‘So, you know how we said we had to reduce CO2 emissions and separate our trash and such to prevent climate change?’
‘That was over twenty years ago, Laura. What about it?’
Twenty-two, but who’s counting? At this point I’m unable to keep my leg still. Like a jackhammer I keep bouncing it up and down, sending ripples through the glass of water in front of me. ‘Yeah… that was a lie. What we discovered then wasn’t that the climate was changing, we already knew about that for thirty years, give or take, and with the rapid development of technology it was never a real threat. What we found out was a way to predict solar flares.’
‘Okay, so what?’ Still so calm. A little irritated because I lied to him, maybe. But nowhere near as scared as he should be. Because I didn’t tell him sooner.
‘We didn’t want to sow panic. We told the other scientists, you know, the ones who have contact with the media and who write the scientific journals, that solar flares could be stopped or weakened if our atmosphere was strong enough. We gave them the wrong data and they came up with all the regulations in turn. That’s what the world leaders were told as well and why they pushed for reductions in carbon emissions. Well, most of them anyway.’
I check his face to see if he was still following so far. Eighteen years of marriage taught me all of his little quirks and I could read his mood like words on a page. Not that it was hard, he never bothered hiding his emotions. That’s why anyone would’ve been able to tell he was following me just fine; he was just getting annoyed. Truth is, it’s hard to be the harbinger of bad news.
‘Laura, get to the point.’
‘A solar flare is going to hit us in less than twenty hours. There’ll be no survivors.’ Immediately I bite the inside of my cheek. I’d been chewing it all week and the taste of blood has become a permanent companion.
Now it’s his turn to scrutinize me. I pick up my glass, lift it two inches off the table, and almost spill the water, so I put it back down with a rattle. I can’t even look him in the eye right now. I should’ve told him sooner, shouldn’t I?
‘You’re serious, aren’t you?’ He asks, eyes wide, mouth agape.
All I can do is nod.
‘What time will it hit?’
‘Tonight. Three a.m.’
He gets up from his barstool and starts pacing through the room. He sits down on the sofa, buries his head in his hands, and gets back up again. ‘To- tonight. Three a.m.’ I can make out. The rest is lost in incomprehensible mumbling.
‘Will, calm down. I know it’s a lot to take in, but there’s nothing that can be done about it. Don’t go to work today. We’ll keep Danny home from school and make the most of it. maybe go to the amusement park?’
‘Calm down? For fucks sake, Laura. We’re all dead tomorrow. please, allow me to freak out for a minute will you,’ he says. I hate it when he gets like this, but I guess he’s got a point this time. ‘How are you so calm about this? Aren’t you scared?’
‘I’ve known this would happen for the past two decades. I freaked out back then when we made the discovery. Drank myself into a stupor for a month. That’s why I didn’t tell you sooner. I didn’t want you to have to go through that.’
He sits back down on the bar stool on the opposite side of the table, tapping his knuckles on his head. He picks up his glass and chugs the water. Tries to chug the water— he chokes on it halfway and I have to pat his back while he’s coughing his lungs up.
When he finally stops and his face returns to its normal shade of pale, I walk over to the kitchen to fetch a pen and a notepad. Of course, the drawer is blocked by something, it always is. I tried to get rid of the junk drawer years ago, but stuff just kept piling up again and again. I shake it a little in an attempt to unblock it and I’m finally able to pull it open. ‘Here. You should write down what you want to do on your last day. Take your time. Maybe we should go visit your parents in the morning?’
‘How about your parents? Shit, there’ll be no time left to do anything today if we have to visit everyone.’
‘I went to see my parents yesterday after work. My sister too last week, so I’m all set. But we can’t visit everyone, so you’ll have to make some choices. That’s why—,’ I tapped the notepad. ‘it’s still early. I’ll go tell Danny he doesn’t need to go to school today, but I don’t want him to know about… you know.’
He nods in assent and then shifts his gaze from me to the notepad, clutching the pen in his trembling left hand so hard his knuckles turn white. His head jerks up again, ‘What about those safety shelters?’ He asks, brushing his hand through his ginger hair. ‘Wouldn’t it be possible to...?’ The question remains unspoken.
‘Nothing would remain on the surface. Animals and any vegetation would be gone. Immense and immediate climate changes would occur and extremes that haven’t even been explored in movies yet will make the earth uninhabitable. There’d be no food to be found anywhere on earth and no way of producing it. It would just stretch out the inevitable.’ I paused, knowing what the news must feel like to him. Like suffocating in cement is how I would describe how I felt. ‘You won’t feel a thing, that I can promise.’
His lips stretch into a thin line. All hope is taken from him; and I took it. ‘Will. I’m sorry.’ I said. Then I turned around and walked down the hallway, the hardwood floorboards creaking under my bare feet.
Standing in front of Danny’s bedroom door, I take a deep breath before I reach out to the handle, but when I touch the cold brass, I feel a tear running down my cheek. I thought I was ready for this day. I knew it would come, I’d made my peace with it, but now that it’s here I’m scared to death.
* * *
I was drained. We both were. We’d put Danny to bed, but we’d promised to wake him up in a couple of hours to watch the stars. One of his friends from school told him there’d be a meteor shower tonight. I hadn’t heard about it, it wasn’t my area of expertise, but it was as good an excuse as any to have him with us in those last moments without raising any suspicion.
We went to William’s parents around nine in the morning. A surprise visit. We took them out for lunch and brought them back to their home afterwards. William didn’t tell them about the world ending in a matter of hours. I guess he thought it was better not to, and I hoped that with it came the understanding for my decision not to tell him. That, or he didn’t want to speed up the process by giving them a premature heart attack.
Danny was a little bummed at first because at school they were supposed to do some arts and crafts project, but his disappointment dissolved like cotton candy in a rainstorm when he saw the signs advertising the theme park more and more frequently. We bought VIP fast-track tickets. They cost a fortune, but money didn’t matter anymore and we had no time to waste. From there we let Danny take the wheel and like any nine-year-old he was inexhaustible. He ran through the entire park, zigzagging from attraction to attraction.
We went to the cinema after the park closed and saw some cheesy family comedy I can’t even remember the name of. It was okay to watch though and Danny loved it. It wouldn’t have been the movie I’d personally pick as the last one I’d ever watch, but watching it as a family with Danny squeezed between will and myself made it enjoyable.
Danny had already fallen asleep in the car on the way back and Will carried him to his bedroom when we got home. Neither of us would be able to sleep knowing what we did, and neither of us wanted to. We had our last intimate moments together. Not just between the sheets, although we went for a couple rounds as if we were in college and had only just started dating, but also together in front of the hearth with some of the expensive wines we kept for special occasions.
We were always so picky about “the right moment” to bring out one of the good wines, that we rarely drank any of them. Today seemed pretty special, and there would be no more “Right moments” after this, so we opened them all and just drank whichever we liked best. We never went to a wine tasting, but our place looked like one. That, or the house of a seasoned alcoholic.
I knocked one over by accident and the breaking bottle made me jolt right up.
‘Jesus, Laura, if you don’t like the wine, you can just say so.’ He said. His Irish accent was so much more pronounced after a couple of drinks. ‘I don’t like this one much either,’ he said, and with a grin knocked another bottle to the floor.
‘Ssst! We’ll wake Danny up like this.’
‘What time is it?’
I checked my Casio. ‘One thirty.’ Later than I thought. ‘Shall I go and get Danny? We could go to the hill and look over the city in case there aren’t any stars to speak of.’
‘One minute. I’ll grab a bag to take some wines with us. Hot chocolate for Danny? I can put some in a thermos.’
I gave him a nod and walked to our bedroom to grab some blankets. While he was cooking up some chocolate milk, I went to Danny’s room to wake him up. He lies there so peacefully in blissful ignorance. My mom always said that. “Ignorance is bliss, child.” I thought it cliché back then; and being naturally curious I found it incomprehensible how people could think so. Well, I found out a couple years later. You were right, mom.
‘Danny. Danny, wake up baby, let’s go see those shooting stars you were talking about. Did you sleep alright?’
Being roused from the depths of oblivion, he looked around for a moment to see he was in his bedroom. ‘Hmmm? Stars?’
‘The meteor shower. You know, the one you talked about on the way back from the theme park.’
‘Meteors aren’t stars, mom. There’s a difference.’ He said while wiping sleep from his eyes.
‘There is? Will you tell me about it on the way to the hill?’
He dressed up languidly and took my hand as we walked through the hallway. William was just putting the thermos in a big Aldi bag with the blankets when we walked into the kitchen. ‘There you are champ. Ready to look at some flying space rocks?’ He sounded enthusiastic, but I noticed the edge of fear lining his voice as he said it. Three bottles of wine didn’t diminish it by much.
I rolled out the blanket on the top of the hill and we cozied up. Will and I with yet another glass of wine, Danny with a mug of hot chocolate. He told me all the ways in which stars are different from meteors. Turns out meteors are way heavier and way cooler. Who would’ve known?
The city’s streets are a spiderweb lit by streetlights. The light pollution makes it hard to see the stars in the sky, but the city has its own beauty at night. When did we become afraid of the dark and decide to permanently shower everything in artificial light?
‘Mom, is it dawn already?’ Danny said, pointing at the edge of light surfacing on the horizon.
The light was growing brighter by the second, unlike that of a slow sunrise.
‘It is. Let’s pretend it’s night just a little longer, okay?’ I asked, clasping my hand over his eyes and holding him tight.
‘Mom, I can’t see the stars like this.’
My eyes were brimmed with tears, and so were Will’s as he wrapped his arms around the both of us. ‘Can you count down from ten for me, Danny?’ I asked and closed my eyes as well.