“Well,” I exhaled, smoke drifting lazily between my teeth. “All things considered; this is a pretty fantastic place to watch the world burn.”
A silence then; it filled the dirty air between us. It rode the rising smoke, drifted to the hot asphalt behind us, and slinked between the last of the cars left abandoned in their neat little rows. After a moment, the silence returned, loaded and heavy.
At the change in atmosphere I looked towards him; at this man that I had vowed the rest of my life to. Turns out my vow has been truthful, if not short-lived. His figure was hazy from the smoke- both from our shared cigarette and the fires below. Despite everything, the sight of him brought a smile to my ashy lips. I licked them with my tongue, tasting the chaos below.
He watched me; emotions flashing across his face: Lust, love, fear, desperation, anger and finally… acceptance… apathy. At this sudden cascade of emotion, I gave a hollow laugh. He held my eyes for a moment, too many things to say in too little time. Instead of trying, he turned his head back to the city below us. I understood; responded simply by handing him the cigarette. He took a drag, held it for an eternity that we did not have.
“I told you,” he said, finally exhaling. “I told you that if you married me, that you would spend the rest of your days in Beverly Hills.”
He passed the cigarette back. I inhaled, savoring the nicotine that was slowly poisoning my bloodstream. Watching the fires below, I smiled knowing that it had fierce competition.
“I gotta say,” I said, holding the cigarette between my middle and pointer finger like a bombshell from the 20s. I tapped the ash off onto the curb with indifference. “This is not what I imagined.”
He turned away from the infamous city that sprawled below us to the scenery at our backs. Stark white lines, mathematically spaced, created an adeptly constructed grid system. If by some miracle, someone from far beyond this galaxy landed behind us, our divine saviors in this cataclysm, they would surely be impressed by its analytical expertise.
But to us. But to us it was just the parking lot of an overpriced chain store where we brought our produce. It was the place we had sat and watched the sun set over the horizon, his hand shaking and sweaty with nerves as he slid it into mine. The place where I rode in the grocery cart, frantically clutching at its sides as he pushed me through the aisles and out the door with manic speed; laugh lines crinkling between his eyes. The place where he went to get me chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream at two in the morning, eyes drooping with exhaustion. The place we scream- sang along to the hits of the 80s, mundane euphoria coursing between us.
It was the place where I got the call about my mom. Where he held me as I collapsed in grief and then shook and shook and shook. It was the place he scooped me up from the hot cement and carried me to our ten-year-old- moderately financed Honda Civic, and let me cry until my tear ducts ran as dry as the tall grass around us.
It was the place that we halted, frozen in fear.
It was the place that we quizzically turned up the radio; concern mounting.
It was the place I had said, such a short time ago:
“I’m sure it's fine.”
It was the place that I had desperately dug in my purse for some long forgotten cigarette from before I quit.
“It is nothing They” (who were they, exactly? Where were ‘They’ now?) can’t handle,”
“Yea,” he’d said, turning it down and looking towards me, clicking the dial until the panicked voices faded back to wherever they had come from. “I’m sure it will be fine.”
And surprisingly, it had come to a point where it did in fact, feel ‘fine.’
“Not what you imagined?” he said with laughter, rudely interrupting my flashback. “Well I myself gotta say that beggars can’t be choosers.”
I playfully punched him in the shoulder. He flinched and jestfully groaned as if severely injured. His light hearted moans temporarily obstructed the screams that echoed below us. As he clutched his shoulder, moaning , for a moment it was just the two of us. We laughed, and laughed, clutching at our sides like we had all of the time in the world to just enjoy each others’ company.
But. We didn’t.
We both seemed to realize this at the exact same moment. The realization hushed us up, and the shrieks once again filled our parking lot. Our eyes met, for the briefest of instances.
“Where is the cigarette?” He asked, whispering, breaking the tension. Sure enough, both of our fingers were empty.
Our eyes turned back to the burning hillside.
Not ten feet in front of us, a brand new fire had emerged, orange and red and yellow sparks dancing and mirroring the conflagration below.
“Fuck,” I said, with real sadness. “I wanted to smoke that.”
He looked at me again and nodded, real empathy for the loss.
The heat grew hotter as the cigarette fire joined in with the fires from below that had slowly- without us even realizing it- crept up the dry brown hill towards us.
I looked at him and noticed the colors from below reflecting in his eyes. I knew in an instant what it meant for us. But suddenly, I didn’t care. Because on my husband’s cheeks, there was a single tear. From laughter, or despair, or some odd combination, I did not know. Did not care. Because all I saw was my person, my world, in pain.
“Hey,” I said, reaching a hand towards his cheek. I rubbed the tear away with my thumb. “Hey.”
I pressed my forehead to his. I could feel the smoke in my lungs. Nicotine and carbon monoxide and desperation tried to wedge its way in between us, but was unsuccessful.
“It’s going to be ok.” I said. “ We. We will be ok.”
He reached for my hand, squeezed tightly.
“That,” he said, looking into my eyes. “That I never doubted.”
I smiled and tried to breathe in his air, breathe in the scent of him. Instead I inhaled a bunch of smoldering air. My lungs betrayed me as I gave a little cough, and I began hyperventilating slightly.
Slowly, still clutching my hand, he turned again to the city, the world, burning around us, with us.
“It really is a beautiful view,” he said, dangling his legs slightly over the ledge.
“I know.” I said, stroking his palm with my finger.
He looked to me, one last time, as the heat licked my clothes like I had licked my lips, minutes ago.
“There is no one else I would rather spend the end of the world with,” he said, meaning it.
I turned my back to one of the most famous places in the world to as it was burning to the ground to glance at the empty, insignificant parking lot.
“And the same to you, my darling.” I said, holding his eyes with my own as the fire at last, embraced us