A short short in the style of Tony Earley.
It was time for the end of the world again. We thought it was going to end in December of 2012, but in our exuberance, we’d miscalculated the date of our ultimate annihilation. Now, eight years of heartbreak and trouble later, we were informed that we’d been using the wrong calendar and that the end of the world was actually next week. The cosmic numerology seemed to work out if we took the differences between Julian and Gregorian calendars into consideration. So there was some cause for optimism.
We’d come to understand that very soon the Bolon Yokte Kuh, the nine Mayan underworld gods, would initiate an endgame scenario with the 13 Deities of Heaven, rendering the earth as naught but a pile of feathery ash expanding through the void. And we felt we were ready for that, all things considered. Though it may have seemed impulsive and irresponsible for us to get our hopes up yet again, we felt this apocalypse might be the one.
After the last armageddon came and went, we were inconsolable. We never quite got over our disappointment. So this time meant a lot. Ibrahim still had to work 15 hour days in Crown News & Liquor because his grandpa had the gout and there wasn’t enough space behind the register for the old man to sit.
Ibrahim’s girlfriend, Katrina, got trapped in the middle of a riot a few weeks earlier. Now her hair had gone bone-white and, we thought, probably would stay that way forever. She’d stopped crying, but now she stared a lot more, which made me feel uncomfortable, and sometimes her mouth hung open. Ibrahim said it was a phase, that his Uncle Maheer was like that after the war back in Beirut, but he got over it.
I lived over the shop, paid rent to grandpa, and had nothing to do with my unemployed lockdown-riot life, since all English courses at the high school were now taught by a secretary and a computer program. Therefore, I spent my nights helping Ibrahim rebuild the place while Katrina sat in a metal folding chair by the shattered cold cases and watched.
The day we heard the good news about the earth’s impending destruction, Crown News & Liquor also got custom-cut plywood to fit in the empty spaces where there had once been front window glass. So there was more than one reason to celebrate.
That night, we took off our surgical masks and had a beer together before getting back to it. Katrina was also in attendance (I mean, of course she was) with no mask, in her folding chair, staring hard.
“You’re gonna get us all covided,” I said, half kidding but not really.
Katrina looked at me, then said, very slowly, “I’m not infected.”
I nodded. Yes. Not infected.
“She speaks,” I said.
“It’s okay,” Ibrahim push-broomed a drift of shattered storefront glass into the big pile in the center of the room, where Doritos bags and Snickers bars used to sit on steel display racks. “She’s not really looking at you, bro. More like through you.”
“Through me? At what?”
He went to the door to cuss out some kids who didn’t read the sign and thought the shop was open. Then he resumed sweeping. “At the sadness.”
We’d been working on what remained of the shop for days and it looked like we hadn’t even started. Grandpa was depressed. Now his shop was in the Temporary Autonomous Zone. There were no police allowed. Hold back the Doritos and hungry arsonists might flambé you in your sleep.
“The sadness must be something.”
“It is,” Ibrahim said, looking out the door, holding the push broom with both hands like a pike designed to unhorse knights. “It really fucking is.”
Out in the street, we saw the kids get chased by three guys with bats and kitchen knives. Even if the world was finally, thankfully coming to an end, I decided I’d better look around for a gun sometime soon. The Bolon Yokte Kuh would understand.