Monday, June 23, 2008

There's always something else

David slumped in front of the television, no longer taking in the images of weeping parents and grim-faced experts.

His ex-girlfriends had both called, five minutes apart, to confirm what he had known and not wanted to believe. His son was gone. His daughter was gone. It still didn't seem real: how could so many children just disappear like that?

A knock on the door dragged him out of his seat - perhaps it was news. Not much chance of that, maybe, but he had to keep believing.

Clare stood on the doorstep, her eyes red and puffy from crying. "Can I come in?"

David shrugged. "If you like."

"She's gone," Clare said. "The only thing I ever did right in my life. I didn't even know ... I was asleep."

"I know." She had called him so many times, crying over her failed relationships and her failed business and her epic credit card debts. It had become almost a ritual, that she would say she'd failed at everything she tried and he would reassure her that she had a happy, healthy daughter who loved her more than anyone else in the world. But now her daughter was gone. "How are you coping?"

"How are you coping? Did your boy...?"

According to the news, not quite all children had vanished. Most of the survivors were teenagers, but here and there a few as young as ten remained. He shook his head. "They're both gone."

She started crying again. He wanted to snap that she didn't even know his children: she'd seen his daughter maybe twice in her life, and never seen his son except in pictures. But he knew she was most likely crying for her daughter, or crying over the incomprehensible scale of the disaster.

Finally, she fished a soggy tissue out of her pocket and blew her nose noisily. "I'm sorry," she said. "I just ... I've lost Elspeth, and when I look at you I just see that same loss, and it's even harder to bear. I'm not making any sense."

"None of this makes any sense." He was used to having an answer when she cried, and he had nothing. He was dangerously close to tears himself.

"I was going to go up to the bridge," she said. "She was my only reason to go on living, and now ... But I remembered that thing about, 'There's always something else you can do.' Do you think that's still true?"

Was anything still true, in a world where your children could just disappear? "I don't know." He reached for her and pulled her close. "Maybe."

They held onto each other for a while. It didn't fill the gap his children had left, but it made the emptiness easier to bear. There was still someone in this cold, childless world that he could hold, that he could-

"Clare, what are you doing?"

"I can't live without her," she said, unfastening his belt. "You don't know what it was like before she was born, when I had nobody. I can't go back to that. I can't."

"No, but you can't ... this isn't the way to cope. This might only be temporary. You can't just ... replace her."

"I have to do something. Otherwise I might as well just jump off that bridge."

David thought about all the bits of his children's lives that he'd missed, one way and another. Didn't he want, deep down, to try again and get it right this time? Not to replace his children, no, but when they came back, he could tell them they had a new brother or sister. He could find a way, somehow, to take care of them all.

It was wrong, of course, but so was a world where your children vanished without so much as a warning. And she wanted it badly enough for both of them, so he let her have her way.


SchrodingersDuck said...

Lovely story. It could perhaps do with being a bit clearer towards the end, though - it's a bit unclear what Clare and David are doing until they get to the last line. Even just changing
"I can't live without her," she said.
to "I can't live without her," she said as she unbuttoned her blouse. would make it easier to follow.

Overall, it's a great story with an excellent premise. Great work!

Abelardus said...

I feel about the same. The implications are subtle enough, but it seems there should be something more near the end; I had to re-read the last few passages to make it out. Other than that, it's quite insightful.

Nick Kiddle said...

I was afraid of making it too smutty - after all *we're* not in a world without children. I've put an extra line in which hopefully makes it clearer.

Niner said...

Reading it now it makes sense to me, although it's still subtle. I actually prefer her going for the belt vs her shirt - the implications of taking vs giving and the biological need vs seduction. She's not trying to interest him in her - just get what she needs to make her replacements.