By B.W. Carter
He would tell her, if only he could, how right she’d been. About him. About how goddamned selfish he was. How it really was all about him. He would give anything; he’d give every single thing he ever had to tell her that.
But of course, he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. Not now. He could say the words, sure. But what good were apologies and promises when the recipient could no longer understand? When the spoken word, or language at all, no longer mattered. When to apologize served only to antagonize.
But he tried anyway. She was his wife, after all.
“I’m so sorry, Elle. I dropped the sample. It was me. Then the alarms started, and I had to get out. I couldn’t think, I panicked. There wasn’t time. Just…wasn’t.”
He hadn’t been employed at the lab long. Could still hear Dr. Anchieny in his head; would always hear him now, for however long he had left, lecturing on the utmost necessity of protective gear and thorough decontamination.
There hadn’t been time. He’d stripped the mask and gloves, shucked the coat. He had convinced himself going in that the cloth booties were overkill. Dr. Anchieny hadn’t been there. If only Dr. Anchieny had been there, maybe this moment would be different.
“Please forgive me, my love.”
In answer, she snarled and drooled and reached for him. But he’d had time to get the cable leash around her neck before it happened, and by now she was far beyond realizing release was only a simple matter of unclicking the plastic fastener. The virus was much too quick, and rational thought was its first victim. His wife foamed at the mouth and choked herself, straining towards him. The leash pulled at the refrigerator door, where he’d looped the other end in a sloppy knot. The refrigerator rattled and shifted.
How long would that sloppy knot hold? There were no ready statistics—they hadn’t had long enough, thanks to his clumsiness. But early results had shown a dramatic rise in adrenaline-based strength surges. The mice had cracked their plastic-walled cages at the beginning, even at the expense of their own little skulls.
It wouldn’t be long.
He didn’t need long.
“If only I’d known,” he tried to say, though with all the snot and blubbering he was about as incoherent as she was. “It must have splashed on my shoe, maybe a lace. I’m so sorry! I never thought…”
“You never think.” He imagined the guttural noises she was making as words. It was only fair to let her have her say. “You’re an asshole, Jamal. A selfish, foolish, unthinking twat.”
That was fair, yes. More than, really, given the situation.
They hadn’t encountered immunity yet. Again, it hadn’t been long enough into the experiments. Though now, it seemed, he would be able to let Dr. Anchieny know. Offer himself up, should he get the chance to reenter the quarantine zone. He was fairly sure someone would come looking for him anyway. Anytime now. Probably with guns and plastic zip ties.
And here he was again thinking only of himself. Of his future.
She’d been right last night. Too much wine or not, she’d pegged him. He stared at his beautiful, long-suffering wife. With the swelling and split flesh, she was almost unrecognizable. Hacking bloody phlegm, clawing at the air. Mad eyes rolling like a startled horse’s, veins popping. She’d always been so patient. At least until the row last night, when she’d apportioned out all the bitterness, he’d done such a good job of not recognizing. She reminded him of all the sacrifices she’d made, moving up from Joburg to Lagos to accommodate him and his stupid job at Weiss Future. Leaving both her family and her friends behind. Believing in him at her own expense.
And what had his job got them? What had her willingness to follow him achieved? Only to deliver them here, to this nightmare moment of his own making.
“You were right, Elle.”
He lifted the gun, an old-fashioned revolver that had been in his family for at least two generations. Not fired in decades but wrapped in an oily chamois and free of rust, ready for duty. She had always been terrified of its proximity.
He marveled at how steady his hand was.
“You were right, love. I’m sorry. I’ll never be sorry enough.”
Selfish, most definitely. He was that in spades. But a coward, most of all. He was a coward for hoping she couldn’t realize, in her present state, that there was only one bullet in the chamber, though there’d been most of a box of them in the hall closet.
He’d brought this upon them; his willingness to ignore precautions had brought her to the brink. This dividing line he could not bring himself to cross with her. He wished with all his heart that he could wake from this evil dream. That his alarm would blare to life and he’d restart the day and put two pairs of booties over his goddamned shoes. He wished it so much.
But wishes, unlike viruses, weren’t real.
He had time to explain the difference, in the silence afterward, while he waited for the sirens.