It All Makes Sense When You Are Near The End
Placed deliberately side by side, two cylindrical nozzles stared at her like blind eyes.
Weapons, she might’ve thought. With a black, hungry, wanton gaze that glowered from across the marble floored square that made up the living space of her apartment.
They did not waver.
As if anticipating their sound of thunder, she knocked back and swallowed a large amount of the drink in the glass beside her. Her hands did not shake, she noticed. Steady. Smooth and without trembling. Yet she winced at the sound the ice made hitting glass, in resentment.
But was it her face, or the one in front of her? Familiar in thought and deed, each looked at the other, waiting, waiting.
The clock on her phone waited, too, and told of a growing sense of inevitability, a crushing feeling of a road not willingly travelled but a final destination reached anyway. Everything inanimate seemed personal and imbued with a reckless malevolence.
You can see that deck of cards now in front of her and the darkening of the room as the sun retired, in indecent haste, replacing light with shanked bars of shadow that lengthened?
Yes, those cards. Not just an ordinary deck, they were…sinister. Born of a left hand like her own. Well that could be an advantage. The cards stacked, the seconds ticked, the shadows lengthened, the nozzles watched.
Now came a rumble of an impatient cough.
The deck was seized and shuffled. Perfectly openly, with fairness that there could be no claim of palming or sharping in some later, panicked mitigation. When those unwavering, observant nozzles spoke their final blank message, as she knew they must, when it came, there could be no plea of bias. Just stand or fall.
Fingers scuttered forward like scorpions and dealt the top card, then the next, and both were laid on the table in front of her, face down. She supposed a nonchalant look might be best. Remembering to use her right hand in the chance it might offer some sort of benefit, she took one of those offered.
Turned it up.
Queen of clubs. Pretty decent and quite high. She allowed herself an inner smile.
The other hand took the remaining card and flicked it over casually. Ace of spades; well of course, so let it be that, let it be that.
Blown it. She must use her right.
In studied reflection, the calm face opposite knew too, her opponent looking back at her, a half smile forming, deep lines of grey age meshing into a cynical, threatening mask. Glancing pointedly at those two shooters, arranged side by side, the hand reached and with a decisive jab, started the countdown.
Nine minutes. Nine minutes to contemplate what would happen when the numbers clocked zero.
She didn’t feel anything acute. Since this had started, she had always thought that, when the moment came, she might do. Doors had been barred, there was no way out. It had been like that for some time now. All her movements were being tracked and traced by unseen shadows. Even wearing masks, blending into the anonymity of the crowd was next to useless.
No, she felt a strange ennui.
The clock ticked. Seven minutes before they fired automatically. But which would be win? Nothing for it now, but to sit and wait in front of them. One would be first, the other second, and there was some chance that at the given moment, she could act. In front of her, her silent adversary similarly waited, brows furrowed and frosted like a winter field, presumably having exactly the same thoughts – but how could you ever be sure?
She desperately wanted that drink, but as her hand moved towards it, the face in front of her shook almost imperceptibly, raising a finger to the lips.
Six minutes, then five.
So it had come to this and now she riffled regretfully through the memories of those courses she had life's waiter take away with a disdainful toss.
She had chances, no doubt of that; choices made. She could’ve packed a burner phone, switched it off. She could have followed the rules.
And what of marriage, love, children? Well, what of them? She had not taken that safe road like many of her friends; always crazy, always the first to be different. So, no, she had countenanced reckless decisions, picked up her pen, written much of many an affair, brought numerous accounts to book – little child, running wild - and now here was the result. A locomotive fixed to her track but hurtling towards her in an oncoming tempest.
Two nozzles, both equal, but opposite. Which would fire first?
So many things in life are unpredictable, she reasoned, and one could never know certainty. When would the venus fly trap close and what movement of the fly would trigger it? The plug of a volcano’s crater, pressure building relentlessly, until the moment half an impulsive mountain exploded into the sky to curtain the sun. Even a geyser called old faithful could one day sue for divorce from its marriage to time.
And, yes, there was that, she smiled, remembering those occasions when she had, knees aching, stroked and stroked, worked hard with her tongue, never sure of the time she would hear the stifled groan and it would all be over, in a wet, salty puddle.
Two minutes. She leaned slightly forwards, but so did her rival, as if reading her mind.
One minute, thirty seconds, fifteen, then none.
On the sound of the alarm, she hurled headlong for the weapon like a striking serpent. But the other hand was quicker. It wrenched the shooter, flicked a switch. Too late, the second spoke its message whilst she desperately grabbed at it - grabbed at it and knocked it to the floor.
“No!” she screamed.
With a gentle, lengthy hiss, the automatic air freshener gushed a sweet fragrance of apple and cinnamon into the air from where it had fallen.
Mabel kicked it with her left foot in frustration. She glared into the mirror and put the other back where its black nozzle continued to mock her.
Grabbing her phone, she swiped it from clock mode to call and jabbed the screen a couple of times, listening to the electronic purr. After a while, she spoke.
“Bill? It’s utter shite.”
“You cannot switch off two air fresheners simultaneously before they fire, in the way you said. It’s bollocks and a complete waste of time.”
Bill chuckled quietly to himself. “Well it’s not as if you’re pressed for that in self isolation is it? After all you’ve eight more days of quarantine to go.”
“Oh, fuck off.”