by Ephiny Gale
“Karen!” I bash my fist against the bathroom door. “I had a friend who slipped in the shower and sliced his thumb off. I’m not exaggerating!”
For several seconds all I can hear is the rumble of falling water, and I worry if she’s heard me, because I don’t think I can yell any louder. I grapple with the locked doorknob again.
The wood muffles her delayed reply: “If I was planning to kill myself, darling, I would send you far away to safety first. Don’t worry.” Her words are laced with ice. “I’m sitting down.”
I allow myself a sigh which resembles something like relief.
“I’m really sorry, love,” I say.
“Don’t call me that.”
Now that the adrenaline is wearing off, my legs are physically shaking and I’m finding it difficult to stand. I lean my body into the doorframe for support. “I’m really sorry, Karen. It was a terrible thing I did, I don’t deny that. But I can’t think of a better reason to do it.”
I hear several scraping, metallic sounds and the shower stops. Karen’s voice is much clearer now, though it echoes off the bathroom tiles.
“Do you know what you did?” she says. “We could die at any moment now, and you cheated on me. You couldn’t even wait ‘til I was dead. How do you think that makes me feel?”
“Horrendous,” I say, “appalling.” My breath catches. “I gave it as much thought as I could, and it ripped me apart inside…” I hear my voice break and feel the tears slide down my cheeks. “But it was still the better alternative. Honestly. Luke wanted to sleep with both of us. I bartered him down.”
She laughs, not kindly. “You bartered him down?”
I have a pounding headache. “Well, bartered is probably the wrong word. I explained that you’d bleed. He had a right hard time believing any woman could’ve gotten to thirty without having had a penis, you know how men are. But eventually, he agreed he wouldn’t risk it. He didn’t want to die from having a shag, you know. He’d put it into a cup for you if he still got to sleep with me.”
Her reply seems delayed. “This is bullshit. You don’t cheat on me for me. Do you how insulting it is to be told you were cheated on for your own good?”
Oh God, I was not expecting that reply. I feel like I’m about to collapse. “The cheating itself wasn’t supposed to help you, Karen. It was the result. I was trying to save our lives!”
“I might prefer to die!”
I sink down, back against the door. I wipe my wet face on my t-shirt. There’s already so much snot and tears. “Fuck.” I freeze. “Listen, I need to stop crying. I’ll burst a capillary in my nose before long. I usually do. Then we’ll be fucked.”
A pause. “Go fuck off, then.”
I sit completely still, trying to get my emotions under control enough to stem the tears. Deep breaths. There’s a single knock on the door behind me.
A little more gently, she says, “There’s an ice pack in the freezer. For your nose.”
“Thank you.” I clamber to my feet. “I’ll be back in a minute, I promise.”
Downstairs, the country house is quiet and bright. Any sharp corners or edges have been wrapped with cloth or clothes and bound with gaffer tape. Childproofing for adults. The fridge stands next to several wide, clear windows overlooking the garden and the remnants of the tool-shed. The shed’s door and half a wall are collapsed on the grass. It looks like a tornado’s gone through it. Tossed nearby, Luke’s one remaining shoe rests in a pile of splintered wood. It’s all that’s left of him.
I return with the ice pressed firmly across my nose. It’s so cold that it hurts my face and the hand that’s holding it there, but I tell myself the pain is comforting. It means I’m still alive.
“That was a really good idea,” I say through the door. “Really, thank you.”
“I don’t want you to die,” she says.
“Thank you,” I repeat.
She laughs again. “You don’t thank your girlfriend for not wanting you to die.”
“Well,” I say, trying to keep my tears in check, “I didn’t want you to die, either. And we’d gone through all the other alternatives.”
“But you didn’t tell me.” Her voice is cold again. “You didn’t ask. You didn’t say, ‘Sweetie, may I fuck a guy on the off chance we’ll get pregnant and postpone getting eaten for nine months?’ And you didn’t tell me after, either. You lied. You make me feel like I’m nothing.”
I press the ice pack into my face as hard as I can. It’s such a struggle not to start crying again, and my pain comes out as a kind of howl instead. “He didn’t give me a chance to ask,” I force out. “It was then or never. And I thought about telling you. But things aren’t how they were, you know. I was trying to save you, and I was so terrified of what you’d do if you found out.”
“Well.” Her voice is very close now, right on the other side of the door. “I haven’t killed myself, if that’s what you mean. And I haven’t killed you. I’m not an infant. I’m not a psychopath. And I’ll keep trying to figure out a way to keep us alive when the babies come, if you like, but I can’t love you anymore.” The door swings open behind me, and I feel myself falling through the air.
Karen catches me with her leg before my skull can hit the tiles. I look up at her, ice pack still pressed against my nose. She is naked and dripping, looking down at me with slitted eyes.
“I understand what you did, but I don’t agree with it,” she says. “And make sure you don’t crack your head open after all that. You know it only takes them a second.”
She allows me to collect myself before she walks away. Her stomach has just begun to show, and with her long, curly hair trailing behind her, she looks like a goddess.
I resist the urge to bite my tongue, to run my nails down my neck, to grab the scissors from the medicine cabinet and plunge the tip into my thighs. Just a pinprick of blood and they’ll appear in a whirlwind of scales and teeth. Blind and deaf and fast as lighting. Like being eaten by a kitchen blender. Too fast to really hurt, I expect. Less than it hurts to be alone.
I lie on the cool tiles with my ice pack, breathing like I’ve just finished a marathon. I wonder if they’d find us in a vacuum. We could wear scuba gear for air. The babies would die from lack of oxygen, of course, but they’d die anyway from being covered in blood. Could we even find a vacuum? And then what, get knocked up until menopause? I’d had a pregnancy phobia as a teenager.
I plod downstairs, where it’s still sunny and Karen’s curled up on the couch, facing away from me. I make two strawberry milkshakes with UHT milk and listen to the blender tearing at the thick pink liquid. I sit at the counter and watch where Karen hasn’t moved.
“I had all these dreams,” I say quietly, “where someone would hit on me, try and pick me up, try and kiss me, and I would say no. I would say no, I have a girlfriend, I can’t do that with you. Even in the dream, even contemplating cheating on you would make me want to throw up. The guilt was all encompassing. And then I’d wake up, and be relieved, and think what an idiot I was to feel guilty in a dream.” I sip my milkshake and feel the sugar run into my bloodstream.
There’s still a tiny bit of petrol in the car. Maybe we’ll last longer than a few more months.
The first stirrings of morning sickness start in my belly. “You took a couple of scuba lessons, didn’t you?”
Ephiny Gale’s fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Aurealis, GigaNotoSaurus and Daily Science Fiction. She has also written several produced stage plays and musicals, including the sold-out ‘How to Direct From Inside’ at La Mama and ‘Shining Armour’ at The 1812 Theatre. Ephiny has a Masters in Arts Management, a red belt in taekwondo, an amazing partner and six imaginary whippets.