“Please, don’t,” I plead, placing sweating palms on the counter, my heart racing. It’s all I can think to say.
It’s not enough.
The clerk’s eyes flick toward me, back to the gunman, who’s looking away, checking for other customers. The clerk reaches for the shotgun hidden behind the counter. I want to shout and scream, to grab him and shake him, anything to stop him.
There’s no time.
Time after time, he won’t listen to me.
I just wanted coffee.
The clerk’s older, maybe sixty. Something in his eyes, the set of his shoulders tells me he thinks he can handle anything. I already know how stubborn he is, how frustratingly certain of himself. Reminds me of me.
The gunman’s younger, though he already has the dead eyes and hard frown that say he’s seen his share of violence, and that he’s willing to see more if he doesn’t get what he wants. The way he handles his gun, like it’s more familiar to him than his own mother or kind words, terrifies me. And I know he’s fast with it, faster than the clerk.
So the clerk goes for the shotgun, as the gunman turns around. The clerk catches two rounds, flies back into the cigarette display, crumples to the floor. There’s blood everywhere: on the floor, the counter. On me. I can taste it.
Then everything resets.
Again and again, everything resets.
I wake up in bed, my wife still asleep beside me. Should I wake her up? I have something to tell her. I can’t see doing it without coffee. When I get to the kitchen, the coffee can is empty. We’re out. So I pull on my coat.
She’s standing by the door as I leave, staring at me, like there’s something she wants to say, but won’t. There’s a sadness in her eyes, one that I want to talk about, and she doesn’t.
“Going out to get some coffee,” I say. “Won’t be a minute.”
She still doesn’t say anything. Why won’t she say anything? Feeling a flash of irritation, I leave.
As I walk through the doors of the convenience store, I get this sensation, call it déjà vu or whatever. I try to dismiss it, though by the time I’ve picked up my coffee, the gunman’s already in the store. I walk up to the register, the gun comes out, and I realize with a sick feeling that I’ve been here before. Time after time, I’ve been right here, right now.
I remember I needed to tell my wife something. That it isn’t working. That we can’t keep going without talking. Yes, we’ve lost chances, lost dreams. Lost a child. But if she won’t speak then I won’t stay.
I couldn’t do it without coffee.
I can see her face, as she stood there by the door. She was sad, though there was more. Was she worried, or afraid? Does she know that this is happening? Was she trying to tell me something, without speaking? Why didn’t I pay attention?
Time after time, I’ve been there, with her right in front of me. Why don’t I ever pay attention?
“Please, don’t,” I plead. The clerk barely glances at me as he goes for the shotgun, as he always does. I can remember each time, again and again, leading to the same result, over and over. If there’s a hell, this is it.
I make a silent promise, to God or whoever else might be listening. If I can get out of this, I won’t go out for coffee. I’ll tell her what I wanted to say. Please let this end.
The clerk starts to bring the shotgun up, as the gunman looks over. My mouth is dry, my eyes burning. I can’t watch this again. I have to do something. I throw myself into the space between them. There’s a loud noise, a terrible impact, and indescribable pain.
I’m lying on the floor, in a pool of my own blood. I hear running footsteps, the store door opening and closing. My vision is fading, but I see the clerk, his face pale, leaning over me. He’s alive. I changed something, even if it took a sacrifice.
Everything goes dark.
I wake up in my warm bed with a start, the nightmare fading. At least, I think it was a nightmare…
My wife is next to me, and I look over at her as she’s sleeping. Should I wake her up? I need to tell her something.
I can’t do it without coffee.
I climb out of bed, careful not to disturb her, and make my way to the kitchen.
The coffee can is empty. Something tugs at my memory, the oddest sense of déjà vu. I shake my head. I’ll go down to the store, pick up some more. Won’t be a minute.
As I shrug into my coat, I see my wife, standing by the door.
“Going out to get some coffee,” I say.
She stares at me. She looks… worried. Or maybe afraid. But she doesn’t speak.
“What?” I feel a flash of irritation. “I won’t be a minute.”
She looks away, draws a shuddering breath, as if she’s has something to say, and she’s afraid I won’t listen. She looks back at me.
“Please, don’t,” she says.
It’s all she says.
Suddenly, I remember. The clerk, the gunman, that scene playing out over and over. It’s like being hit between the eyes with a sledgehammer.
I look at my wife, realizing she’s been here before, too. That this has all been as hard for her as it’s been for me. I need to tell her something, though it isn’t what I thought. All it took to see it was a willingness to sacrifice.
“I won’t,” I say, taking her in my arms.
Ian E Gonzales is a writer of fiction works, including short stories and novels. He has earned multiple awards, including several Honorable Mentions from the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest and First Place in the Write on the Sound Fiction Contest. He has been published in Every Day Fiction and on the Reedsy Medium blog. He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where he strives to live by the simple maxim of never taking anything so seriously that he can’t love it. To see more of his work, visit his website at ianegonzales.com.