Time to Leave

John, cradling Anna limply in his arms, flung himself sidelong out the lobby doors, just as the apartment block's torched upper floors thundered inward.

He staggered away, eyes burning in the sour choking smoke rolling down the building's exterior. Chattering gunfire froze him in his tracks. Gunfire from the apartment block across the common. From the rooftop battery, John realized, shivering again.

He heard the rising whine then. Clearly. Apart from the shriekings behind him of trapped neighbours he'd never now meet. He blinked into the hazy dazzling morning. The cruise missile streaked overhead, veered toward the river. Its engine whine receded. Distantly, anti-aircraft batteries pop-popped at it. John stared after it, toward the city over the river, toward the downtown towers. Soundlessly, Flame bloomed through the top floors of one skyscraper.

John sighed. "Not nuclear yet."

His thoughts snapped to Jane. To their argument at breakfast. She couldn't abandon a hospital full of casualties who couldn't be evacuated. She would be at the hospital, three miles away. Over the river.

John trembled. For an instant he nearly let himself wail. Anna whimpered in his arms. His and Jane's little joy. Perhaps all in the world which might remain very soon of his roller-coaster, wonderful, three years with Jane.

John set Anna down in her Peter Pan blanket on the grassy common. His hands shaking, he slipped off his backpack, pulled out the infant harness, fitted her in.

John kissed Anna's forehead. He tasted smoke. He forced a smile, though she wasn't awake. "We'll go to the country. We'll visit your Gran. Your mum will come, when she can."

The End

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