He has writer’s block. It’s annoying as hell, because it isn’t that he doesn’t have words, it’s that they don’t fit together. He flings his words at the walls, where they shatter and splatter, leaving dark gooey trails across photographs, acidic steaming trickles scarring the paint and sinking anchoring tendrils of frustration into the core of the building.
She paces outside his study, debating about interrupting him and trying not to flinch when he throws particularly pointed epithets through the walls. She manages to dodge the curses and insults and wishes she had the courage to enter the room and soothe his temper.
After hours of vicious harangues, he opens the door, haggard and drawn. They stand facing each other for several small eternities, breathing anxieties and hoping for reassurance, and then he opens his arms and she flies to him. The touch, the physical contact, steadies them both and they lead each other to the couch, where they curl up together and relax. He falls asleep and she smiles and strokes his hair. She untangles herself and wanders into the kitchen for her every evening glass of warmed milk.
There is no milk in the refrigerator, one of them finished it with the breakfast cereal this morning. She pouts half-heartedly and then heads for the front hallway and her jacket. She leaves him a brief note, letting him know that she’s running to the market for milk, and slips through the door, locking it behind her.
The 7-11 is grimy and deserted, it is, after all, one am, but she’s done this before, so it doesn’t really bother her. She grins at the clerk behind the counter and scampers to the back to snag a quart of nonfat from the case. Her hair falls across her face and she scoops it back and places her exact change on the laminate. One silly quart of milk doesn’t need a bag and she darts back onto the street, swinging it carelessly, as a bum in a bulky dark parka slumps into the mart in search of cigarettes. He sees her and he wants her. The cigarettes are forgotten and he turns to track her down the crowded block.
Secure in this stretch of sidewalk that she’s followed numerous times, she cuts down an alley, wanting to get home to her husband and her warm milk as quickly as possible. The bum sees her make the sharp turn and he smiles a little. He knows that alley pretty well and he knows he’ll be able to catch up to her there.
She whirls and smiles. “Hi, there. Pretty night, huh?”
“Yeah. What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a dark alley in the city in the middle of the night?” He advances toward her.
“Milk.” The quart is lifted to illustrate. “I can’t sleep without it.” She yawns. “I should get home to bed, my husband’ll worry.”
“Husband, huh? Lucky guy…” He’s in touching distance now and he makes a grab for her wrist. She gasps and flinches away instinctively, backing away quickly.
“Back off, mister. I just want to get home with my milk. My husband will worry and he’s had a rough night anyway and he doesn’t need to worry about me on top of that. So, I really have to go.” She turns and sprints for the end of the alley. His footsteps pound behind her, but he’s a little drunk, so he falls behind. The blood is rushing in her ears and she doesn’t hear that he isn’t behind her anymore, she just keeps running, her sandals slapping against the pavement, knocking aside the detritus that litters this typical city alley in the middle of the night. She rounds the corner out of the alley and feels a prick in her left foot. She ignores it and cuts across the grassy patch in front of her building. Her head is spinning and she is gasping for breath. The world blurs around the edges and she stumbles and falls, landing sprawled on her back in the muddy driveway.
When they find her in the morning, she looks almost peaceful, laid out on the ground. Her precious quart of milk is still clutched in her left hand and her right hand is resting across her chest. The coroners examine her and the find a shard of a syringe needle embedded in her left foot. The needle contains traces of penicillin. Further analysis shows that she had a rare penicillin allergy and that the amount on the needle was enough to send her into anaphylactic shock and then kill her.
Her husband goes mad with the grief and leaves their apartment. He locks the door behind him and swears he’ll never return without her.