Be Good by Sarah Hall

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Sarah Hall puts us on the verge of a desperate act in this haunting short story

The kitchen window is open. It’s very warm, for spring. A breeze stirs the branches of the tree opposite – pale leaves and dark leaves flickering. You pour a cup of coffee into your favourite mug and sit at the table. Not long now.

Children are playing in the schoolyard a few streets away – exuberant shouts, laughter, tears too, from a game gone too far. Joyful slaughter, Tom used to call it, looking down from the staffroom. Such a bright noise, the same the world over. It reminds you of all those years of work – the stress, the happiness, the sense of obligation. Still feels odd not to be involved in their lives.

Some of them you loved, others you wanted to murder; sometimes both feelings at once for the same child. You’ve told yourself you’re doing this for them. But in these final minutes, you’re not really sure who it’s for. The hundreds – thousands – of children you’ve known, and the millions you haven’t? Those who remain apathetic, and need to be forced to think? Tom? But he won’t know.

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