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His hand shook when he poured the coffee. Anna took a messy bite of croissant, frowned at the lifestyle supplement.
‘This is shit,’ she said, through pastry flakes.
‘Of course it is,’ said Tim. ‘It’s full of the world. Why do you buy it?’
‘Nostalgia in advance.’ She could be impenetrable in the mornings.
Tim pretended to read the TV guide, so she didn’t thrust the news section at him. He couldn’t look. Something else good closed down, some new terrible law enacted. He hadn’t voted for the bastards. Most people hadn’t.
‘Why aren’t you eating?’ asked Anna.
He hadn’t swallowed a thing for breakfast all week. His stomach felt as if it was chewing itself to pieces until he checked his emails. They might get in touch today. He knew from his previous dealings with them that they treated weekends like any other day.
‘What are you so twitchy about?’
The fact he couldn’t tell Anna made the waiting worse. He was about to make the most momentous change imaginable, alone.
‘Just going to…’ he tried to look unhurried as he left the table. But he closed the door of his study. She’d notice that.
It was there. An e-mail from them. He forgot to breathe, blacked out for a millisecond. Tiny stars bounced at the edge of his vision. ‘Please,’ he whispered as he clicked.
Anna barged in when she heard the sobbing.
‘Has somebody died?’ she asked, without sympathy.
‘My hope has died!’ Tim wailed.
‘You’ve got to stop commenting on things. People will attack you. It’s what they do.’
‘I haven’t. It’s not that.’
For months he’d thought only of them. Their tests, their challenges. The more he’d learned about their way of life, the more he’d wanted it for himself.
‘What is it then?’ Anna pulled up a chair, touched his shoulder.
‘My application…rejected,’ he spluttered.
‘Why didn’t you say you were applying for something? I could’ve checked through the form for you.’
‘There was no form. It was all practical. It was really hard. But I thought…I was good. They seemed pleased. On the night time test I even got a herring.’
Ana looked at the computer screen. ‘Oh Tim,’ she said. ‘I can’t believe you thought you could…’
‘I’ve been having advanced swimming lessons. Three times a week. When you thought I was helping Alan do his patio.’
‘You always aim too high! Honestly. Everyone wants to be a dolphin.’
‘They said I was a natural at pod awareness.’
‘How about a sheep, then?’
‘Why are you being such a bitch?’
‘I just wish you’d told me. I know you’re pissed off about the political direction being taken by humanity. I had no idea you actually wanted out. We could’ve discussed it.’
‘I’m sick of talking,’ Tim said. ‘I want to swim.’
‘There are other ways to swim,’ said Anna. She sighed. ‘I’m angry with myself, really. I don’t know why I didn’t…I guess we’ve both been a bit detached.’
Dolphins had hundreds of ways of expressing emotion to each other through touch.
‘Thing is,’ said Anna. ‘I’ve had an application accepted. I was going to tell you tonight. To become a squid.’
‘The intelligence of squids is very under-rated,’ said Anna.