Social Distancing

by Michael Freundt, a short story.

‘Don’t come near me!’ she screamed.


He struck her hard. With a fist to the face. She fell against the side board with a thud. The sound of breaking glass. Her mother’s set of champagne flutes. The ones with the gold trim. She staggered back instinctively as if she was to blame. She thought of her mother. So this is what she meant. She took another blow to the side of the head and fell to her left. She saw flashes of light and then dark, then bright again. She used a small door knob of the side-board to haul herself back to her feet; back into his range. Why did I do that? He hit her again. Harder this time. The door was still open a bit. She fell against it and heard a rib crack. Knives rattled together like rocks in a can. It took her a moment to focus. She knew she didn’t have much time. She yanked open a drawer. She reached inside.

‘What are you doing?’ he said.

She reached further in among the knives.

‘You wouldn’t dare.’

She pulled out a gun, turned and pointed it at him. That made him stop.

‘What’s the fuck!’

‘Stay away from me,’ she said. Her voice cracked.

‘What’s that!?’

‘What’s it …?” More words were hard to say. She swallowed, blinked, and wet her lips. Her left eye throbbed. ‘What’s it look like?’ She could feel her heart bumping in her chest. She wanted to run.

‘Where did you get that?’

‘Does it matter? Get away from me!’

He took a step back. She felt the taste of rare control.

‘What are you doing with a gun in the house?’

She thought this was funny. ‘Well, considering…’

‘Whose is it?’

‘Mine.’

‘Fuck!’

‘I can use it!’

‘You don’t know a fuckin’ thing abou…’

‘Try me,’ she said mildly. She could see he was unsure and she tasted that feeling again. She straightened her back. She winced and wondered if she could really go through with it.

‘Give it here,’ he said like a Dad.

‘No,’ she said like a child.

He looked at her.

She held his gaze. She swallowed.

‘Is it loaded?’ he asked.

‘ … I don’t know.’

He stepped towards her.

‘Maybe.’ The sound and feel of that word surprised her. She felt she had the upper hand. It occurred to her that he wasn’t in control as much as she had always believed he was. She had given in to him on so many occasions. Even the choice of this side-board; it was too high she had always thought. Why did I do that? It wasn’t just the gun, it was him. He faded a bit. But if the gun wasn‘t loaded everything would change. There was only one way to find out.

He stopped. ‘You kept it there? In the cutlery drawer?

‘You never open the cutlery drawer.’

She could see his anger rising again.

‘What the fuck is my wife doing with a gun in the house, for fuck sake!?’

‘Just as well, ay?’

‘You fuckin’ bitch,’ and he moved.

She lowered the gun and fired.

The sound was weak. Surprising. It didn’t fill the room. It hurt her ribs. She thought for a moment she hadn’t done it right. But yes, it was loaded.

He screamed and dropped to the floor holding his knee. Blood oozed between his fingers. His howls filled the room.

She thought of pigs.

‘You fuckin’ shot me!’

Yes, I did. Yes. That’s what I just did. She repositioned her fingers around the thing. It was warm now. Still pointing it at him. It was her only help. Her life-line.

His screams became moans.

‘Get back from me. Get back.’ She took a step forward from the sideboard but standing on her own felt uneasy. ‘Get back!’

He managed to sidle his arse on the floor and retreated from her.

She took a step back to lean against the sideboard. She reached into her jeans pocket and pulled out her phone. Her breathing was shallow and quick. She felt a little dizzy. With flickering glances at the man writhing and groaning on the floor she dialled a short number.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘The police. Yes. An ambulance. Yes. I’ve just shot my husband. What? No. He’s fine. There’s a bit of blood.’ She told them her full name and address and put her phone on the side board. She tried to control her breathing slow it down, breath deeper.

‘You’ll go to jail for this,’ he managed to say.

‘Probably.’

‘Why the fuck did you go and shoot me!?’

‘I didn’t kill you,’ and she raised the gun, pointing at his head. ‘I could’ve.’ And then with an intent and attitude she had never used before. ‘Can you feel it?’

‘What?’

She waved the gun slightly to the left and fired into an armchair. The sound was week and tinny again. Like it was before. Maybe that’s how it is. Maybe that’s what a gun sounds like. She waved the gun back to his head. ‘Feel it now?’ She could see that he could and it felt good to her. ‘Now you know what it feels like.’

‘You’re fuckin’ crazy!’

She gave a little harrumph and said quietly. ‘Now I know what it feels like.’ She smiled.

‘You were havin’ it off with that sparky bloke.’

‘What? No.’

‘Susie Driscoll told me.’

‘She saw me fucking the electrician? No. She saw me talking to Jim in the car park.’

‘Oh, it’s Jim now, is it?’

‘Yes. That’s his name. Jim. He offered to load my boot for me. I said thanks but it’s OK. He told me about his little boy’s questions about the virus. They were apposite and cute.’

He gave a grunt. ‘You were flirting.’

‘I smiled at him, yes.’

‘What else?’

‘Nothing.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘Not my fault.’

‘Well this is your fuckin’ fault. You shot your husband in his own living room. In the knee! For Christ’s sake. I’m a fuckin’ rugby player!’

‘There’s no more runball until the end of next month; and that’s even in doubt.’

‘Stop calling it that. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘I don’t care.’

‘You need to see a doctor.’

‘You’re the one gushing blood all over the floor.’

‘A psychiatrist. You need to see … Did you plan this? So you could be with Jimmy boy?’

‘You’re such an idiot. Why would I plan a punch to my head? Three punches to the head. Ha? How would I plan such a thing?’

‘You’ve had a gun there all this time. Loaded.’

‘Mum gave it to me.’

‘She’s always hated me.’

‘She doesn‘t hate you. Just like she doesn’t hate Dad, despite what he did to her.’

‘If she’s anything like you, I don’t blame him.’

‘You’ve never blamed him.’

‘Can you get me some pain killers?’

‘No.’ Her right arm was aching. She let it drop a little.

He moved towards her and she pointed it at him again with added intension and used her left arm to help her hold it out.

‘Getting tired?’

‘Yeah. I can use my left hand,’ and she took her right hand away and shook it. ‘But I’m a little shaky with my left, I might miss your other knee and hit something else.’

‘ … let’s just think this through. What about the boys?’

‘You’ll have to look after them.’

‘I’ll be in hospital.’

‘For a few hours maybe. You’ll be home before the boys get back. You can hop from room to room. You don’t need legs to cook, do the washing, do the ironing.’

‘I don’t know how to cook.’

‘Turn on the gas. Put water in a pot. Add beans. Wait.’

He dismissed her sarcasm with a ‘Phut … What if I’m not back?’

’You’ll have to call someone. Your sister.’ She looks at her watch on her right wrist and moves the gun back to her right.

‘The police aren’t coming.’

‘They’ll be here.’

‘You’ll going to jail.’

‘Oh, did you hear on the news this morning? The jail’s overcrowded making social distancing impractical so they’re moving low security prisoners into hotel rooms, and anyone on remand will be placed in isolation in a hotel room too. I’ll be in The Intercontinental for two weeks courtesy of the government, ordering room service, and watching my own Netflix choices.’

‘If the police were coming they’d be here by now.’

‘They’ll be here soon.’

‘I could press charges.’

‘So could I.’

‘For what?’

She used her left hand to touch her left eye and cheek. She could feel its heat and her vision through that eye was now blurry. It must look like spilt blueberry trifle. She curled her fingers in to point at her face.

‘What’s that compared to a gunshot wound?’ he said.

‘I was protecting myself.’

‘A little lop-sided don’t you think?’

‘No. What more were you capable of?’

‘Oh please. I was upset.’

‘I was bashed because you were upset.’

‘I thought you were screwing the electrician.’

‘I wish now I was.’

He pointed at her. ‘That’s evidence against you. When I’m asked to give evidence in court I’ll say you wanted to screw the electrician. You told me so. I wasn’t wrong, you see?’

‘It was a sentence of conditional wish fulfilment, not admission of an action but a desire that something could happen but didn’t, knowing what I know now.’

He sighs. ‘Spare me.’ And then, ‘I’ve got to get attention to this knee.’

‘They’re on their way.’

They looked at each other, each daring not to look away. Being alert. Everything in the past was a blur. It was like their lives had appeared out of nowhere. They began from this moment. How did they get to this? This moment of no past and no idea of the future. Time seemed stretched. How long since either had spoken?

He moved onto his other hip. She watched him closely, gun ready. He used his left hand to get his phone out of his pocket. ‘I’m going to make my own call. Call an ambulance. To report a shooting.’ He held his phone up. ‘Here you are in our family home with a gun pointed at your wounded husband.’

She shot the phone out of his hand. The sound disappeared as quickly as it had erupted.

‘Jesus!’ Blood appeared on his fingers. ‘Fuckin’ hell!’

‘I’ve got three left. Just stay where you are. And wait. And while I’ve got the floor you can tell me about you and Susan Driscoll.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous.’

‘We’ve been locked down here for three weeks. Jigsaw puzzles. YouTube. Rugby’s Best Tries. Bananas in Fucking Pyjamas. We haven’t been out of each other’s sight. Now that the boys are back at school you thought it would be good time to bring it up. Reinforce yourself. Mm? How could Susie, not Susan but Susie Driscoll, you said, Susie! How could she speak to you about … You’ve been calling her on the loo. Haven’t you?’

‘I know what you’re doing,’ he said but she could see he was rattled. He wouldn’t look at her. He sucked the blood from his fingers.

‘So do I. I know exactly what I’m doing.’ She tried hard for her face to reflect what she wanted to believe. 

‘Let’s be sensible here. What are we going to tell the police?’

‘The truth.’

‘And they’ll believe you?’

‘I shot you. Deliberately. In the leg – not in the head or the chest – in the leg, to stop you hitting me again. What’s not to believe?’

‘It’s the end of our family.’

‘Probably, yes.’

‘Maybe you should’ve thought of that before you shot me.’

‘Maybe you should’ve thought of that before you hit me.’

‘I’ve hit you before.’

‘I didn’t have a gun then.’

‘We got over it.’

‘Did we? You may have.’

‘Sometimes men hit women.’

‘Oh Yes. It’s a psychological attribute. I forgot. Like a dick.’

‘And we have reasons.’

‘So did I. And my reason is stronger than your reason.’

‘Really?’

‘I was defending my life. You were defending your masculinity.’

This had never occurred to her before. She’s never been in this situation before. But now it all seemed so clear.

‘You won’t be able to see the boys.’

This knocked her. ‘… I’ll have visiting rights.’

‘Only if I let them.’

‘What are you going to tell them?’

‘That you shot me! Twice!’

‘And when they ask why, Why Daddy? Why did Mummy shoot you? What will you say?’

‘That you don’t love me anymore, that you were in love with Sparky Jim and wanted me out of the way so you can be with him.’

‘That’s not true.’

‘You won’t have the opportunity to say so.’

‘So our two sons have become rewards in a game.’

‘What does that mean?’ He could see she was wavering. ‘That’s what you always do, rub my lack of a degree in my face. Sprout some literary jargon that means shit when you come down to it. I speak plainly. The boys are mine.’ He could see water in her eyes and saw his chance. ‘Look. We’ve got time to agree on a story. I won’t press charges and you won’t press charges. I’ll have a few hours in hospital and maybe you’ll have to give a statement or something. We’ve been cooped up here at home for three weeks. We got on each other’s nerves. A … a …. a little game developed without the kids around, you know, what you read about, some kind of kinky game thing. You know. And if we support each other we can go on as before. We just have to agree. Agree and stick to it.’

‘Same as before.’

‘Yes. Same as before. The four of us. Together with the boys. Otherwise you’re on your own. And you’ll never see your kids again.’

The two adults stared at each other. They heard cars outside coming to a stop. Footsteps on the path, then nothing on the grass, then louder on the porch. Then an urgent knocking on the front door.

‘Open up! Police!’

‘Coming!’ she called out.

‘Sweetheart…?’

She broke her gaze from her husband, walked to the front door, opened it, turned the gun around and handed it to a gloved police officer. ‘He’s in there.’

Several officers walked past all wearing masks and gloves. One of them, a female officer, took her by the arm. Para-medics dressed all in white plastic like attendants in a nuclear power plant followed with equipment and a stretcher.

About twenty minutes later as he was being wheeled to the ambulance and she was being led to the police car she turned to him and … she thought of telling him about the lasagne in the freezer but said, ‘Jamie doesn’t like tomatoes in his sandwiches and Russ won’t eat overripe bananas.’

-oOo-