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Image by Gregory Pappas

‘The Ultimatum’

I hadn’t been working for the company four months when they told me it was them or my family, and that I had a week to choose. 

I cried about this for a few days, even though I’d been faced with riddles of that sort before. I’d always muddled through with my children more or less intact. But the company had me on rolling nights, interspersed with the occasional shift at blaring high noon, which always scrambles the signal boxes, leaves you unsure of which way is which. 

I forced myself to have breakfast with my colleagues on more than one occasion, thinking that even if we didn’t talk I might soak up some wisdom or direction from their early morning auras, that time when you really struggle to hide yourself. It’s why most marriages are eventually derailed by the morning routine. You’re never more hopelessly yourself than when you’ve just woken.

They called me in on day five of the ultimatum and didn’t say anything, waited for me to speak first. 

Of course, I chose my family, but it gets harder every time, and the bosses never look at you the same. 

My partner also knew something was up, although he never said anything, just left me to my own private circuits.

Sometimes he leaves me handwritten notes on the coffee table, elegantly curved, suggesting that I haven’t pushed myself hard enough that week, without saying it directly. They usually take the form of lists, lists with perfect spacing, and I can read between the lines, can see that the gaps between items are my own, spaces that need filling.

On the rare occasions I get to tuck my children in at night their eyes are usually closed already. It’s like they knew I was coming. There are two of them, and I watch their milky chests rise and shudder and fall in the shimmy of the moon or the glare from the hallway, and I think of sacrifice, the things we’re asked to put down and forget about, the list of stuff we’re asked to pick up, if we have a spare moment on our long journey home after a long day, to pick up and remember, don’t forget those, whatever you do, whatever you did today, just don’t forget them, make sure you don’t forget. 

Rob Yates is a writer hailing from Essex. He previously released a small collection of poetry entitled The Distance Between Things. He has also had work appear via Agenda, Bodega, SmokeLong Quarterly, Envoi, and other literary magazines. Some of his writing can be found through


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