'Good morning, Mrs. Halsey,' the postman nodded.
'Lovely day,' Mrs. Halsey replied.
On the doormat were two letters and a postcard. She put the letters aside to admire the picture on the postcard; a cold, icy scene, rich with blue skies. She flipped the thin card over in her shaking hands, and smiled.
Things are going great here, the research is coming along wonderfully. Hope all is well with you and Dad. I've met a lovely man here called Yann, I think he could be the one! Looking forward to coming back for Christmas, not too long to wait. Missing you terribly.
Love from Annie.
Mrs. Halsey wiped her eyes, which glistened with eager tears. She pinned the postcard onto the corkboard before filling the kettle and turning on a couple of hobs on the oven. She fried some tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, sausages, a slice of bread and cooked some beans, popped the post and the day's paper under her arm and carried the two platefuls upstairs on a tray with two steaming mugs of tea balanced carefully alongside the squeezy ketchup bottle.
Andrew was just stirring as she placed the tray down at the foot of the bed; she climbed in next to him and kissed his stubbly cheek. He smiled at her and took the mug of tea that she held out for him, then they rested the tray between the two of them and took their plates. Andrew unfolded the paper beside himself, and glanced at the headlines in-between mouthfuls. Mrs. Halsey picked up the remote control and turned on the television to Good Morning, Great Day, setting the volume low enough so that it wouldn't disturb her husband.
After finishing her meal, Mrs. Halsey stacked her plate underneath her husband's and deposited them, and the tray, on the floor. She picked up the two letters and nestled her back into the pillow. Andrew lifted the paper onto his lap and held it out broadly in front of himself.
The first letter proudly exclaimed that Mrs. Halsey had won a prize in Good Life magazine's £1,000,000 prize draw; all she had to do was send off for subscription and choose her free gift. The food blender looked most tempting to Mrs. Halsey that morning; she'd always enjoyed those fruit smoothies that Annie had bought in the summertime. She put the form to the side and opened the second letter. The paper inside felt expensive and it was headed with a neat little logo emblazoned with the letters B.P.C.
Dear Mrs. Halsey,
We regret to inform you that your existence has been scheduled for nullification. You have twenty four hours in which to inform any friends and/or relatives of your termination. Arrangements have already been made at your place of work for your convenience. If you have any questions regarding the process of your nullification do not hesitate to call our service-line on 44-555-0129.
Board of Population Control
Mrs. Halsey sat upright; she had always feared this day since the Population Act was passed, but that fear had been quashed as she'd never known anyone who had been nullified. She wondered if it would hurt. At the foot of the paper was a small note that read:
Mrs. Teresa Halsey - 5th March - 0100 hours.
The 5th was tomorrow, she was pleased these letters were accurately delivered. At least, she imagined, it hadn't become lost in the post. She looked at her husband, now shaking his head as he read the football results, and thought it would be best to show him the letter as opposed to telling him herself.
'Well,' he said after a few minutes contemplation, 'that's a blow.' He put an arm round his wife and rubbed her shoulder slowly, just how she liked. 'Well dear,' he asked, 'what would you like to do today?'
'I think we should go and see Annie.' Teresa replied, 'We should go and see her in Iceland, and meet this new man of hers.'
Andrew kissed his wife on the forehead and got out of bed, he took down a suitcase from on top of the wardrobe and said, 'I'll pack for both of us, you have a nice bath.'
'No need to pack me anything, dear,' Teresa said, 'I'll wear what I've got on.'
After her bath, in which she used some salts she'd saved from two Christmases ago, Teresa went into the front room and took down a small porcelain pot from off of the mantelpiece. Rolled up inside, and folded over into a tiny square, was £500, she put the money into her pocket and met her husband at the foot of the stairs.
'That was quick!' Teresa smiled.
The wait for the cab was awkward, the couple's eagerness to be in motion rendered those fifteen minutes the longest of their life. Andrew, it must be noted, was feeling awkward already, he had never known how to handle his wife in difficult, most probably emotional situations, and had often avoided the matter altogether or just made her a mug of tea. Teresa was feeling oddly calm inside, though her hands were shaking more than usual, she wondered if it had anything to do with the process of nullification, but more so she wondered whether it would hurt.
Finally the cab pulled up outside to take them to the airport, the driver waited with an air of impatience as Andrew struggled to get the suitcase into the boot.
'The airport, please,' Teresa smiled, adjusting a brooch on her jumper.
'Going anywhere nice?' the cab driver asked with a sense of duty.
The cab driver had nothing to say on the matter and subtly tried to adjust the volume on the radio so he could hear the football results.
The airport, to which neither Andrew or Teresa had ever been, was a large, flat, white building, that had a sloping art deco design to the facade. It busied with people hauling large suitcases in every direction, they moved at great speeds with expressions of confused determination, and every other second came a clipped voice announcing departures and arrivals and lost luggage and illegally parked cars. They had to ask an almost identical collection of staff members to find the correct ticket desk, but when they did it wasn't long before they had bought their seats.
The small plane that housed their journey was quiet though the flight was full. The stewards went from seat to seat, silently handing out the foil wrapped trays of food, the scolding plastic cups of coffee, and the taut, starched pillows. Teresa rested her head on her husband's shoulder and slept through the flight.
It was three in the afternoon when they arrived; the airport in Reykjavik was plain as well. Teresa had half expected something exotic and magical, an organic airport, but it was the same. The air however had a fresh taste, spiced with the excitement that bubbled under Teresa's skin, her heart stuttered eagerly. Taxis were waiting in a row outside and they made their way to the front most one.
'Mosgerdi, please,' Teresa said taking her seat, keeping the door ajar for Andrew as he battled with the suitcase and the boot.
'English?' the taxi driver asked them as they set off.
'We're from Maidenhead.' Teresa smiled.
'Ah,' he replied with a complete absence of feeling.
'You have your headlights on.' Andrew said.
'Yes.' the taxi driver replied.
Mosgerdi was a street like any other, and the buzzer on the door made the same sound as they do in England. Teresa rubbed her arms as they waited on the step, after a while a man's voice came over the intercom.
'Hello, this is Teresa, Annie's mum, we...'
Teresa was cut short by the dissonant hum of the door being unlocked electronically; Andrew held it open and hauled the suitcase in afterwards.
The flat was sparsely decorated, a few prints here and there, and one rug made little attempt to cover the rough, wooden floorboards. The man who had answered the door, Yann, smoked on a scruffily rolled cigarette and wore a olive green dressing gown. He took the suitcase from Andrew and put it against the hall wall before directing them towards the lounge.
Annie was slumped on a beige sofa, briefly livened by a hemp throw, her eyes lit up when she saw her mother and she immediately leapt from her lethargic repose to wrap both her arms round her mum as tightly as she could. She flailed her left hand until she managed to catch her dad's shoulder and pull him, awkwardly, into the embrace.
'It's been so long!' Annie grinned.
'Hope this isn't an unpleasant surprise.' Teresa asked.
'Not at all, mum! Don't be silly.' she stepped back from her parents, 'Why did you come here?'
Again, Teresa thought it would be best to let the letter do the talking, but Annie, ever the emotional type, lacked the composure and stoicism that Andrew seemed to possess in spades. For what seemed like hours she nestled onto her mother's lap sobbing helplessly. She soon wouldn't have enough breath for all the tears and found herself gasping desperately, spluttering and choking. Teresa rubbed her daughter's hair and looked at Yann, who stood by the window he had cracked open in order to relieve everyone of his tobacco's dry aroma.
'There, there.' Teresa said, investing the words with an emotion that did nothing to allay their meaninglessness.
'Why?' was all that Annie could bring herself to croak, and she asked it over and over with no reply.
'I thought,' Teresa said, 'we could go down to the river later, and then out for a meal. Wouldn't that be nice?'
'How will they do it?' Annie wheezed, sitting up to paw at her reddened eyes.
'I don't know, 'nie. It didn't say on the letter.'
Annie picked up the now crumpled sheet of paper and stared at it, dreaming that the words would change places; re-write themselves into something less despairing. Teresa stared at the paper and remembered that subscription form she put aside and the blender that caught her fancy, she'd remember to tell Andrew to send off for it before she was nullified. Andrew looked around the room and saw the television set stood innocently in the corner, and wondered if they'd be showing the match here, in this strange country, tomorrow? Yann watched his smoke vanish into the air outside the window.
That evening, after Yann and Annie had changed their clothes, everyone walked down to the river. Annie kept her arm linked tightly round her mother, whilst Yann and Andrew walked silently, side by side, behind them. Afterwards they went to a restaurant and had a nice meal which Teresa insisted upon paying for herself, the waiter was rude and disinterested but Teresa still tipped him with one of her fifty pound notes. Later, when he picked up the cheque tray the waiter would roll his eyes as he would have to go to the foreign exchange in order to use his tip. Once the meal was over they walked back alongside the river.
When they got back to the apartment Teresa tried to stifle her yawns but had to admit that she was feeling very tired. Though Yann went to their bedroom Annie insisted on staying in the front room and drifting to sleep on the pull-out bed next to her mother.
'Mum,' Annie quietly asked, 'are you scared?'
'Of course dear,' Teresa replied.
'Mum,' Annie paused again, 'don't go.'
'I have to.' she said with optimistic resignation.
'Mum,' she began to stammer as her eyes stung with the gathering tears, 'I love you.'
'I love you too, Annie.' she kissed the crown of her daughter's head and looked up at the ceiling, 'Don't you worry your little head.'
The next day, when Annie awoke, just as the sun shone through the window, her mother was no longer in the bed. Her father lay looking at the spot where his wife used to be, his hand reaching out, his legs tucked up against his chest and tears streaming down his face. Annie took her father's hand in hers.
'She went peacefully,' Annie smiled.
Her father nodded.
'She went peacefully,' Annie said again, but this time she knew she was lying.
Mrs. Halsey's Journey was first published in the 2009 Sussex University Write Club Anthology. (c) Owain Paciuszko.