Author: P. T. Corwin

He had to bring her back. Even now, so close to the end.
When the smoke from the machine parted Grace rushed out wearing that strawberry dress he had bought her for her sixth birthday. And Victor scooped her up in his arms – his Gracie – and held her, inhaling that sweet scent of her hair.
“Did you sleep okay, baby?”
She giggled into his ear. “I had a dream about you, daddy.”
“Was it a nice dream?”
Of course it was. He had chosen the scenario himself, had learned how to program the neuro-modulator. Anything to make his little girl happy.
Grace looked around. “Where’s mummy?”
Victor had created a replica of their flat in East London, complete with the sofa Marie and he had sat on, watching the speeches, the assassination and the detonation of the first bomb. The sofa he had slept on after their argument, before she had taken Grace to her mother.
He could tell Grace all this. His final confession before…
“She won’t be back until tomorrow, remember? It’s just you and me today. But we’ll have fun together, I promise.” He kissed her cheek, so warm, so alive. “I’ll take care of you for as long as I can.”
How much longer would that be? How long had it been since he had taken the final food pill? And water? The only water left now was in the machine. Maybe enough to keep him going for another couple of days. Enough to give him a chance to figure something else out.
Or enough to bring her back a few more times. His Grace. His little strawberry child.
“Can we go to the swings, daddy?”
“Not today, berry. The weather’s still not better out there. Maybe tomorrow.”
He still hadn’t gotten used to the disappointment on her face. She should be out there, playing in the park, screaming with joy as he pushed her on the swings, like back before the war. Was it fair to bring her back every day, only to keep her locked up in here?
“Maybe tomorrow,” he said again. “I promise. Mummy will be back, and we can go together.”
“Oh yes!” She jumped up, wrapped her tiny arms around his neck.
In moments like this, it all made sense. Bringing her back every morning. It all made sense when she put her arms around him, her warm breath against his neck.
But was it fair? To her? Her little body collapsing after just a few hours, the water drained out of it because he still hadn’t figured out the process and never would. Was that fair?
“How about we stay in today,” he said. “I need to ask you something.”
They sat on the couch. Grace snuggled up against him.
“Gracie, what would you say, if you and mummy went away for a while?”
“Like a holiday?”
“Tonight. When mummy comes back.”
“Aren’t you coming with us?”
“Daddy still has some work to do here.” He put an arm around her and drew her close. “But I promise I’ll join you soon.” He kissed her forehead. “Maybe tomorrow.”