They lay in bed, on top of the sweat-soaked sheet, carefully not touching each other. The air shimmered in the moonglow and thickened with unspoken accusations.
Ronnie sighed, which irritated Clay afresh.
The only breeze came down the short hallway from the other side of the house. It was warm and wet, but it was the only moving air they had. It brought the scent of garbage from the kitchen, and they wrinkled their noses in disgust with each new feeble waft.
They wanted to blame each other for that but it was pointless. The garbage can outside the back door was full and fermenting with the lid tied on to keep the roving packs of dogs out of it. Two nights ago, some dogs had tipped the can over and tried to scratch their way inside. When that failed, they turned on each other, filling the night with sounds of primal anger and pain.
Clay moved his eyes to see Ronnie’s pregnant belly, huge and white in the moonlight. Like his, her breaths were shallow, and the hump barely moved. He silently cursed her for getting pregnant, and the heat helped him to overlook his own contribution to her condition. The two of them were barely making it on the irregular government handouts; there was never any telling when the next truck would come by. Another mouth to feed would make things worse.
It would be better if the child were never born, he thought. Hell, it would be better for Ronnie if she didn’t have to live through any of this, let alone another human life in this mad world.
There were no stairs to push her down. He couldn’t easily drown her; there wasn’t much water, and even when the power to the pump was turned on he couldn’t hoard enough. The government truck didn’t bring bullets, and he needed what few he had in case the mad dogs or some lunatic or — Clay’s special nightmare — one of those enormous, mutated snakes got inside the house.
Clay knew he didn’t want Ronnie to suffer as he killed her. She was the best thing ever to happen in his life, and he had to take that into account. So how to…
He chuckled. It was a feeble sound, but Ronnie heard him.
“What could possibly be funny?” she whispered.
“I was thinking of how to kill you gently to put you out of your misery.”
She let that hang between them for a moment, in the thick air.
“You’ve always been too good to me, Clay,” she finally said. “Always thinking of my happiness.”
Then they both laughed, ever so briefly. Their hands touched and they suffered the extra heat for the tenderness.
They did not sleep. They dozed fitfully in the thick, stinking atmosphere of their home. But for the rest of the hot night, it was good enough.