Worst Case Scenario
Of all the awful possibilities, what’s the worst possible thing that could happen to you today? Now, what about the best?
It’s against my principles to imagine worst case scenarios.
So here’s a spot of fiction instead.
In the noonday heat
She was sitting at the kitchen table. A first? He stretched his mind back to the beginning, but there was no other image of her sitting so still.
Her head was bent over her clasped hands, smudging a spill of flour from the bowl beside her. The air smelled of cinnamon and cloves and stewed apples. He felt her name on his tongue and turned away before it could fly out to snare itself in her thoughts. But she looked up, her face gaunt in the heat, pale and slick with sweat.
“Do it,” she whispered. “There won’t be a better time.”
He moved towards her, his stockinged feet silent on the tiles. His hand was shaking as he reached out to lift the wisps of hair that clung to the dampness of her neck.
When it was over, she was still again.
The screen door clattered behind him as he left, and flies rose in a sluggish cloud. He stood for a long moment staring at nothing, then stamped his feet into his boots and stepped down into the dust of the yard and the smell of heat trapped under the weight of the sky.
There’d be a storm before nightfall.
He crossed the yard and hauled himself onto the tractor, willing it to start. Willing its grating rumble to drown the sound of her silence.
She’d been sixteen when they met. He’d spotted her at once: green eyes, a mass of long red curls and a glow about her that lit the run-down dinginess of the local hall. Somebody’s city cousin up for a visit.
“Steer clear of her, boy,’ his father had said. “There’s no place for hothouse flowers out here.”
They’d married a year later.
The storm broke when he was still a paddock from home. The sky cracked open in a blinding fork and rain exploded out too fast for the packed earth to take it in. The tractor floated the last few feet into the yard and stalled as it slid sideways into the barn. He climbed down and left it, his mind full of her stillness, the taste of regret dry and sour as a mouthful of withered fruit. Perhaps his father was right. Perhaps in doing what he’d done, he’d stolen the last of the person she’d been, and left her bereft in an alien land.
And then he saw her.
She was standing in the middle of the yard, the cotton of her dress moulded to the swell of her pregnant belly. He stumbled towards her, reaching out, and she spun into his arms, lifting a face alight with joy, water streaming from her cropped hair and trickling into her laughing mouth.
And under their feet, the curls he’d cut in the noonday heat swirled away in the rain to bury themselves in the red earth.