The two of them had been married a long time, and it wasn’t so great, but things were changing now that it was pretty clear the world was going to end. Things were getting better, however slightly.
They’d spent every last dime on sending the kids off. That was the best conclusion they could reach. Now they were broke.
Letting go of the kids, actually, hadn’t been as hard as Ronald had imagined. They lied to them, of course. It was a kind of incredible adventure camp.
The religious stuff was a little much for Sharon, but what did it matter now?
The brochures had some specifics about what the kids would do. There was a picture of an incredible ride of some kind, inside of the dome, deep within the earth. But Ronald didn’t want to know too much.
They’ll never no the difference, the salesman said.
So now they were left to wonder what to do with the time left. No money, no life! The television reception was spotty (were there any stations left?) and they’d read all their books and hiking was out of the question.
One day they went out and took photographs, mostly of people wandering the ruins, bur Ronald got very interested in the massive plant life that had begun to ravage some of the urban areas. The heat change had caused the plants to go wild! He loved it. He took ten GB of photos. But they got bored with the photos, and they got discouraged when they got so few views on the website they created for them.
Ronald’s penis had quit working; that was all part of the cataclysm, he claimed, and Sharon just rolled with it. She felt sorry for him. They didn’t make love much more anyway.
Well, Sharon was drinking constantly. She just stayed drunk. She slept drunk and woke up drink and kept right on drinking, which Ronald found wonderful. Sometimes she’d walk around the house naked and drunk, and she’d never done that before, and even though his penis wasn’t working, he really enjoyed seeing her so liberated, so free, so fleshy. He watched her for hours and realized that he loved her body more than he’d ever really known. She wasn’t lovely. That wasn’t the point. It was Sharon’s body. His Sharon. When she passed out, he held her. He inhaled the smell of her flesh and it moved him tremendously.
Ronald didn’t like to drink.
They had a cellar full of wine, so it was going to be very possible for Sharon to keep drinking until the end at her current rate (they’d done the math, the number of bottles per day, the number of days left), unless it came much later than what was being predicated, in which case she figured she’d just strike out in the neighborhood and break into an empty house and take someone else’s alcohol. Several of their friend had admitted to do that.
Many of the people they knew were having themselves killed. You could do that for a small fee. You’d get online and apply, and so long as you’d done something with your kids that the IDP was able to classify as humane, you were could participate in a service. They’d come to your house, first thing in the morning, in a little bus. You were asked to bring the clothes you wanted to die in (didn’t have to change into them until it was time), and if you had any adult diapers or get a hold of some, that would be helpful. Evidently, you were treated to a wonderful four course meal, with dancers and music, and that the last thing you ever would know.
‘You think you could forget that you were there to be killed?” Ronald asked Sharon.
“Absolutely,” she said. “If it was really good food and wine.”
“I don’t think I could, even if I was ridiculously drunk.”
“Maybe they slip something in your drink,” Sharon said. “You know some kind of happy, forgetful drug, and you’re just like child again, and you never know the difference.”
Sharon often expressed regret at how they’d handled her parents. Ronald’s parents had been in a home for years already. In fact they didn’t know what the hell was going on anyway, so there was no need to make any changes.
But Sharon’s parents were just into their seventies. Not that old, really, not any longer, and they were in reasonably good health. They lived across country, which you would think should make the whole process easier, as there was flying any longer, and driving was really asking for it. You didn’t feel any responsibility to handle things in person, and you wouldn’t have to face them.
They put in a call over the internet the day before things were scheduled and acted as if nothing had changed.
“It would have been cruel to say good-bye or start crying,” Ronald said. “If they’d had any clue, the whole plan would be ruined.”
When you hire someone to do a job, and you pay them well, and you demand documentation, and they sign a contract with you, it’s supposed to bring peace of mind. But these fellows that did the job had really botched it, Sharon was sure of it. “That’s not my mother,” she said when they looked at the online photos.
Sometimes they laid in bed and talked about how they first met and the early years of their dating. Ronald loved to do that. He was nostlalgic that way. He’d been so happy in those years before the kids. To think that those times together had been fun gave him a sense of purpose, of meaning. Sharon could have cared less, but she indulged him.
They had some awful fights. They’d never fought like that. One in particular haunted him. “I’m going to start telling you things that you don’t want to know,” she said lowly. Another comment rankled. She said, “You’re broken.” He thought that she’d been honest when she said it didn’t mean much. That was a lie. Lies hurt.
She wanted to end things. She wanted to leave him. She’d collapse and sob, and if he begged her to go to sleep or get a hold of herself, she screamed and turned away from him. “Don’t touch me, don’t touch me,” she begged him.
One night they hit each other. Nights like those, they’d sleep in separate beds. Often times she slept in their daughter’s old bed.
In the morning, she knew she’d had a bad row, but she couldn’t remember what she’d said, and she didn’t was to break up. She started drinking. She ‘d been drinking so much that her face had gone slack; she’d lost twenty pounds. Her hair had begun to thin. She didn’t look that bad, though, Ronald thought. He’d give it a go.
They had a friend who was a scientist, and he came over for dinner, and those were good times. He brought his laptop and showed them diagrams of asteroid belts. He did explanatory demonstrations on the kitchen table with an overturned, translucent salad bowl, some matches, and a hair dryer. He showed them imagery of the sun. He brought them an article from the The New Yorker that he’d gotten a hold of somehow, and it was all about the breakdown, the coming horror. Sharon felt in love with him, even though he’d told them never to repeat his name to anyone, and in one of their fights, that’s what she told Ronald, but in the morning, she didn’t remember she’d said it. He let it go. The end of the world can do that for you.
You can’t just wait for something, not forever. They thought they could, but the more they discussed it, the more it became clear that they could not wait.
“I want to be here for it,” Sharon said. “I insist on that.”
“I’d like to think of something to do together,” he said.
“Doesn’t make a difference to me, to be honest,” she said. “But if you want it that way, I’ll do that. I’ll do that for you.”
“I think it would be cool, if we were together, I’m still in love with you.”
Sharon shook her head. “I think I’ve lost all hope. I just feel like nothing, Ron. I feel like I’m already dust or nothing.”
They decided to have the house burned. That could be done in a day or two. Don’t let the end do what you should rightly do yourself!
That was misleading, however. They were preying on the misconceptions. Still, it seemed like a good idea. They had just enough left on their credit card.
The men who came to do it were very professional. They wore all white. Their main concern, once the house was on fire, was in keeping the smoke at a minimum. They’d come with enormous trucks, bigger than Ronald had ever seen. Each truck had a huge, wide mouth pipe on the back end. From out of this pipe came an equally thick hose. The men clamped these hoses to the windows of the house and this seemed to keep most of the smoke out of the air.
Sharon had made sure they’d taken all the alcohol out of the house. Of course! This was critical. They piled it up in the back of the van. They took out the middle seats and stacked as much food as they could where those seats had been.
After Ronald filled a sixty gallon drum with gasoline he’d ciphoned from abandoned cars in the subdivision, they were off, to the coast, to Ronald’s aunt’s house. She was dead, and they figured the house would be abandoned.
They could not stop on the drive, not even to use the bathroom. It was simply too dangerous. Ronald was even afraid to pull over during the five minutes it took to switch drivers or run the house from the drum in the back of the van to the gas tank.
They felt closer on the drive. There wasn’t much talking, just focusing on the map, and if they came across a crowd of people, holding each other’s hand as they approached, tensed, then rolled past without incident.
One of the bridges across the wetlands had been overtaken. The men who stood at the entrance of the bridge wore red scarves over their faces. They carried rifles. They demanded either gasoline or money. Ronald gave them the rest of the gas in the drum if they would let him cross the bridge. They agreed.
“Are we going to make it to the house?” Sharon wondered once they were off the bridge. “I don’t want to end up on a spit tonight.”
Ronald wasn’t sure. They had half a tank.
“You know, you used to say,” he said. “Adventure turns you on.”
“Emphasis on used to say,” Sharon said bitterly.
They made it, and the fuel gauge hadn’t come on.
They unloaded all of the alcohol into the kitchen and then unloaded their luggage and the few books they’d brought with them, and a few framed photographs, and then the camera. Sharon ran around the house taking pictures of the rooms. Someone had tagged with the walls with graffiti. Even the mirrors in the bathrooms were scribbled with it. Some of it was detailed obscene. In her drunken state, the imagery made Sharon laugh. “I wish you had a dick like that,” she joked to Ronald.
He let it go. She was dying. Who would know?
The furniture was savaged. One room was thigh high with foam that had been ripped out of a sofa. A pot on the stove contained the remains of an animal. What kind, who knew? There was a snout, and some black fur. Ronald took care of it.
“This is okay,” Sharon agreed. “Ron, this was a brilliant idea.”
There were some other couples walking the roads. It felt as safe as it could be, given the situation. They went down to the beach, which shocked them, although they should have known. The tide seemed to be halfway to the horizon. It was not what they expected. When the wind blew in, the stench overwhelmed them. When it was still, they could smell nothing. But they could see all right, the sun-baked mud of the ocean floor, littered with crippled forms.
“Nothing we can do,” Ronald said.
“Would you look at that?” Sharon said, excitedly. She grabbed his shoulder and gestured out to the receded ocean. He saw it, right off, a group of men playing soccer on a wide flat place.
In the morning, they cleaned up for hours. There were supplies in the garage: bucket, mop, detergent, liquid soaps, brooms, dust cloths. There were some buckets of brown paint there, too. Ronald painted the master bedroom, but not too carefully. What was the point, really? The end was near. It was just a temporary thing.
Ronald got upset because he’d had to give his laptop to a goon outside the city limits, when they were just setting out. “I feel so alone,” he said over dinner.
Sharon convinced him that it was time to let go, and they likely didn’t have Internet at the beach house anyway. She was right, they didn’t.
“What if the news changes?” he wondered.
Sharon found a radio, and they kept up with the news that way, when they had power. They barely had electricity for part of the day, they discovered.
The radio station was just plain weird. It was some nut. He delivered news, but it was hard to tell if it was authentic or not. Sometimes he’d say he was talking to someone out in America, and it was clear that it was him assuming an accent. Eventually they had great fun laughing at “William Trenton, Your Trusted Apocalypse Correspondent.”
Sharon found a paper calendar in the drawer under the microwave and stuck on the refrigerator with a magnet from Wonder World. Then she circled the day with a red pen.
“People like to say that when the world ends, they want to be making love,” Ronald said to her in bed that night.
“That’s going to be hard to do,” she said.
“Maybe if you’re having an orgasm, would you like that?”
“Not really,” Sharon said. “I just feel sad, Ron. I feel really sad.”
In the morning, they were surprised-though they should not have been-at the massive, slobbering form that appeared in the backyard. It had completely overtaken the pool and the deck, and one appendage was squished against the deck window. There was something of the squid tentacle about it. There were tiny suction cups involved. But it was a color that they had never seen. “Amazing,” Sharon said. “How could we have never seen that color? I didn’t know that there existed colors we could not know?”
Ronald stood in his bathrobe and marveled at it. He was terror struck, but in love, in a way.
I….I…I have not truly ever seen a thing, he thought.
The beast seemed to agree with him.
And now it takes this, Ronald thought. It takes the bitter enormous end to everything, to make me realize that life is remarkable and utterly beyond my comprehension.
The unearthly form was so much larger than he imagined, and what he’d read had said nothing about the eyes. The thing had a pair of eyes, near a small rise near the chunky height of the thing. They were incredibly small when compared to the great size of the form. They were, to Ronald’s amazement, full of feeling.
Ronald had to admit, too, that there was something profoundly sexual about the whole incident.
That night, which he feared could be their last, he made a bold statement to Sharon. “I think my penis works,” he said.
Sharon held him closely. “It’s okay,” she said. “There are more important things.”
“Not to me,” he said.
“You’re being pathetic,” she said. She released him. “I just want this be over as easily as possible. Don’t make it complicated.” She got up out of the bed. She staggered through the room .Good Lord was she drunk. She found bottle of Jack Daniels and leaned against the vanity and drank from it straight.
Ronald had been a college professor. But part of the problem with the changes in the system meant he could no longer remember what he taught or what he knew. He could barely remember, as he walked the beach, how to get from his old house, by car, to the college. Look at what I’m wearing, he though. It was a tweed blazer and black, cloddish leather shoes. Shit, he though. I’m wearing a goddamn bow-tie.
This disaster has been unimaginable, he thought. He tried to laugh.
He kept walking. Maybe he’d make it back to the house, maybe not. When he struck out that afternoon, he was pretty certain that Sharon was dead. She’d passed out on the kitchenette floor. He tried to wake her. She was very sick. She was very pale. She gagged a little. There was blood.
The changes were ripping out huge sections of himself. For example, only twenty-four hours earlier, the only feeling in him was pure intense love for his wife. But when she was there on the floor, dying in his arms, he felt nothing. He thought, I should be horrified. But he was not.
No one ever conceived that the ending would rid us first of our minds, he thought. But if they did, I would have never known. The whole notion was startling to him.
He grew weary. He turned back and tried, desperately, to remember which house was his aunt’s house. Everything was becoming so difficult to consider.
His eyes drifted, as he walked, to the ocean. There was only a vast clear light. The things that had been there were not gone now; they had merely changed. Other people were on the beach. They were seeing the things that he was seeing, perhaps. They spoke. They made a few jokes with him. Everyone was scared of course. A few folks stood with their Bibles. Ronald only wanted to take off his shirt, but he was embarrassed still, just enough, of his pastiness and middle-aged flabbiness.
He found his way back to the house. He went into the kitchen, expecting to see her on the floor. But she was not there. He poured himself a beer into a glass and explored the house and found her in their bed, curled up atop the dusty covers, in a silk nightgown, snoring softly.
The noise outside the house was growing more intense. It was an enormous, guttural urge, the kind of desperate noise an animal makes as it’s mating.
It would not be long now.
Ronald felt weak in his heart. Something else was making it beat. Why teach me this lesson now, he thought. This is all wrong. The whole thing was humiliating, to him, to all mankind.
Ronald went to the bed. He looked at his wife’s form. She was so beautiful. He wondered, what is her name? What did she do with her life? He picked up her body in his arms and inhaled the scent of her hair. He loved her smell. It still did something in the quick of his being.
The house had begun to collapse. He thought of his childhood, on a farm, in the country, the long driveway, and how happy he was riding his bike up and down that driveway. He thought of the first woman he ever saw naked, her tremendous breasts, plump and erect, and the dewy plume of her pubic hair, in the sunlight on a second story deck, at a beach house, not unlike this one.
He carried Sharon out of the house. Everything was becoming unimaginable. He felt her stir, Then she turned her head towards the edge. She’s gotten her wish. She was going to be there, with this man, who knew her but had no idea who she was. “We’re still alive,” he said. “Oh my.” He felt like a thing removed from itself: love. Never had it occurred to any of them that it would be this fantastic. He strode towards the mystery, and forever, into the dazzling complication of light and form.