Text message from Rocco, but don’t open it. Not yet. Rocco said, “We’ll see about that” when you quit. What he meant was, you don’t get out of the Echo Valley mob.
The living room smells like coffee and dog hair. Sun white on faded carpet. The people on the house hunting show need space for their hot tubs, have names like Xavier and Tabitha, children like Lorcan and Lovelynne.
Your husband gulps coffee. "This is the kind of family you end up drowning in The Sims.”
Your throat feels dry. "You can do that?"
Your husband turns up the volume.
Outside, the birdfeeder’s empty. The grass is too long in some places, bald where the dogs dug holes. Your vision pixelates. "But how do you do it?"
"Do what?" He tries to fast forward to the end of the show.
"Drown your Sims."
"You just make them swim, then take out the pool ladder."
You try to imagine splashing in blue water. God or whoever takes out the ladder. You can’t swim forever, you’re much too fatigued to climb out. Deepest sympathy! on the computer screen when you die, but does anyone care?
* * *
You’re out of Xanax. Your dreams are weird. Treading water in a half-empty well, the ladder glitches. Top down in a Corvette through dry desert wind, your foot taps empty space where the brake pedal was. Now gravity stretches your face, mid-air in a skydiving suit, sad when you pull the ripcord and the parachute doesn’t pop, the ground big and flat and approaching fast.
* * *
Tabitha, Xavier, Lorcan, and Lovelynne move in across the street. They bulldoze the old house, erect a new one. White columns in front. Swimming pool in back. New houses pop up every day here in Echo Valley.
The doorbell rings. Answer it.
Tabitha wears camo tucked into boots. Dog tags clink at her chest. She puts a plate of cupcakes in your hands.
“Come by for dinner this evening,” she says.
Your husband watches Tabitha through the window.
* * *
Xavier hands you a glass of prosecco, tops it off with vodka from his flask. Rests his own glass on the rim of the bubbling hot tub. There’s a hot tub in every room.
“See that glimmer?” says Xavier, his hand sticky on your shoulder, pointing up through the window of his study. “I built that space station.”
You’re not looking up, though. Down on the patio, your husband’s fingers rest too long on Tabitha’s wrist. He touches her with softness you haven’t known since the day on the black sand beach when you told him you don’t want kids.
You could touch Xavier’s thick wrist. You could bend his body, make him tell you secrets. Like the last job you pulled off, with the fingernails. The dogs licked blood off your shoes in the morning. You could blow up a fucking space station if you wanted.
* * *
Night air tastes like chlorine and charcoal, sounds like bugs. Splash your toes in cold swimming pool water. Lean back in the pink inflatable raft. Stars glitch, or maybe they’re satellites.
Through pine trees, across the street, your house looks injured. Your dogs bark and scratch your windows. Next door, the goth neighbors light candles.
Check on the ladder in the corner of the pool. Is it there? Do patio lights glint off its chrome?
Xavier’s raft bumps into yours, sends you skimming. From here you see Tabitha in the kitchen. See her whisper in your husband’s ear. Think of the chill in his neck when her lips brush his skin. You still feel naked without your gun.
Now Xavier’s sleeping, or worse. He never runs out of Xanax. Bounce off the wall with the balls of your feet, reach into his cupholder when you float past. Take the flask. Take the pill bottle. Place a pill on your tongue, taste the bitter, swallow. Save the rest to block dreams.
If the ladder disappears, would it be so bad? Your arms do feel like soft rubber.
Look: your phone is getting wet in the cupholder. Read the message. Rocco’s got a job for you. Low risk, high pay, might get messy.
Fireworks overhead, teal and purple. Your husband peeks out the window, twists his wedding ring.
Take the job.
Daniel DeRock is from the Midwest of the U.S. and now lives in the Netherlands with his wife and two dogs, Ivy and Juno. He writes short and long fiction, reads for Fatal Flaw magazine, and works as a social scientist. His Twitter habitat is @DerockDaniel