He saw the blood in her nose. He sipped his coffee. She would notice soon enough. He wanted to believe it was a normal nosebleed, but he knew how stressed Lynn was getting. There were no normal nosebleeds since the epidemic began. Now he had himself to think about.
“Nobody reads,” Lynn said. “How will you earn a living writing if nobody reads?” He drank and wished he had his flask. “Look, look at all these people here,” she went on, spreading her arms wide. “All those laptops. What do you think they’re doing with them? Look, Geoff.” Geoff looked.
“Writing,” he said. The soft clacking filled his ears. Like marbles being dropped on cement.
“All of them,” Lynn said. “Cranking out those chapters—exactly like you. You know what they’re not doing?”
“Reading,” said Geoff, lips on his mug. He thought of telling her to calm down, but the blood was there. He saw other eyes on them, but no one said anything. Conflict avoidance.
“Because nobody. Fucking. Rea—” She dabbed her fingertips to her cupid’s bow. Looked down.
“People read all the time,” said Geoff. “It’s relaxing. So is writing.”
Maybe if you did more writing… He only thought the words. He couldn’t possibly say them. Not now. Never.
“I can’t,” said Lynn. “No. I feel fine. I’m relaxed.” She tried to take a deep breath but choked on it. Sobbed.
Geoff brought the coffee to his lips. He tried to keep his hands from shaking. Lynn grabbed his wrist, fingerpainting red smears into his arm hair. Geoff could see other patrons of the café remove pill capsules from coat pockets, purses, briefcases. The marbles were no longer falling. Pills were popping. Washing down.
He couldn’t afford to wait. He twisted to reach into his coat, which hung on his chair. He fished into a pocket. Nothing. It’s okay, he thought. Try another pocket. They haven’t gone anywhere.
“It can’t be over,” Lynn said. Her hands muffled her words where she swiped away at blood that would not stop flowing. “I made it so far. We were going to get married, Geoff.” She showed him the ring he bought her. Caked blood from where it touched her nostril blanketed the diamond’s normal shimmer.
Geoff laughed. He tried another pocket. Just his keys. He laughed some more.
“Why are you laughing? We were supposed to grow old together. We were going to see Iceland together. You were going to write a book and I was going to read it. Were going to get married. Why are you laughing?”
Geoff stifled his giggling, but a grin remained split across his face. He pointed at Lynn’s ring.
“Blood diamond,” he said, and the laughter flowed out of him again. Some of the nearby patrons laughed at his joke, too. It felt good to laugh with people. Laughing was a social activity. Lynn’s mouth hung open until blood dribbled into it. Geoff tried another coat pocket. He heard the rattling and felt relieved, and he yanked the plastic bottle out and squeezed and twisted the cap at the same time.
“I already took my pill!” Lynn shrieked, slapping the bottle out of Geoff’s hand. The pills clattered onto the floor. Clacking. Marbles.
They weren’t for you. Again, Geoff avoided saying the words aloud.
Lynn pushed he table away, sending it crashing into Geoff’s chest and interrupting his giggle fit. When Lynn stood up, she knocked her chair flat backwards. She stumbled—on the chair, maybe, or nothing at all—and dropped to her knees, coughing, sobbing. Saliva dribbled from her lip and the saliva was red. Tears caressed her cheeks and the tears were red. She scooped up a handful of pills from the floor and flung them at him. They bounced off his face like raindrops.
“I took my pills,” she said between choking coughs. “They don’t work.”
One of the pills landed next to Geoff’s mug. He put it in his mouth and washed it down. The coffee was getting cold. He would have to ask for a top up.
“The pills don’t fucking work, Geoff. Jesus Christ, they don’t—” She flung some more pills at him. They missed. “I supported you. I sold houses for nothing, nothing, because there are more houses than people now, Geoff, but you had to write and I had to…” She coughed for a long time. Blood pooled at her knees from her wet hacks, from her nose, tears.
“You,” she said. Coughed. “You…” She raked her fingers around the floor, painting little streaks of blood, trying to gather up pills, probably to throw them, but she never got the chance.
Geoff brought the cold coffee to his lips and looked out the window. Lynn choked on her tainted blood and a ’62 Porche 356 drove by the shop, followed by a ’73 Corvette Stingray. Lynn convulsed in the blood and pills like a worm, like a bloodworm, and Geoff wondered if he should exchange his Rolls for a ‘Vette. A nice red—no, blue—one.
The sound came back at once. Laughing, chatting, typing, all more forceful than before. That meant it was over. A waitress came by. She had to walk wide around the table.
“Everything will be taken care of,” she said. Out of the corner of his eye Geoff saw the two men in white cover that spot on the floor with a blanket. “May we?” the waitress asked. A silver Lexus parked at the bank across the street.
“Certainly,” said Geoff, trying to determine the year of the Lexus. It must have been a newer model. Those things just weren’t built like the classics. He couldn’t imagine the stress of owning a new one. Even imagining stress was dangerous. The men in white lifted the thing in the blanket. “I’d help,” said Geoff, “but you know.”
“Of course,” the waitress said. The men carried the rolled-up blanket, heavy from its contents, out the back door. Even though Geoff watched the Lexus across the street he could see them carrying her—it. “More coffee?”
Geoff nudged his mug across the table and said, “Please.” The waitress topped him up and he drank it and burned his lip. The janitor put down a steepled yellow sign and mopped and mopped. Some customers came in and saw and left. Geoff watched the sun fall until the yellow sign was gone and the floor was dry.
A pill popped into dust under his heel when he got up from his chair. He told himself he wouldn’t look but he looked and he turned his head so he wouldn’t puke on the spot she died in. He let it hit his shoes because he wouldn’t step there, in that newly-dried place. Oh God, oh God, Lynn.
No. He couldn’t mourn. She wouldn’t want him to.
Geoff picked himself up, straightened out. The government-employed barista said, “Have a wonderful day, Geoff!” before ordering the janitor to get the mop. She shouldn’t make demands like that, Geoff thought. She was going to get the poor old guy killed. He wondered how many people were killed by their bosses, managers, supervisors … fiancés.
He grabbed his laptop and waved back and said, “Thanks, Karen,” and stepped out of the café and into the deserted parking lot. He was the last customer.
No, not the last, he thought. Not the last.
Day 230’s three random writing prompt categories were, “A barista,” “Death,” and, “An incurable disease with no name.”
A prequel to “10 Easy Steps to Living a Stress-Free Life.” It’s even more bleak, somehow.