They were leaving tomorrow.
That was the first thought that flitted through his head like a seagull when he awoke late that morning, because he felt like it, because he could, because there was no one there to wake him up early. He pushed the idea away. No use dwelling on things that only made his head hurt.
Getting out of bed was the hardest part. His knees were too creaky, his back too achy, his mind too foggy, but he did it anyway. He liked to tell himself it was because he was strong, but the little voices, the ones deep in the depths of who he really was, whispered that it was because she would be gone, really gone, if he didn’t do it.
After dressing slowly, he left the bedroom and went into the kitchen to prepare breakfast. His kitchen hadn’t worked properly for years, so he had to cook meals himself, but he didn’t mind. Doing things like this gave him a sense of purpose. It felt like a waste of his time to sit around and let machines do all the work for him - his days were numbered, after all. And that number would be very small if he did what he thought he might do.
They were leaving tomorrow.
Did he want to go with them?
Again, he shook the thought from his head. Of course he would go with them. He might be old, but he wasn’t crazy. He was lucky enough to have gotten a ticket; only the wealthiest of the wealthy had been able to afford one. Everyone else would be left to die. Survival of the fittest, even in the earth’s last moments - although how being rich had come to have so much value, he had no idea. They should have made it a lottery, he thought. It should have been random. Money shouldn’t be the reason for everything. But sometimes, life isn’t fair.
Sometimes death isn’t fair, either.
He finished his breakfast and sluggishly rose from his seat at the kitchen table. The rest of the day he spent watching the news (just reruns, of course, from back when the earth’s very foundation first started to crumble; stories about rising sea levels, pollution, disease, air quality worsening by the second - the list went on. He watched these not because they interested him, not because he had nothing else to do, but because some of his last memories of her included them watching these news stories, laughing, talking about how the newscasters were overreacting again. Most people thought it was a waste of time to dwell on the past, but the past was all that he had left).
When he finally rose from the old, dust-ridden couch to make himself dinner, it was mid-evening and a rosy light was filtering through the kitchen window, creating four glowing, concentric rectangles on the wooden floor. It was quite lovely, but looks could be deceiving - even though the soft light of the evening hadn’t yet been ripped away from this world, almost everything else had.
That night, he tossed and turned in bed, unable to sleep because of all the thoughts racing through his mind. It all came down to one question, though: would he go or wouldn’t he? He should go, of course he should go, she would have wanted him to go. But she was gone, and it didn’t matter what she would have wanted.
Would he go or wouldn’t he?
He just didn’t know.
And that was why the next morning, when he got out of bed with eyes that carried heavy bags, he slipped on his smoke mask and walked out the door, pajamas and all, without the slightest idea of where he would go.
Right before he left, he grabbed a painting hanging next to the front door and took it with him. He didn’t know why, but he felt like he should.
Heavy, smoky air. Mountains of trash piled in the streets. Homeless people everywhere, with expressions that spoke of silent screams and hopelessness and broken lives. There had been riots at first, after the government had announced that they would be building ships to escape their dying planet, that people could be put to sleep and wake up years later in a better place, but that a ticket would cost more money than a person should ever have. Now, though, they had just given up.
Why would he ever want to stay here?
Because this was his home. And it had been her home, too. And despite everything, despite his desperate wish to live to see another day, he had an equally desperate wish to die with the Earth, to go down with his homeland. And who was he kidding - more than anything, he just wanted to see her again.
Right then and there, in the middle of the street, he made his decision. It might not be the right one, he thought, but who cared anymore about what was right and what wasn’t.
And that’s why, instead of heading towards the loading dock on the other side of town, he went in the opposite direction, towards a hill that wasn’t much more than a lump of land now, eroded away by the persistently encroaching ocean.
He climbed the hill slowly, knowing that each step was a decision, a decision he still wasn’t quite sure was the right one. But when he reached the top of the hill, he knew it was.
This was where she was. Her final resting place.
In the movies he’d watched when he was younger, a grave’s location always had some sort of significance - a favorite tree, usually, or a favorite spot by a river or something. The site was always so full of that person, and their mourners that they’d left behind in the living world could go there and grieve. But this - this had just been the only place he could find, because he had loved her, because he couldn’t to bear to let her become one of the disease-ridden bodies piled in flaming heaps on the outskirts of town. So he had dragged her and a trowel up this hill that wasn’t much more than a lump of land now, and here he had laid her to rest.
He sat down heavily next to the rock that marked the place where she would stay forever. A sense of peace washed over him - he suddenly didn’t mind that he was going to die. He welcomed it, even. Death couldn’t be so bad. At least now he wouldn’t have to live any longer without her.
He looked down at the painting he still held in his weathered hands, the painting that had been hanging next to the front door. Little white seagulls floated motionless over a great blue ocean. A memory slipped into his mind, clear as glass - she sat in front of him on the beach, a thirty-something year old version of her, painting while he leaned back in his chair and watched. She’d always loved seagulls. Said they reminded her of angels, angels of the sea. Except loud and annoying, he’d told her. He’d never been the poetic type.
But he saw what she meant when he looked at those seagulls. Just tiny streaks of paint, but also so much more.
A rumbling vibration suddenly filled the air, small at first but growing steadily. He looked up from his spot on the hill that was that wasn’t much more than a lump of land now, over the ocean that was too full of plastic to be the ocean anymore, and saw a flock of great ships rising up and floating through the smog-choked air. Off into the great wide universe.
From here, they almost looked like seagulls.