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Half-life – Jamie D Stacey

It hangs over us, sprays the room all white all nothing. The lightbulb flickers; sometimes light, sometimes not. Light. There’s a small table opposite with blood-red orchids; blooming — and plastic — a promise both alive and dead all at once. Dark. I shuffle in my seat; my wife is on her side and I’m on mine, despite this small sofa squashed in the corner. Light. I look at her, then the room, then back up at the bulb; take in everything in one breath. It’s a curious thing; shaped like a seed, but unable to grow and give off any light. Dark. Faulty, only half-awake, half-alive. Something you take for granted will work, then you’re left in the dark without. Light. That’s what we thought; that’s what I still hope. Dark. Does she still hope? From the sofa everything feels far away, despite the room. Maybe it’s the black of the sofa stealing the little light left that creates the illusion. Is this my fault? I could never reach it, no matter how many tries. She doesn’t seem to notice though. I’m on the edge of my seat; she’s sunk into the depths of hers. The cheap leather rubs against my skin; she hangs back, like she’s her shadow and no-one, nothing else. Light. A tap at the door and I think I see her stir; it’s just a trick of the light, and no-one else enters. Dark. Just us, the bulb above, and life caught between all white all nothing.

Light. The bulb clicks too, like a cricket’s cry. Makes me think of last summer; Île de Ré, the two of us on the beach, September sun setting, this halo disk in the sky above and crimson haze bathing us as we rolled through the salt-and-pepper sand and cried out. That kind of cry. Dark. Here it’s different; the ebb and flow of waves has gone, and the light spots and bleeds. Light. I look for the switch — bring new life to the room — but there’s nothing. Dark. Just this faulty bulb dangling from the ceiling, out of my reach. Light. On the beach last summer, we’d planned it all. Dark. She’s looking away, like she doesn’t want to remember the cricket’s cry.

Dark. Nothing, I say. Dark. Nothing, she says. We keep to ourselves, the bulb blistering overhead, and the light wilting unlike the orchids that never were. Click. It’s the midwife, the door shutting behind her. She takes a seat opposite; the lightbulb flickers then fades. My wife shifts in her seat, her hand beside mine. Dark. ‘Sorry to keep you both waiting…’

Light. I take her hand, hold onto it — and when the light shudders — squeeze it tight. I want to find the switch, just turn this light on, to fix it. Fix everything.

There are documents on the midwife’s lap and, looking at us, she gives this sort of smile.

Dark. The bulb goes out. Then I feel —

feel my wife’s hand

squeezing back