Always old fashioned

They sat in Terry’s office on stiff-backed chairs. Two untouched mugs of tea and a plate of soggy Bourbons perched on reams of paperwork on his desk. Terry didn’t like tea, but he always made himself one when visitors came because it seemed to make people less self-conscious than when they drank alone. Now things such as tea and biscuits seemed old-fashioned in this newly made world. But Terry didn’t mind that. He’d felt old-fashioned since he was a small boy.

The surface of the tea had formed a skin,  wrinkling under the air conditioning like geriatric flesh. He thought of mentioning his observation to the man from the Government – Donald was it? Or Dennis? – but his thoughts often made other people feel uncomfortable. Though Janey had never minded.

The Government man’s suit was as creased as his face, as if he’d used the jacket as a pillow. His skin was greasy, grey as the ring of dirt around his shirt collar. Yes, standards had dropped since the beginning of the outbreak.

Donald / Dennis scratched his forehead with bitten down nails. ‘Doctor Goddard, if you can tell me anything about Doctor Faber’s movements over the last few days. Anything at all.’

The man looked exhausted, but then they all were. He and Janey had taken to napping on the chaise longue in the corner of the office rather than bothering to drive home. They were both single. No one missed them. He gazed at the sofa now, at the threads of gold that could only be strands of her hair.

‘Doctor Goddard. Please. This is a matter of national security.’

‘We were trying to find a cure -‘

Donald / Dennis leaned forward, his tie shifting the papers on the desk. ‘A cure funded by the government, with key research and statistics supplied by our departments.’

All Terry knew was that she had been there one evening, peering over her notes, twisting her hair on top of her head with a biro, and gone the next morning. He hadn’t noticed the slides were missing until the phone rang.

The Government man’s jaw clenched. ‘I cannot stress how important it is we regain those samples.’

He didn’t mention Janey’s safety, that she was out there alone, the world dying around her.

When Terry had picked up the phone, her voice had been faint and breathy through the receiver. He thought she might have been running. Or crying. ‘I’m sorry, Terry,’ was all she’d said. ‘I’m so very sorry.’

Donald would take the words as an admission of her guilt, but Terry knew them for what they were. A goodbye.

 


I fancied revisiting Terry and Janey, two scientists caught in the jaws of a catastrophic disease outbreak. To read their first outing, When the time comes, see here.

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#tuesdayuseitinasentence : When the time comes

Petri dishes, mould cultures

Image : Pixabay

‘You get your jabs yet?’ Terry Goddard looked at Janey over his half moon glasses, a sad, questioning smile on his lips.

His hair was uncombed, his shirt creased. He owned one tie and in the ten years they’d worked together he’d never had that washed. Until two weeks ago she hadn’t known he lived alone with a largely absent cat and a hyacinth macaw named Fleming. Then the news had somehow leaked through of how awful it was out there – the looting, the violence, the relentless spread of the disease – and they had spent an evening under the flourescent glare of laboratory lights, drinking a ten-year-old Glenfiddich and actually talking.

Now she wished they hadn’t, that they’d remained polite strangers. Imagining his childhood hop picking in Kent, how he nursed his mother through cancer after cancer until it finally stole her away … It would make it all so much harder when the time came.

‘No,’ she said, rubbing tired eyes. ‘I didn’t see the point.’

He lowered his voice. ‘You’ve got to make a show. For the sake of the others.’ He took her hand, gave it the briefest squeeze and was gone, bustling over petri dishes and samples.

She hoped she died first.

 


Written for Stephanie at Word Adventure’s #tuesdayuseitinasentence. Use the word – today it’s JAB – in a post. See here to join in and to read the other stories.