyd reached into his pocket and withdrew a chain with a small stone on the end. He looped it around her neck. “This will be a night to remember. I thought you should have something to remember it by.”
Quick blinks allowed only a single tear to escape Sarah’s eyes as she whirled and embraced him. “I love you, Lloyd Camby.”
“And I, you, Mrs. Camby.” He kissed her temple and took her hand. “Now come, we can’t be late.”
Lloyd held Sarah close as they walked along Kensington Street, one of the few that remained passable after the war left only a few pockets of surviving humanity. The devastation had happened before Lloyd came into the world, during the time of his grandparents.
Resources grew scarce, so vehicles had been abandoned many years before. Houses near Keltronics, the only source of employment left, were coveted.
Lloyd gazed up at the hazy, green sky. He didn’t know what lay beyond the invisible dome Keltronics had erected to keep their city safe from radiation and whatever mutations might still exist beyond the border, but it didn’t matter. His only concern existed for the woman on his arm, and the fine young man they’d produced.
Sarah pointed to the tall building that housed Keltronics. “They put up a banner for you.”
A digital sign stretched across the top of the doors: Happy 40th Anniversary, Lloyd.” It scrolled, flashed and disappeared before starting the cycle over again.
He gave Sarah a squeeze. “How did time slip away so fast?”
She set her head on his shoulder as they carried on. “They’ve been good years, haven’t they?”
Lloyd stopped her at the foot of the stairs and swung her to face him. “Yes, every one.” He pressed his lips to hers, his arms holding her body close. Before emotion could overtake him, he ascended the steps with her in tow.
Floodlights splashed light up the stone, giving it a cheerful presence. Keltronics generated enough electricity to run the whole world had it still been intact, a project Lloyd had improved upon with his Engineering training at the local university.
Once through the doors, the chatting of hundreds of attendees greeted them. Another sign restated the anniversary message. Age had never bothered Lloyd, but watching the reminder blink at him settled tightness through his chest.
“Dad!” Randall bounded up to Lloyd and gave him a few pats on the back. “Happy anniversary.”
Lloyd forgot all but the dark brown eyes of his son, a reflection of his own. “You look fine in that suit. Doesn’t he, Sarah?”
“Oh yes.” She straightened his collar. “Very fine.”
Randall pulled at the thread-bare material.
The owner of Keltronics, Mr. Valentine, spoke over a microphone at the front. “Since our guest of honor has arrived, let us begin the festivities.”
Sarah slipped her fingers into Lloyd’s as they walked to the front. Each step tightened a noose around his throat.
He’d worked forty years, and turned fifty-five that day. How had his son become a grown man? When had the fine wrinkles at the corners of Sarah’s eyes appeared?
“Let’s make a toast before the ceremony.” Mr. Valentine thrust up a glass of red wine, while a young girl handed similar glasses into Lloyd and Sarah. “Here’s to Lloyd, without whom we never would have stabilized the power grid.”
“Here, here!” The crowd shouted.
Lloyd turned to Sarah, clinked his glass against hers and committed her copper eyes to memory. “I must go now, love.”
Her smile cracked and tears leaked from her eyes. “I know you asked me to be strong, but I can’t.”
“You know the rules. Any man who produces a child will make way for another’s child to take his place, as Ben did for Randall. Accept a new husband with my blessing, so Randall can take over our home.”
“But why?” Her sob burst out. “Why must it be this way?”
“With our limited resources, the human race will be lucky to survive another generation. I’ll do what I must to ensure a future for our son.”
Sobbing, she nodded and stepped back into their son’s arms.
Although Randall’s chin quivered, he steadied himself. “Dad….”
“Don’t let her watch, son.”
Mr. Valentine appeared beside Lloyd and gestured to a doorway. “This way, Lloyd.”
Lloyd held his composure by sheer will as he entered the theatre where his co-workers had begun taking their seats.
“Kneel center stage.” Mr. Valentine indicated a padded area.
Lloyd complied as he watched Randall and Sarah sit down in the front row.
Mr. Valentine fitted a metal collar around Lloyd’s neck, where needles would soon spear his flesh and inject the killing agent.
A hush fell over the crowd, all teary eyes on him. Lloyd gazed at his family, his heart aching. Do it for them. A new sense of calm settled over his soul. He smiled at Sarah, and she nodded encouragement.
A priest appeared to his right. “We are gathered this day to witness the passing of Lloyd Camby.”
Mr. Valentine squeezed Lloyd’s shoulder. “It’s time.”