Uncomprehending, Alex looked down the hazy street. Smoke drifted lazily from the storm drains and cracks in the street. People walked, as if in a dream. No one seemed to have a purpose. Did they await a sign?
A flood of humanity vomited from the subway entrance into the bleak, mid-day sun. They walked aimlessly, reaching ground level and forgetting why they’d come. Their motivation appeared to come only from the press of the crowd emerging behind them.
The red sky absorbed their shadows. Had their souls been stolen too?
Alex looked about himself. ‘Is this the end?’
Magenta clouds spanned the horizon like writhing dragons. He hoped they were merely plumes of smoke pouring from unseen chimneys.
The sky darkened with flying things. Then shone dimly red again.
He had no memory of arriving here. What destination did he seek? Had he been asleep? Did he dream even now?
‘Where is Calypso? How could this happen without her?’
He walked against the torpid current of humanity, but had no sense of why he walked at all. Or where. The neighborhood felt familiar but from a dream long forgotten.
No one made eye contact. Sleep walkers make their way, heedless of anything lying before them.
The milling crowd became dense. Alex approached the amplified sound of shouting. A street preacher blasted the crowd with a scolding, hopeless promise. More of a threat actually, with unavoidable consequences. His voice echoed for blocks but the words were beyond understanding. People covered their ears. This taste of hell lacked salt.
Alex kept moving. The false twilight dimmed again. Bird calls drowned the distant megaphone. Someone grabbed his elbow and he turned.
“Blake!” Tomas, a friend he’d not seen for years yelled into his face. His agitation concerned Alex.
“Tomas! I’m Alex! Not Blake!”
“Right! Alex! How are you?” He calmed.
Alex looked at their surroundings. “Lost!”
“I just found you!”
“I have to go!”
“Haven’t seen him.”
“I lost him.”
Alex shook his head. “See ya!” He turned and threaded into the crowd.
‘What just happened? He looked at me like I’m crazy. Me. Want to see crazy? Look in a mirror.’
The air cooled but the haze lingered. The street, jammed with masses of people, made traffic impossible. Alex flinched at sharp distant sounds. Explosions? What else?
Alex thought, ‘Tomas looks like a cartoon. Of course we’re all cartoons to each other. Unless we can get to one’s essence, we’re just flesh and bone recipients of another’s projected biases and expectations. Calypso would say that. Maybe she did.’
The memory of his old girlfriend, Blaze, popped into his mind. He’d shaved his mustache off and she never noticed.
‘Just a cartoon.’
Alex saw her emerge from the hazy crowd, dressed as always in a signature peasant dress. Oblivious, she approached, eyes to the sky, lips parted. People milled about.
Startled, she crashed into him. He caught her before she hit the pavement. She stood up but kept her grip on him.
Suddenly focused on him, she said, “Alex! You’re here! I’ve been looking for you.”
He indicated the sky. “I’m not up there.”
“Isn’t this crazy? Look.” She waved her arms. He backed up. “What is happening?”
Alex didn’t respond.
“You didn’t call. It’s been months.”
“I’ve been around.”
“I miss you.”
“Blaze, you know…”
She reached for him. “I mean it Alex, without you, I’m not me.”
He stared at her like she might be dangerous.
“Who are you, then? I mean… If you…”
“You know what I mean… Alex, we…”
“Be careful, Blaze. These are strange times.” He indicated their surroundings. “I have to go.”
She pouted as he pulled away. “Call me, okay? Please?”
Alex waved and turned from her.
He stopped and tried to get his bearings. Nothing looked familiar. The light made everything weird.
‘She always said, if the world ended, she’d get chips and salsa.’
Alex felt weary. No place to sit. Everything looked grimy.
Laughing kids ran by careening off passersby. No one cared.
‘A park… I need to think.’
An open space promised respite. The crowd parted to reveal what had been.
‘How do you destroy a park?’
Whatever had made it a park no longer existed. A broken tree. Broken tents. A decrepit bench. And trash. Everywhere trash lay, barely moving in the stagnant air.
He remembered their fight. ‘Is this the end?’
He’d put on Miles. Maybe too loud. Calypso asked if they could listen to something else. Like Chet.
Alex said, “With Chet it’s like ‘play the damn horn, man. Or are you going to sing it a lullaby and kiss it good-night?’” He didn’t mean anything by it.
She looked at him. It wasn’t the answer she wanted.
He continued, “Miles doesn’t have to be loud, but he plays it.”
She approached him. She didn’t want a fight. “Miles plays like the end of the world. Chet like the end of the night.”
“Yeah, he’s amazing. Why don’t you like him? The soundtrack of the end of the world. Who else can do that?”
“A nice place to visit but…”
It went down from there. He left.
Next thing Alex knew, hell had swallowed him. How many hours had he wandered?
He came upon their Mexican place. He peeked through the curtained window.
Calypso sat at their regular table, examining her phone. Chips and salsa and… waiting for him?
She smiled warmly when he approached the table.
“Hey! Sit. Have some chips.”
She sensed his discomfort. “Aren’t you hungry?” She copped an attitude. “Hey sailor, it’s dinner time.”
“No, I thought because…”
“What?” She didn’t get it. “The argument? Come on… That was hours ago. Let’s eat.” Her smile drew him. “Let’s get lost.”
“I thought it ended.”
“What? Because I don’t like Miles?”
“It felt like the end.”
“Al, come on. The world doesn’t end because of musical tastes.”
“Even because of Miles, or Zappa, or anyone.”
“Cal, you mean you don’t like Zappa either?”
She didn’t want to start again.
“You can like them. Do I have to?”
He had no answer.
“Hey, Al, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t make me eat all these chips alone.”
She reached and touched his hand. “Sit, Al. Eating is essential.”
Alex sat. He had a chip. It tasted great. They ordered food. They could see each other.
So, it wasn’t the end of the world, after all.