(This story won in the ‘Desire’ category of the 8 Days of Ether Contest.)
~A Price Too High~
‘You’re sure now?’ asks the shopkeeper, planting his hands on the counter. The badge pinned to his leather apron reads:
‘Yes,’ I reply, stabbing my hands into the pockets of my parka to stop them trembling. ‘I’m sure.’ It’s odd, but Patrick reminds me of Ian, my husband. He’s tall and broad and has the same lines scored at the corners of his eyes, the same flecks of grey in his hair. There’s something of Gerard Butler about them both.
Pointing to the sign on the wall behind him, Patrick says, ‘You understand the returns policy?’
I read the sign aloud: ‘“Absolutely NO Returns.” Yes. I understand.’
He pushes a pad of yellow forms toward me and pulls a biro from his apron pocket. ‘Sign this.’ A brown fingerprint smudges the curling corner of the top sheet.
As I take the pen and sign on the dotted line, he reaches below the counter. ‘Put your payment in here,’ he says, placing an empty tub next to the pad. I glance over his shoulder. Through the beaded curtain, I can see the stockroom shelves. They’re stacked with tubs exactly like the one in front of me. The tubs look like white, plastic bricks. The shelves look like walls. For the first time since entering the shop, I hear music. It’s coming from the back of the stockroom. I recognize the song. It’s one of my favorites: Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’.
‘Whenever you’re ready,’ says Patrick, tapping the tub.
I swallow hard. My hands are trembling again.
‘Look, do you want this or not?’
‘I want this!’ I say. ‘This is all I’ve ever wanted.’ Until last night, I’d thought it was all we’d ever wanted as well, but Ian said: ‘You’re making a mistake, Dee. Don’t do it. Please. Some prices are just too high.’
Patrick coughs. ‘Well then?’
The zip of my parka feels cold between my thumb and finger. It buzzes like a wasp as I pull it down. Patrick pushes the pad of forms aside and in its place he lays a knife. Its handle is black. Its blade is long and sharp. Breathing deeply, I pick it up and close my eyes.
Moments later, my heart lies bloody and twitching in the tub.
Slowly, Patrick turns and reaches through the beaded curtain. ‘Here you go,’ he says, finally smiling as he wheels my purchase toward me. ‘Enjoy.’
With steady hands, I grasp the pram and look inside, and there, right there, tucked beneath a pale green blanket, her eyes wide and blue, her tiny pink fingers stroking the air, lays my heart’s desire.
But … but something’s not right. Something’s … missing. For years, I’ve ached for a baby. We tried everything, spent every penny we had. My hands should still be trembling. My breath should be hitching. My heart should be pounding. But I don’t feel any of that.
I don’t feel anything.
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