Small. Town. Life. by Stephen Brady

Marian didn’t like going to the village. She’d always felt that everyone… well, looked down on her. They were just a lot of small-town snobs, she told herself. That’s all they were. They thought they were better than her. Well. She could think of a lot of things she’d like to say to them. And one day, she imagined she might have the courage to do so.

Then there came a time when a man on the television told everyone they’d have to stay in their houses. Marian didn’t really understand what was going on, but it sounded serious. And it went on for a long time. She was secretly glad that she wasn’t allowed to go out. That she didn’t have to face them, and their scrutiny and their judgement.

But there came a day when she had no food left in the house. So she realised, she’d have to go to the village again.

Well, she decided, let them look. Let them judge. She’d been trapped indoors for weeks and weeks, during which time the outside world had finally grown silent. Marian’s cupboards were bare. She decided to risk it, in the face of this bad thing, whatever it was. She had a right to survive. And the rest of them would just have to lump it.

She got up early that day, put her best coat and scarf on, and got her shopping bag. She even paused by the mirror in the hallway, and applied a little lipstick. The collapse of society was no excuse for looking sloppy. Brandishing her shopping bag, she went out that morning with her head held high.

It turned out that Marian had nothing to worry about, because everybody was dead. The village was deserted. She saw a dead man sitting on a bench, his head lolled back, flies busy around him. She tutted. “Sloppy, sloppy.” She went to the shop, and there was no-one at the till. There were corpses in the aisles, and an awful smell hanging about. Marian discreetly sprayed some perfume – she wouldn’t waste it on these people, it was for her own sake. She took what she needed from the shelves, went to the empty counter, and neatly filled out a Postal Order. She folded it and put it beside the till. There was no excuse for not doing things properly. That was what she’d always told herself. The nuns had beaten it into her in school. But it was only now, with the world a mausoleum, that she realised the true worth of that particular piece of advice.

She went to leave the shop, when she noticed the door to the storeroom was open. There appeared to be someone in there. Curious, she went to the door and had a look.

A young man in a shop uniform had hanged himself inside the storeroom. Well, someone might have done it for him. The shelves had been sparsely stocked… perhaps someone less conscientious than Marian, someone with less decorum, had looted the place. The young man looked like he’d been there for some time. A sheet of paper had been stapled to his front, which read: “HIS JUDGEMENT IS COME.” Marian tutted. That didn’t seem quite grammatical.

She was going to leave, when she noticed the position of the dead man’s head. She went into the storeroom, blanching a little at the ripe smell of corpse and rotting foodstuffs. She went right up to that dead young man. His head was thrown back and his dusty eyeballs seemed to look into hers, pleading.

She said, “How dare you look down your nose at me like that.”

Then she gave the corpse a shove,and left.

She walked back up the road to her house with a spring in her step. The sun was out, and a light breeze stirred the flowering hedgerows. They were gone, all the snobby sneering small-town troglodytes were gone. Marian felt carefree, like a girl. The nuns had also told her that every cloud had a silver lining. And as she strolled, a thin little smile on her face, Marian reflected that perhaps it took an experience like this to learn that that was true, too.

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