He clears a patch in the bathroom mirror. Sighs. Leans his forehead against it. It’s been a long night. Arguing and then hugging each other and sobbing and making up and arguing again. Both of them drunk at first and then sober as the night went on. Talking their way in circles. Endless circles. Trying to fix it. Trying to untangle themselves from all the words they’d tangled themselves up in. Until, in the end, somewhere around dawn, they ran up against it: it wasn’t working. It wasn’t fixable. This wasn’t something they were going to talk their way out of.
Which, he thinks, pulling back and inspecting his reflection, was something he always knew on some level. They don’t fit, him and her. She wants something solid and dependable – the television sitcom life of husband and kids and daily errands and friends. He wants anything but that. Even the thought of it is strangling. They’re different people. He nods at his doppelganger in the mirror. This, he thinks, is for the best.
When he comes back in from the bathroom she is standing at the end of the bed holding her phone and he knows that something is wrong straight away. It’s not just the look on her face. It’s her whole body. She is hunched and backed up against the end of the bed, clutching the phone white-knuckle tight, her mouth moving like she’s been calling for him. And he hasn’t been there.
“What?” he says. And she looks at him her eyes wide enough that there is white all the way around the iris and she mouths something. No words, just mouthing. This isn’t the same stricken tears from the long night before. This is something new. Something alien. He sees her eyes flick to his phone and feels a lurch in his stomach.
“Check,” she says. “Your phone. Look.” And so he does. An unfamiliar alert hovers at the front of his notification queue. BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. And he looks at her and in that look is the knowledge that they are seeing the same thing, the same horror hallucination, and that because they are both seeing the same thing it must be real. Even as they stare at one another sirens rise outside the window. He can hear people screaming. He has never heard people screaming like that before.
When they fall into bed together it is at first a terrified instinct. Clinging like kids to familiar toys, burrowing into the covers like animals desperate to put something, anything, no matter how flimsy between them and the world. He feels her shuddering in his arms. Feels her panic breath and tears and he is crying too. The absolute searing unfairness of it. And the fear. In his entire adult life there has never been fear like it.
“It’ll be quick,” she is saying. “It’ll be quick, it’ll be quick.” Her voice a whimper. And this, of course, calls to mind the possibility that it will not be quick at all. That they will feel the fire for agonising seconds before it ends. That they will survive, poisoned and broken as roadkill. That thought hurts. The idea of her skin disintegrating. Of her beautiful face melting from its skull. Of her body… god her sweet familiar body being subject to such violent forces.
And when they kiss it is urgent too. A hurried clumsy crush of lips and tongue, teeth meeting. He feels like he is trying to force her into himself, meld them together somehow. Find safety in her, or let her find safety in him. And they are kissing and clutching and sobbing. His body doesn’t feel like his own anymore. Heart whirring, bird-like and desperate. His lungs pumping air. All of it a vulnerable, precious miracle. He doesn’t even notice he’s hard until she has her hand around him. They are shaking, clumsy, shuddering awkward.
He enters her and they cling together. There’s no bunker where they will be safe. No basement here to hide in. Nothing they can do and no world that they can flee into except this one. The old familiar one. The world they have when they are together. The world that makes it seem like nothing exists outside.
And that is how it feels, for some seconds. Seconds are the same measure of time now that years were before. And now he is inconsolably frightened, and now he is thinking only of her, and now he is thinking that they almost gave up on this, that they almost severed this connection. That the bomb could have fallen while he was driving home afterwards, and he would have faced this terror alone. And now he can feel her clutching him, and he can taste her tears running into her mouth. And now he is scared again.
They finish. Both of them, within seconds of one another. Her sweet, gasping, face. The shudder he feels inside of her. And it is a miracle, he thinks, that there was time. That they had enough. And a curse also, that there is still time left now until it happens. Time in which they must lie here and simply wait, never knowing exactly when it’s coming. He holds her. He is still inside her. He holds her and strokes her hair.
“I’m here,” he says. “I’m here. I’ll be with you. I’m here.” And she says the same. Echoes and mixed up words. The seconds become minutes and the minutes stretch and outside there is no more screaming, and they lie clutching one another, braced for the last moment, whenever that last moment might come.
No idea what this is about? This is a thing that actually happened.
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