IT WAS STILL dark when he gave up on the possibility of sleep. A restless night it would be,then, as he had always expected: tossing and turning, pondering outcomes and eventualities and wondering how brave he might be, when the time came, what he had within him in the way of forbearance or strength. He couldn’t beat away the thought that his knees would give, or, worse, that his bowels would. He wanted more than anything to put on a good show for Jack and Matty, so that they might learn something, something that could never be spoken or articulated in words, but that they might attempt to speak or articulate, later, when they had wives and families of their own. He wondered how much he would hear or know before consciousness ended, or whether the central nervous system would take over and occlude everything, dulling into nothingness even the simple acts of recognition, association and anticipation. But thinking, as so often, did no good. It just extended things, pulled them out of shape. And so the night went on. Julia had taken a sleeping pill, as agreed – it would have been unbearable if both of them had been awake – and the rise and fall of her breath alongside him was calming in some measure. From time to time he switched on the bedside light and stared intently at her closed eyes, tracking the pulses and twitches, the fine tracery of vein, following the curve of her cheeks, the line of her chin, the well of her neck, committing it all to purposeless memory. When dawn came it was thunder grey. He went to the window and drew the curtains. The sky was cold and unforgiving, the clouds low and thick, seeming almost to touch the top boughs of the horse chestnut next door. They had their summer furniture out already, the swing bench and the paddling pool. Behind him, his wife snorted and tossed her head but didn’t wake and so he remained where he was, gently flexing his knees as the light lightened and day came on. At six, he knelt by her side and shook her awake. She blinked her eyes and then, seeing him, raised herself from the pillow and hugged him tight. It’s nearly time, he said. You stay here. I’ll get the boys ready. She continued to hold him. He rubbed her shoulders and then disentangled himself. He went to each of their rooms in turn, waking them and helping them into their clothes. They were quiet, uncertain, still caught by sleep. In the breakfast room, he gave them cereal and juice, watching them as they ate. When they had finished, he took Jack to one side and explained where everyone should stand and how and when to operate the Venetian blinds, indicating the alarm clock on the window sill. The boy nodded seriously, biting his lip. That part completed, he went up to Julia. She was sitting at the dressing table, doing her hair. She had on a string of pearls and a long summer dress. He came up behind her and kissed her neck, pushing his face into her skin. I didn’t know what to wear, she said. You look fabulous, he said, and nuzzled his face again into her neck. I’m going to go down now, he said. Everything’s ready. The children know what to do. He ran his hand over his wife’s bare shoulders and down her arm until they were joined only by their fingertips and then he went. There’s no need to say anything, he said. He left by the front door, checking that the bin was out, and then circled round to the back of the house. Apart from the sickness in his stomach he felt calm. He took a chair from the shed and placed it on the patio, facing the breakfast room window, the blind still drawn. He smoked a cigarette, pacing up and down the lawn, looking up at the windows of the house. When he had finished, he looked at his watch and went to the chair. From his pocket, he took the bandana and fastened it around his eyes. Then he waited. The alarm inside the house went a fraction of a second before the alarm on his watch. He heard the Venetian blind shoot up. He swallowed hard to compose himself and then raised the gun to his temple and fired.
Philip Langeskov was born in Copenhagen in 1976. He has an MA and PhD in Creative Writing from University of East Anglia, where he teaches. His fiction has appeared on BBC Radio and in various other places, including Five Dials, The Warwick Review, and Best British Short Stories. His first book, Barcelona, was published by Daunt Books in 2013.