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Chooser of the Fallen

Maria sat by the computer on the varnished side-table and dad lay curled up in the couch watching some discussion program she couldn’t focus on. The evening was black outside the windows, she couldn’t see anything in the garden. If she turned her head far enough, she might be able to see the golden squares of windows, small like something that just hung in the blackness without leading to lit rooms. She didn’t turn her head.

The game she had on was Heroes of Might and Magic II, kind cartoonish colours. Dad had bought it for her and Karsten a few Christmases back and played it as much as they had. He’d been the first to get titans in his army and had walked around bragging about it until Karsten joked that he was going to come into work in January yelling, ”I’ve got seven titans!” She didn’t turn far enough to see dad, but she could see the two tea-lights burning in heavy crystal holders on the coffee-table.

“You want a cup of tea?” she asked.

She’d rehearsed those six words on her lips and tongue so many times in the last minutes, and they still sounded sudden. Dad wasn’t going to notice, he had no reason to hear anything unusual.

Dad shook himself, like a sleepy beast. Now she had to look at him. The brown satin-stitched blanket that he’d bought at a garage sale lay folded on top of his feet and was starting to slide onto the floor. He still hadn’t replied.

“Tea’d be wonderful, thank you, Ria.”

Then it would be tonight. She realised that nothing in her expression or bearing changed. She could have looked him in the eyes and he wouldn’t have seen anything.

“Okay,” she said. “Your usual?”

The computer chair gave a creak as she got up. She crossed the hardwood floor. Now the pill chart was in the pocket facing him, he might see it through her jeans. Even if he did, it wouldn’t matter, she might be walking around with some painkillers or anything on earth. He’d switched channels, some rock stars with large glittery hair on a stage, maybe for charity.

The kitchen was dusky, only the lights over the range and sink were on. It already felt like she weren’t living here, as if she were seeing it from a different angle than she during the rest of her life. When she turned her head she saw a corner of the shadowy hallway, the wall mirror that didn’t reflect anyone. The rock music was still on in the living-room.

Dad’s favourite, English Breakfast, was in a painted tin with a pattern of rows of sheep and sometimes a cow or a cat. She started to count, three seconds to switch on the kettle, seven to reach and take the tin down, ten to take the tea-strainer out of the drawer, fourteen to fill it with pinches of tea-leaves. The kettle switched off shortly after that. She poured the water. If he hadn’t wanted the tea, she could have put this off one more night. As if sparing him another day would have been mercy. Karsten was staying with his girlfriend, he was coming home on Tuesday. She’d been given this chance.

She pulled the stiff pill chart out of her pocket and poked all the tablets out into the black tea, twenty of them. She saw them dissolve in froth, like little carbon tablets. You ought to have been able to feel it on the aroma – but she held the cup close to her face and felt only the warm shiny scent of tea.

She poured milk, stirred and let it grow pale. She carried the tea inside and put it on the coffee-table in front of dad. If she stood there watching him drink he would certainly notice something wrong, so she went to sit back down at the computer and moved the mouse and perceived only chaotic glimpses of red and blue and distracting notes.

The couch creaked when dad moved. He pushed the stack of cushions up so he could rest his head on it. Sleeping pills had seemed most merciful, you would sleep first.

“You know, I don’t feel that good,” he muttered.

It sounded like he was trying to say something more, but it just became a grunting without any real words. Time to think about what she would have needed to do if this had been anything normal.

“Do you think you’re ill?” she said without turning around.

If he asked her to help him up the stairs or to the bathroom, what could she do? Might he still be able to make it if he managed to vomit? If he came towards her across the floor, what could she do? She would have to look at him.

She didn’t hear any footsteps. She sat curled up on her side of the chair-back, and over the music from the speakers she heard his breathing change, then change again.

It had fallen silent, but she still stayed. On the monitor was the siege of a castle. How long had she been looking at it, twenty minutes? That was the game she would always associate with this.

When she walked up to the unmoving form on the couch her head was hot and throbbing as if she too had drunk some poison, as if it were never going to get better. She felt for his pulse. His wrist was thick and still warm.

In the hallway her elbow brushed against his fur-lined hat that was lying on the cabinet. She put on her coat without buttoning it and went out into the dark. The night cold eased her almost immediately, it felt as if some swelling subsided both in her head and her limbs. She didn’t have to hurry or stay hidden; no-one who saw her would suspect anything. She was just past the playground when she remembered that she hadn’t switched off the computer.

She could call the Father, but not yet, in this state she wouldn’t be able to stand hearing his voice. Her notepad lay hard in her coat pocket. Beneath a lamppost she took it out and drew the first score on the inside of the cover, then put it back and kept walking.

THE END

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Drama, Fiction, Horror, Mystery/Thriller, Sci Fi

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