The diligent sound of war machines cracked an October day of bright sun.
There is a disease in the air now and everyone stays inside – mostly. There is no more school or work or going to the doctor. Medicine finally failed. There was nothing that anyone could have done. Someone somewhere chose war over healing, and that’s why the jets still roar, and blood no longer matters.
All I have left to drink is grape juice and I’m getting rather tired of it. I like to sip it near the window in the morning when I look out at a world that is no longer blue, but rather a sickly shade of yellow. The everlasting haze rests its weary head of death in the cradling arms of the mountains, and when it wakes it pukes out noxious gases all across the land. I cough all the time now. I can barely breathe. Everyone has cancer except for the devils that rule.
The other night I opened my blinds to look at the full yellow moon for the last time. The stars were retreating. I watched and watched and watched. I concluded that the spaceships weren’t coming to save us after all. Can I blame them? What reason would anyone have for saving us? Love? Does anyone out there love us?
At night it gets cold and dark, and I must light a wood fire in the wide-bellied fireplace in the main room. I live by myself in a worn mansion outside of the city, a bit in the country. No one comes around much anymore, but there’s an old black cat that sleeps in a dusty chair most of the time. The cat is sick too. I hope the cat dies first because if I die first there will be no one to feed it. The cat’s name is Mr. Rumples, which is funny because my name is Mr. Rumples, too.
I have a gun and only one bullet. I thought about shooting Mr. Rumples once when his sickness was really acting up. I couldn’t do it. I keep the gun on the floor near my mattress where I sleep. I’ll know when it’s the right time. I have a knack for intuition and an eye for irreversible devastation.
I used to have a wife, but she died when the storm came. She was a beautiful woman with intelligent breasts, and near the end her favorite meal was a toasted English muffin and Gatorade. I laughed at her a lot. We laughed at each other a lot. We had been married for 39 years and together we brought five children into the world – they’re all dead now too, as well as all my grandchildren – seventeen of them. It seems like everyone is dead. What does one do with that kind of fucking grief? Put it in a jar? Throw it to the stars?
There had been years of grand love in our large home, a home that was always filled with warm voices and the smells of steaming gumbo and cherry cobbler from the kitchen. The wife had limited cooking skills and so I had hired a woman to come in to help. She was a black woman by the name of Rosie. She was a stumpy yet cheerful woman and her laugh resonated above all others throughout the house. Her pancakes, stuffed fat with fresh Maine blueberries, were the absolute best. Now Rosie’s dead, too. I miss her, and the love she had brought to our hearts and bellies.
There’s a family cemetery on my land and when it’s safe I go out there, wading through the golden floss of waving grasses until I reach the place of the two oaks and their slotted canopy of love. I run my hands over all the stones I had chosen – and they were just regular rocks really and I had scratched all the names and dates into them with a big nail. I often lie down on the ground when the sun has warmed it and I look up at the yellow sky and wonder all about why the Great Bog had left me to live to the very end and not the young ones or anyone else for that matter. Was it the evolution of my sins that left me with this torture? A wind carrying nothing whips across my face.
I can see the old work shed, rusted and red, and it’s kind of collapsing in on itself. I haven’t mowed the yard or plucked the weeds in months. What’s the use of doing anything, I often wonder. So I do nothing but wait. I wait by the window. I wait on the porch when it’s safe. I wait to fall asleep at night but rarely is it restful. There are noises in the nights here – great booms and screams and sometimes even the thundering of the sky, that angry sky committing abuse in the dark. I shuffle, I starve, and I pluck memories from my head like feathers from a chicken. I don’t want to remember anything or anyone anymore.
Dinner is usually a quiet affair between me and Mr. Rumples. I always light a candle at the table and then we say our prayers that no one hears and then we share some cat food and it’s cold and mushy and tastes mostly of fish no matter what the can says. I hate it, but Mr. Rumples loves it. Damn… he’s going to outlive me and then starve because he can’t open the cans. Poor Mr. Rumples – both of us.
After dinner, Mr. Rumples takes his place in the chair, and I make a fire and then just sit there watching the flames cast frantic shadows against the dusty walls. I have a stick I use to play with the fire. There’s something calming about poking at a fire with a stick. It’s like pretending to be camping and making hot-tipped arrows or torches to keep the creeps in the forest at bay. The creeps were everywhere at the end. People went absolutely nuts, all over the world. It was the worst horror movie I had ever seen.
My breathing is getting worse. In the morning I sit up on my mattress and cough up blood. I roll to the floor and slowly make my way to what used to be the kitchen and feed the cat his breakfast. I have my grape juice and it is starting to sting as it goes down. It is mostly silent during the day. I used to loathe the roar of traffic on the country road, but now there is nothing. No cars. No trucks. No people on bicycles. And across the field the railroad tracks are nothing but skeletal remains now. I walk outside there sometimes when I feel up to it. Not so much anymore. Some days I can barely move. But I did enjoy my walks out there along the rusting rails and rotting ties. I found a few spikes and brought them into the house, but I don’t know why. I suppose my mind is going too.
Sometimes when I’m shuffling about the place I just stop because I forget what part of the house I was wanting to go. I like to go to the upstairs part of the house where the bedrooms are. I don’t really know why I like to go up there so much, but I think it may have something to do with colorful memories – how the children would race through the hall as bedtime drew nearer and bathroom space scarce. I like to look out Jonah’s window. He was the first son and had the best room in the house. I pull up my rickety chair and scan the voided world, all the way to the crisp line of the sea against the shore. It’s so far away and such a pale baby blue color. I would love to go down there, but I’d never make it back alive.
I leave Jonah’s room and slip into where the girls used to sleep. It’s a dark and dirty pink color now. The wallpaper is losing its grip and curling and slowly falling down. I open the closet and there is one faded dress on a wire hanger and a dusty box of shoes on the floor. The house was once looted when I was trying to walk to the sea, and they took most everything that was left.
The boys’ room is down the hall and to the right. I push the door open and it squeaks. This room was once hot cat blue and made to look like a baseball diamond. The younger boys played baseball almost every day in the summers and I often went down to the fields and watched them when I wasn’t working. My wife was always there with them; she was good like that.
Our bedroom was at the end of the hall and is now just a hollow, empty space. I turn on the sink faucet in the adjoining bathroom and no water comes out. I’m thirsty. I’m starving. I can’t do this anymore. There is something greatly heartless in the coming of the end of life. It’s the final pecking into the flesh by a wild bird that does not care to save you. It’s silent. Then Mr. Rumples meows out from downstairs. He must be lonely.
It was a cold night when the end came. I was shivering in the corner of what used to be the living room. Mr. Rumples was burrowed in a blanket on the chair and he was purring.
“How can you be so happy?” I asked him.
He blinked at me once and said nothing. He jumped down off the chair and rubbed against me and then curled into my lap. I stroked his fur and looked into the fire again for a long time. The wind was howling outside and whistled in through the weak spots in the house. I was alone again in this false lap of luxury.
“I’ll be right back,” I said to Mr. Rumples, and I set him back in his chair. “Just stay there.”
The heart races in times of great finality. There’s a gnawing on the soul at the thought of everlasting darkness or the great rivers of Heaven. Will it just be sleep or does one travel to another world to take over for someone else who just croaked? I cocked the gun and wondered. I opened the blinds near where I sleep and looked at the fizzing stars. I thought I could hear someone yelling for help out in the tall grasses, or maybe that was just me. I smelled the gun and wondered. I would have loved to have one last hot shower and a good meal. I wandered through the rest of the house, now flowing with amber candlelight. I set every memory aside and took a deep breath as best I could in each hallowed hallway.
I returned to the main room and drew near to the fire and pointed the gun at Mr. Rumples. He looked up at me and blinked his eyes slowly. My finger tremored against the trigger. For some reason I knew he wasn’t ready, and I also knew that he did not want me to be alone. I lowered the pistol and sat down in the chair with him. He circled in my lap, settled, and purred. The air sirens wailed outside, and we watched the fire, together, for a very long time it seemed, until a final silence fell upon the world.