The Anguish of Survival (What Comes After, part 2)

There was a peace by the creek that Iris could sense but not touch. She sat on the rocky overhang, her arms wrapped tight around her legs and her chin nestled in the hollow between her knees, and stared into the water as it wandered its way downstream, ignorant and uncaring of the devastation wreaked on civilisation in the last six months. She so desperately wanted to forget. The faces of the dead flickered before her, pale sweaty cheeks and weeping, crusted eyes and cracked, blood-flecked lips and that expression just before death took them, that moment of recognition and relief that the pain and suffering were finally over. And with the faces came the misery and hatred of being alive, again and again and again, as every person she had ever known, ever met, ever seen, sickened and died horribly and left her alone once more. Maybe it was punishment, retribution for the part she’d played, for her past. She had avoided the sick in the beginning, as everyone had, but as time had gone by a

Welcome Home (Kissing Fish)

Dad offered to bring the car to the train station to pick us up, and although it was only a ten minute walk and neither of us had heavy or awkward bags, I said yes. I admit it—I wanted to see my daddy. I loved my mother, but Dad and I had always got on rather better. Probably because he didn’t try to interfere in my life and usually had something nice to say when life looked like shit. And, consequently, unlike my mother, who was probably going to throw a conniption fit, Daddy was unlikely to be distressed by my newly single status. I imagined he’d probably be more upset over the fact that if I moved to Scotland I’d no longer be able to pop home on the weekend to watch the footy with him. Bless. When Alex and I walked out of the Oxford station, Dad was standing next to the car with his hand shielding his eyes, chatting with the cabbie parked in front of him. When he spotted us, he broke off the conversation and waved. If Mum had been with him, she’d have smacked his arm down and whis

The Soldier, the Doctor, and Micah Quinn (What Comes After)

The sky gleamed overhead, a lucid blue punctuated by lazy streaks of white. In the distance, a bird twittered emphatically and fell silent. A breeze swept along the deserted street, ruffling unmowed grass and abandoned bags of rubbish in a fading susurrus. The freeway to the south echoed with unending silence; the abandoned army base to the north sat unnaturally still aside from the rippling flag stranded at half-mast, the security gate swung open wide. If she’d ever thought to characterise the apocalypse, it would have been the silence she got wrong. Even now, some six months into the aftermath of the global pandemic, Micah still expected the muted rumble of traffic in the distance, the indistinct whop whop whop of a chopper invisible behind the clouds, the shrieks of children and the notification pings from Facebook and Bambler. At night, the quiet kept her awake, staring up at the ceiling or sky or trees under which they’d laid their heads for the night, an isolated bubble of humani

On Again, Off Again (Kissing Fish)

When Alex arrived home Friday night, he found us in the same state as the night I first rocked up at their house. The movie of choice that night was Bend It Like Beckham and we were through the first bottle of wine and into the second. Two tubs of ice cream sat melting on the coffee table, creating little rings on the wood beneath them. Alex walked in the door, tossed his keys on the radiator shelf and his coat on the coat rack, and flopped down on the couch next to me. “Hear you had an interesting week,” he said, nicking Faye’s wine glass and downing the inch or so of liquid left in the bottom. Faye whapped him with a pillow, narrowly missing my nose, and then bounced off the sofa and went to the kitchen. “Well, you know,” I said, made cheerful by the wine. “At least it was interesting.” He slung his arm around my shoulder and hugged me. “Sorry things didn’t end well,” he said. I buried my face in his shoulder. “I’d offer to kick his arse but I think it’s a conflict of interest

All the Single Ladies (Kissing Fish)

Twenty minutes later, I walked out the front door with a bag slung over my shoulder and dragging a suitcase. Gatsby pranced cheerfully ahead of me at the end of her leash, eagerly sniffing at everything in her path. I waited until I’d turned the corner before sinking down onto someone’s garden wall and pulling out my phone. “Hello?” Faye said. “Hi,” I said. “Are you home?” I must have sounded worse than I thought, because she immediately said, “What’s wrong?” “Um. Nate and I may have just broken up.” I kicked absently at a plastic bottle cap and watched as Gatsby investigated a flower and then promptly ate it. “Shit,” Faye said. “No, I’m not home.” I heard a male voice say something in the background, and Faye said, her voice muffled, “I have to go. I’ll call you later.” I heard the sound of a door shutting and then Faye said, “I’ll be right there. Where are you?” “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I can tell you’re busy. Really, it’s not important—is Alex home? If he is I can just

The End (Kissing Fish)

Nate was asleep when I staggered into the house forty minutes later, sprawled across most of the bed with wadded up tissues scattered across the duvet and piled on the floor. Eww. I left my shoes and dress in the bedroom, moved most of the tissues to the bin, and curled up on the couch in a quilt so I wouldn’t disturb him. I woke up the next morning to the smell of frying bacon, nursing a mild hangover and steadfastly ignoring the events of the previous night. Nate, clearly feeling better, was already up and making breakfast. I nipped upstairs and pulled on trackie bottoms and an old t-shirt of Nate’s, and then went back down to the kitchen, hoping for a piece or two of bacon. I was disappointed to discover that the bacon had all been piled on Nate’s plate, along with several sausages and two fried eggs. “None for me?” I said plaintively as I set the kettle to boil. “Thought you were watching your weight,” he said, stabbing a piece of sausage and forking it into his mouth. I wi