Maybe it wasn’t fair, but there were only hours left so what did fair mean anymore, anyway?
It was outside a CVS, of all places. Why would they keep it? Was it even theirs? Who else could have owned it? He didn’t know a thing about that sort of thing. As the clock wound down, he was confronting the fact that he didn’t know a thing about anything.
The CVS was a six block walk away from his garden-level apartment. He whistled tunelessly, hands in pockets, head down. Normally he wouldn’t walk like this in his neighborhood. In his own head. Unaware. Hours left, now. Nobody had the energy to try anything. If they did, maybe they’d be doing him a favor.
They had met in the rain. That could have meaning. It could be a sign. A good sign? Probably not.
It had been June, he no longer remembered the year and it didn’t matter anyway, and they had been waiting for the bus. She’d been going to a job interview and been wearing a bright blue blouse. He’d been to see his grandfather at that shitty nursing home that he swore he liked but only because they couldn’t afford better. He would die there, stroked out and not found until shift change six hours later.
It had been June, and it had been hot. It had been the afternoon, and the blue sky had turned cloudy in an instant, dark in a heartbeat, and then as they sat on opposite ends of the bench under the bus shelter the rain had come. Heavy, fast, no, this is heavy, this is fast. A true downpour.
And then a storm. The winds whipped the rain into the bus shelter, into their faces, and just as he had been thinking I should make a run for it the air had begun crackling blue and purple and electricity had started to stab at the buildings, the trees, the ground. The two of them had been as far apart in the shelter as they could and within seconds they were huddle together in the back corner, trying to get farther away. It was over in minutes. He didn’t remember giving it to her but she was wearing his jacket. They were still soaked through, clammy in the returning sun.
“Didn’t help much.”
“It was the end of the world. It’s the thought that counts.”
“Make it up to me?”
She never made that interview.
He didn’t know when she blocked his number. Sometime since the break-up eight months ago and before three weeks ago, when he’d started calling. Trying to call. The day after the announcement. Well, the last announcement. There had been a lot of back and forth for a while there. Weird news. Weirder news. Bad news. Good news. Bad news. Good news. Bad news. And then worse news. And then the news had stopped coming. Replaced only with adjustments to a timer that nevertheless kept counting down.
The lights in the CVS were on, but he doubted anyone was home. The past few weeks it had been the place to be. All the pharmacies had. Pharmacies, grocery stores, eventually post offices and banks. Lines out the front door and around the block. At first there had been stories of scalpers, standing in line over and over to get as many as they could. Why not, why not. Get as many as they could to sell to the desperate. Except that hadn’t panned out. It turned out the pills were easy to make, and with nothing else to do all the manufacturers had hopped to. The real chumps had been everyone waiting in line. By the last week there had been bins of them everywhere.
He had been a chump in line when he’d called and discovered he was blocked. It was a long line, so he called over and over. Like that would change anything. What else was he going to do? All sports were cancelled and everything else was just footage of people crying. Call her. Message. Call her. Message. Call her. Message. Flip off woman in front of him in line, staring at him. Call her. Message. Call her.
Oh. He’s been blocked. That’s fair.
Now there was no line. There was nobody left at all, really. Not at the CVS, anyway. He’d heard of people who thought they could survive. People in old fallout shelters. Billionaires burrowing into mountains like bizarre little moles with too much money. When the military collapsed he’d heard submarines had been auctioning off space for whoever had skills.
He wasn’t a scientist, but he did wonder how the fuck they planned on feeding themselves a mile under the ocean.
He glanced up, mostly out of habit. You couldn’t really see it during the day, but at night it was there. This growing area directly above, toward Sirius, where the stars went out of focus and then disappeared entirely. The first time you could see it with naked eyes it had been a spot barely bigger than the moon. Now it was the entire sky.
Water in space. Who knew?
It was next to a Redbox. He picked up the receiver and was shocked to hear a ringtone. Who was keeping this stuff on? Quarters were fed into the little slot and then he was dialing her number. When they were dating, he didn’t know it. Now it was etched into his heart. It rang for a while. Long enough he thought she might already be dead.
A long moment of silence, so long he reached to hit the thing, he couldn’t remember the name, it had been so long since he’d been on a real phone, but the thing to hang up and call again.
“Why the fuck are you calling me?” she asked. Finally. Her voice was tight and scared. And weak. She’d taken the pill, he guessed. His own was still in his pocket.
“It’s the end of the world,” he said.
“You still can’t be calling me. Not now. Not ever.”
He smiled at the brick wall. Smiled at the panic in her voice. Smiled because he knew what she looked like.
“The restraining order-”
“I’m not even in your city,” he said with a sniff. “Bitch.”
“I wanted my voice to be the last one you hear,” he said. “It will be, right? Your parents are already dead. Your brother is too concerned with his family for you and your sister is off in Borneo or something and probably doesn’t even know what’s about to happen. I can’t see you online, but I can see you friends. Most of them popped off already. So it’s just you, and me. Am I right?”
Choked, angry sobs came through on the phone.
“See you in hell, Jay.”
Then the dead line was sounding in his ear and the booth spat change at him. He left it.
He walked to the middle of the parking lot and sat on one of those things to stop cars. Lit up a cigarette, and smoked it in long drags. The pill he took out of his pocket, and rolled it between his fingers. If he wanted to take it, he was probably too late.
It didn’t matter. Hours left, and he’d won.
Drops began hitting the pavement around him. He breathed in the smell.