The New Normal

by Sarah

When she saw him on her TV, she spilled her wine.  The entire glass.  It just slipped out of her hand and landed soundlessly on the beige living room carpet. She wished she’d reached the point with him where her biggest concern was that an excellent Barolo was now soaking into the deep pile, but honestly, she barely gave it a second thought, other than the split second where she considered if losing the wine was worse than staining the carpet – it was very drinkable.

He looked good, which was disappointing.

Reaching over the arm of the sofa, she placed the now empty glass on the side table, reached for the TV remote, which always sat there, and turned the volume up.  His voice filled the space all around her.   It was odd, hearing him again, and especially to hear him speaking at a normal volume, at a normal pitch.  She couldn’t remember the last time they has spoken to each other when at least one of their voices hadn’t sounded spiteful and defeated.  At least two Christmases had come and gone since then.  Jo had moved out.  Ben was a father now.

At first, when they had stopped talking, stopped trying to make the other see their own side of things, she thought it was the biggest mistake they’d ever made, but as the slow days became slow weeks, she realised that not speaking was the only way they could come to terms with what had happened. Because they couldn’t talk themselves out of the mess that was their marriage.  They could, and they would forevermore apportion blame, but that wouldn’t alter the reality of where they stood now – apart.  And she liked being apart from him.  She liked the emotional freedom this allowed. It didn’t mean that she wasn’t still deeply hurt by what he had done, but time and distance enabled her to realise that in spite of all that hurt, she had thrived and was now happier than she’d been in years.

And so what if he looked good.  So what if the creases around his eyes bestowed character on his otherwise plainly handsome face.  So what if his greying hair suited him even more than the dark brown tousled mess that she used to love so much.   So what if he looked like he laughed more now.

And was the female BBC presenter flirting with him?  Really?  She leaned forward on the sofa, as if increasing her proximity to the TV would reveal more. Onscreen, the thirty-something brunette presenter mirrored her pose, leaning in closer, hanging on his every word, and she knew that without the presence of the cameras the woman would pour herself onto his lap.  He was still utterly charming.   He was the perfect mix of intellect, good looks and humility.  That he had a pathological desire to be desired only came to light after you were under his spell was really quite unfortunate.   Because by then it was too late. By then, you had two children together, had written four books together, owned a house together, and never for one moment had you questioned why every time he met up with friends to play golf on Saturday mornings, you wouldn’t hear his key turn in the front door until the early hours of Sunday morning.  Or why on the occasions when you opted to stay home instead of attending a work conference, he’d go without you.

Yes, he looked good.  Divorce agreed with him.  She wondered if he was seeing any one woman in particular.  She doubted it.

A few minutes later, the news segment ended, and now she being told that there was a greater than 70 percent chance that it would rain over the upcoming weekend.  She got up off the sofa and headed to the kitchen to grab something to try and soak up the wine. She wondered why her heart wasn’t beating faster.  Wondered how she was able to focus on cleaning up the mess without breaking down and cursing him until her throat hurt.  It didn’t take long before she was sitting on the floor, next to the still very present splash of purple, contemplating how she’d arrived at this point where she didn’t care. It was a shock. Because she didn’t care. Not really.  Not in any way that would hold her back.  She was living a life that for the most part didn’t include him. A few years ago the thought would have terrified her, baffled her, but now it made sense in a way that normalcy mostly did.

She picked up the rag and the compacted stack of kitchen towel and began to blot the stain some more.  The carpet would have to be professionally cleaned, probably. And it was such a waste of good wine.

 

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @BlindAssassinUK

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Zucchini

by Tracy

Standing over the array of organic vegetables at Trader Joes, he began to cry.

He’d been holding it back for days. Weeks, actually, and he thought he’d been doing really well.

They always say it will hit you where you least expect it.

They’re right.

He was 36 years old and crying into the vegetables at a grocery store.

He swiped at his cheeks, hoping to pull himself back together, but he couldn’t manage. The tears kept coming and he couldn’t make them stop.

It was organic zucchini that was his undoing.

Zucchini bread.

There had been zucchini bread in his lunchbox every first day of school of every year.

Zucchini bread and milk when she’d told him his dad had left and wouldn’t be back.

Zucchini bread and milk when he’d gotten an F in science in 7th grade.

Zucchini bread and milk when he got his driver’s license.

Zucchini bread in his first care package at college.

Zucchini bread when he brought home his first serious “real” girlfriend.

Zucchini bread when he’d announced his engagement.

Zucchini bread on the counter of his apartment when he’d come home from his honeymoon.

Zucchini bread as a housewarming gift for his first house.

Zucchini bread waiting at home when his son had been born.

Zucchini bread and milk when she’d told him she was dying.

Zucchini bread, he realized, there in Trader Joe’s, was her I love you.

So the tears came. Not just because there would be no more zucchini bread, no more I love you.

The tears came because he couldn’t remember what it tasted like anymore.

Follow Tracy on Twitter: @some1tookmename

Medic

by Carrie

“Medic!”

Coates heard the call moments before being momentarily deafened by the thunderous crack of a rifle being fired by a private who fell into the sand behind him and knocked him to his knees. As he was struggling to his feet, a mortar exploded ahead of him, spewing sand and shrapnel in all directions. He heard a clink as something hit the top of his helmet. He did not have to look behind him to know that the private was dead, as he could see out of the corner of his eye that his M1 lay on its side in the sand, a smear of blood on its stock.

“Medic!” the voice screamed again. “Mehhh-dic!”

Coates wiped the sweat from his upper lip and lunged forward, raising his arm to shield his face from another spray of sand thrown by a bursting mortar shell.

“Medic, God-dammit!”

He took several long strides, stepping over a corporal laid face-down on the bloody strand, his motionless shoulders draped with a garland of .30-cal ammunition and a deck of playing cards, still in their box, laying nearby. Coates pushed his helmet back from his forehead and lunged forward.

“Medi—!”

Coates saw the first sergeant writhing in the sand, clutching an empty, shredded left sleeve with his right hand as blood pulsed between his fingers. “It’s okay, Top,” he said as he dropped to his knees and gently put his left hand over the sergeant’s. He reached into his medical kit with his right hand and—without looking—retrieved a tourniquet and forceps.

“Mother fucker!” the sergeant spat, his lips curled in anger and his eyes wide with fear as he watched the blood dribble between his fingers and down his forearm.

Coates worked to staunch the bleeding, tying the tourniquet tight around what remained of the first sergeant’s upper left arm, as the old non-com grimaced and bit down on one of the chin straps dangling from his helmet. Once the tourniquet was applied and the bleeding had stopped, he turned and reached back into his bag.

“How you doin’, Top?” he asked as he fumbled for a morphine syrette.

The gray-headed sergeant wriggled in the sand and grunted, “I’m alrigh—”

As Coates turned back to him holding the syrette’s plastic cap between his teeth, a bullet passed through the first sergeant’s throat, just below his Adam’s apple, puncturing his windpipe. The old sergeant wheezed. Clutching at his throat with his one remaining hand, his lips moved but no words came out. Just then, as Coates reached for the sergeant’s neck, another burst of machine gun fire crackled down the beach with a fwip, fwip sound. The medic heard a thud and felt a spray of crimson in his face. Top was dead, his temple shattered by a German round.

Coates put the cap back on the syrette and tucked it into his pocket. He looked at the tourniquet still tied around the sergeant’s stub, then shook his head and clambered over two more broken bodies to continue advancing up the beach.

That night, after the first elements of the American landing force penetrated the German beach defenses and pushed beyond the beachhead, Coates collapsed in exhaustion outside of the battalion aid station. All around him, the roar of trucks and half-tracks was punctuated by the sounds of nearby fighting: the pattering sound of a distant machine gun, the crackle of rifle fire and the faint punch of mortars being spat from tubes followed by an explosive thunk as they found their mark. He heard the moans of men in the hospital tents behind him and the unmistakable sound of a bone saw.

His head pounded and, despite his utter exhaustion, he could not sleep.

Screams. Shouting. The crackle of an MG-42 sweeping the beach.

“Medic!”

Mortars exploding. The distinctive pa-ching of an M1 clip as it is ejected from the breach.

Screams.

He could see what looked like lightning behind the trees in the distance, but without the thunder.

Coates reached for his chest pocket, groped for a cigarette, then realized he had none. He had smoked most of them before boarding the landing craft and given the rest away to injured men. He felt something, then paused for several long moments.

Screams.

He pulled the syrette from his pocket, pulled the cap off with his teeth, broke the metal seal and removed the wire pin. He rolled up his sleeve, felt for a vein, then slipped the needle under his skin at a shallow angle, squeezing the collapsible metal tube until—

A euphoric rush of lightness swept over him as he watched the light show along the horizon to the east.

The rush reminded him of the afternoons spent swinging from an old tire hanging from the oak tree, and of the weightlessness felt as its arc swept him down to earth into his sister’s arms.

Follow Carrie on Twitter: @C_T_Morgan Visit her blog: http://wages-of-war.com