I stir awake and smile when I feel Danielle’s weight against my side. I tighten my arms around her and chuckle.
Opening my eyes, reality hits painfully as I remember yesterday’s events.
After crying nonstop for hours, I eventually fixed us dinner and then we sat down to pick at it for half an hour or so. The quiet was only interrupted every few minutes before the sniffle of one or the sob of another.
We tried to get some sleep, but eventually Rose climbed in with me, too scared and upset to be alone.
Seeing her sleeping peacefully beside me now, I see no sign of the pained and depressed girl I saw yesterday. I brush a curl of her from her forehead and kiss it gently.
Danielle may be gone, but I still have my family.
Rose stirs and opens her eyes lazily, blinking up at me. I can see the exact moment the pain hits her because the light turns to blankness and tears fill her eyes.
“Ssh,” I tell her quietly, hugging her gently. “It’s okay. We’re going to be okay.”
I’m all cried out from the day before, but the pain is still as strong and it takes my breath away.
After crying for a little while, Rose soon climbs out of bed, feet dragging behind her as she makes her way towards her room. We don’t say anything and we don’t need to.
After she’s left I too pull myself together and sit up. I look around the room we made our own. It feels so empty without her, like she’s going to arrive any moment and fill it with her warmth and presence.
All I can think about is how cold and lifeless her body was.
I take a shower, attempting to wash away the sorrow that’s etched onto my heart. I know I should probably call work and explain yesterday’s absence, but I’m sure they’ve figured it out by now. I had turned on the TV before bed to see the names of the dead being broadcasted.
Danielle Charles was one of them.
Rose and I had agreed to turn off all our phones to stop the flood of contacts that would surely be being made. Neither of us were capable of reliving memories with distant relatives, but I know that today I have to man-up and be the stronger person.
I pull on a basic pair of trousers and a simple pullover. Danielle had bought them for me, saying even a business man needs a good pair of pants to relax in every now and then. She was right of course. She always was.
I smile sadly at myself in the mirror. I don’t know why she loved the selfish man that stands before me. She was always loving the things no one else could and I was no exception to the rule.
When I enter the kitchen, Rose is already there. She’s dressed lazily too in a pair of shorts and a holey shirt that’s splattered in paint from her and Danielle’s splatter painting they would try to do often. I kiss the top of her un-brushed head and go about fixing myself some breakfast.
“I feel like I’m in a dream,” Rose tells me quietly. She stirs her cereal slowly, eyes fixed in the distance. “I feel like I’m going to wake up at any moment.”
I want to tell her I feel the same way, but I can only nod in understanding.
Sighing, Rose eats a spoonful.
I make myself some toast and take a seat beside her, looking out the window at our backyard.
It’s not big by any means, but it was sizable enough that we could fit in a trampoline and a pair of swings for Rose when she was little. Both look rusty now.
“I should probably call your nan and pa today,” I tell Rose and take a slow bite. It tastes like nothing on my tongue but I force myself to eat it.
“Can I call Tayla?”
Tayla is perhaps the only friend of Rose that I can fully remember. The two had been best friends since the age of eight and they’ve been inseparable since.
“Of course you can.”
We continue breakfast in silence, both wondering what we’re going to do.
Four phone calls later and I decide I have enough. I quickly switch the phone off and fall onto the couch in the lounge room.
It’s a great room and besides the kitchen, it probable holds some of the greater memories.
I had apologised to Danielle’s mother and father for not calling sooner, but they were understanding and told me not to worry about contacting her siblings, that they would look after it. Rose stayed silent throughout it all and even left the room when it got too much. I wished I could have done the same things, but as a father, the luxury of being a child is not mine.
The next person we called was my mother. She had seen on the news and new I would contact her when we were ready. She was deeply upset. Danielle was a second child to her and my dad when she was alive.
Danielle was loved by many, I decide as I stare at the roof, lost in thought. I had never once seen her clash with anyone except me.
The two other phone calls were made to the morgue and funeral company. Her body would be released in a few days and then we’d be able to bury her.
Again I realise I should call Telcorp, but again I decide against it. I’ll face them on Monday when I start my new job. Already I’m planning the different ways I can distract myself from the memories and the pain that comes with them. The more sales I make, the more work there is for me to do. I however start to plan ways I can make it home earlier to watch over Rose.
Time is too precious and she needs her father.
The next day we go to Church, a tradition of my family. The congregation express their sorrow towards us and at the end of the service the all reach out to Rose and I in prayer. Religion has never been an important thing to me, but the act deeply moves me and I have to brush a few tears away.
Even though it’s painful and hurts, I know that Rose and I will make it, one way or another.
After the service I take Rose to Tayla’s where she plans to spend the night. When she first asked, I wanted to say no, that she wasn’t allowed to leave in case she never came back, but I managed to give her a tight smile and nod. Even though it’s only been three days I decide that we need to keep going as we did before. Danielle would have wanted that.
After dropping of Rose, I make my way home, wondering what I could do to distract myself. There’s a report I needed to type up on Friday that I could do now, but after ten seconds of contemplating the idea, I decide against it. There’s plenty of time to throw myself into work tomorrow, but until then I can relax.
I decide to spend the rest of the afternoon going through the many pictures of our family. It makes me sad to think that the next lot of pictures Rose and I will certainly have taken won’t contain the face of my beautiful wife.
My fingers trace over each picture containing her. I smile at our smiles, especially the ones we had taken on our wedding day. Danielle was very pedantic we should have professional photo’s taken. She told me that her family could rarely afford pictures and she wanted us to have them done whenever we could.
There’s a particular photo that warms my chest. Danielle’s mother had snapped it in the delivery room of the hospital, only seconds after Rose came into the world. Even though she went through hours of pain, Danielle smiles at the camera, her tired eyes alight at the precious soul that was lying in her arms. I’m leaning over her, kissing her forehead. I chuckle at the memories. The next day there was bruises along my wrist where Danielle clung too. I look down at them now, almost expecting to find them still there, but of course after fifteen years they’ve faded away.
Just as she will eventually from my mind.
Sighing, I close the album and reach for the next of many. I glance around the bedroom where I’m sitting now, cross-legged on the bed. Eventually I’ll have to pack up her clothes and maybe donate them to charity. My insides coil at the idea so I quickly try to forget about it. The day will eventually come, but today is not the day.
I spend hours on the bed looking through the photos. As the sky starts to darken though, I stir from my spot, groaning at the ache in my legs. I shuffle down the hallway and dismount the stairs. My stomach is grumbling from the lack of food. After all I only had breakfast today and then only reason was for Rose, to make sure she ate something. I remind myself that I have to look after myself as I would her. Rose can’t lose another parent and I can’t afford to get sick now.
After eating a dinner of reheated soup that Danielle made on Thursday night, I sit down in the lounge room and flick on the TV. All the channels are filled with news of the attacks, new and old. As I watch the screen, I see that there’s been three new attacks over the past two days. Two were made against the boundaries but I notice one was made on the outside of the city. I start to sweat at the idea of more terrorists attacking the city. When the first law was passed three years ago in 2017 to have the countries divided, this kind of things were never predicted. A vote was taken by the general public in the hopes that we’d be able to calm the hate and riots that were affecting the lives of everyone. Naturally the cities would be the safer place to go, but only the rich could afford to buy houses and apartments. After the law was first installed, there was much expansion of all cities as people hurried to get in. It took one year for everyone to settle down and for those that didn’t.. well they had to make do with where they were. Then the boundaries were built and everyone was shut off from each other except for phone contacts.
I worked hard to afford a place close to the centre of the city where we are situated now. I guess that’s where my obsession with hard work began as I was dedicated to giving Danielle and our baby girl the best chance at a decent life. Growing up I rarely witnessed any attacks or riots before the laws were passed, but they were all over the news.
Every night, especially in the previous year, multiple attacks were being reported. Most occurred in public places such as restaurants where people would be gunned down for no reason except the owner might support a political movement they didn’t. What led to the influx of violence was never discovered. Many theorised that people couldn’t settle and be content with the current way of life and people wanted to be the right one out of many. School debates even turned deadly. I remember an attack in another city where a small girl was shot in the head by an onlooker for arguing the negative effects of abortion.
I shake my head at the screen as I see the violence. Obviously it’s become apparent that people still aren’t happy and content with our way of life now. People are constantly calling for change and bigger and better things, not caring the cost of it.
Even though the main cost is the lives of others.
“It’s a messed up world,” I say to myself as I switch off the TV and stretch.
Danielle was a hater of all violence. She couldn’t stand oppression of any kind and was always willing to hear people’s points of view, but the moment anyone showed aggression she would get immediately stirred up. When we’d lie in bed of a night time, myself tired from a hard days work at Telcorp and Danielle stirred up from the nightly news, she would often voice her anger to me.
“Why people can’t just respect each other is beyond me,” she complained one night. “Then they agree to one thing, such as the boundaries, only to change their minds and again want more.”
“It’s how humans work,” I mumbled to her sleepily. “Every man for himself.”
“And that’s why we’ve ended up here,” she flapped her hands in front of her face. “If we would all just put others before ourselves it’d be a much better place.”
At the time I was never sure if I fully agreed with her opinion, but as I make my way back up the stairs intent on getting a good night’s rest, I start to wonder if deep down I did.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a self-sacrificing kind of person, but then again not many of us are in this day’s society.
As I lay down to sleep, thoughts and questions continue to run through my mind.
I wonder if there was a way to make everyone self-sacrificing?
I turn around as I continue up the stairs to see Riles jogging up after me, panting a little for excursion.
“Mister Granger,” I stop and reach out my hand, trying not to flinch when his damp hand shakes mine. “I apologise for leaving without notice on Friday. I had a .. situation to deal with.”
“I’m well aware of the tragedy, Charles,” Riles leans up against the wall breathlessly. “When I saw the city had been attacked I got onto every person I could to find out where it was. By the time I found out your wife’s gallery had been affected, you had already left the building.” He pats my shoulder gently and smiles a sad smile. “I never met her, but I’m sure she was a lovely woman. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you, sir,” I nod and look away. The sadness within me threatens to come forth. “I appreciate your support.”
“You’re our best worker. You will always have our support.”
Riles continues up the stairs with me and we silent walk towards my office. Elaine looks up from her computer when she hears our footsteps and immediately stands up. Today she’s dressed in a tight pink dress that finishes just above the knees and her hair is in a basic braid. Usually I’d think she looked pretty but all I can think about is how Barbie like she is.
Of course though, Barbies had been banned a year or so ago after a petition was made against the company.
Their beauty standards were to fake and upsetting the young girls of the generation, people had argued.
I can’t help but think that it hasn’t made much of a difference.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Elaine tells me as she reaches out to light squeeze my arm as I pass.
I shake her off and keep moving. She’s the last person I want in my head at a time like this.
When we enter the office Riles closes the door firmly behind and looks around.
“I didn’t fully move in on Friday,” I explain to Riles and I move to quickly tidy things up. When I left yesterday I managed to knock a stack of paper off my desk in the process. In my turmoil, I didn’t even notice. “I’m sorry for the mess.”
“Don’t be silly, Charles,” Riles calls me by my last name. “You were in great distress and rightly so.”
He leans against the door and watches me as I sort through the papers, putting them back in order. They contain the information of a new product and it’s my job to create my own brochure to give with any new sales I make.
Eventually, I can’t take the silence anymore and I fall into my chair, defeated.
“I can’t help but ask why, you know?” I say and run my hands through my hair. “Why would people cause such destruction and destroy lives?”
“Because we’re a selfish species,” Riles says calmly and moves over to sit on my desk, looking down at me. Today he’s wearing a tight purple shirt with a black coat over it. Quite the stylish man. “We’ll do anything to get what we want, including taking the lives of others.”
“But it’s not fair!”
“I know,” he tells me, raising his arms as if to calm me down. “I know it’s not fair but that’s the way people are thinking.”
“Look, I admit that I am hardly self-sacrificing, but I would never kill anyone because I didn’t get what I want. What do they want anyway?”
“That’s what the governments are investigating,” Riles screws up his brow in thought. “I strongly suspect they want to access to the cities again and likewise.”
“The officer I spoke to yesterday suggested that maybe the attack came from someone inside the city. We have no reason to leave here.”
“Everyone has a bit of rebellion inside them.”
I cock my head in thought.
“So you’re saying that even if all the city outsiders were taken down we’d still have rebellions?”
“Yes of course. The richer you are, the more selfish and greedier you become.”
This confronts me quite a lot and I lean back, staring at the ceiling.
“The human species is stupid,” I state and Riles chuckles.
“I’ve thought that for years. We are no different to other animals and that’s effectively what we are.”
“I wish something could be done,” I sigh. “Danielle hated violence and I mean really hated it. I hate it, but not to the extent she did. It drove her insane.”
“Maybe something could be done,” Riles murmurs as he looks out the window and then pauses.
“What is it?” I lean forwards, staring at him intently.
Riles looks torn and eventually turns to face me again.
“You are a great worker, Jonathan and we can’t afford to lose you.”
“Lose me sir?” I ask in confusion.
Riles stands from the desk and cracks his knuckles as he starts to pace the floor.
“What I’m about to tell you could cost you your life if you disagree, it’s simple as that.”
My heart begins to pound at his words and I too stand to my feet.
“I have given most of my life to Telcorp,” I tell him slowly. “There’s nothing you could say that would make me turn my back on it.”
Riles offers me a sad smile before saying,
“I wish I could say everyone else who said the same thing walked away alive, Charles.”
My blood runs cold and I stop breathing, scanning Riles up and down. His words make me wonder if I can trust him, if maybe I made a big mistake by saying anything.
“You can’t kill me,” I tell him, swallowing dryly. “My daughter is only fifteen and she just lost her mother. She can’t lose a father.”
“I don’t want to kill you,” he scoffs and ruffles his hair, looking around almost crazily. “I also didn’t kill the others. I’m just warning you that if you make one wrong move with this you could lose your life and it will be no one’s fault but your own.”
Silence fills the room for a few moments before Riles sighs in defeat.
He turns to look at me and after another sigh, gets to it.
“Telcorp is making plans to end the selfishness of mankind.”