All of humanity was coming to its end, and Ezra and I could not stop dancing. Mr. Jimbo announced it during the quickstep. He raised his sweaty paw to the musicians and everyone else gathered. “I’m sorry to say this folks, but this is our last night on Earth. Drinks are on the house.”
We were expecting a stampede to the bar. Instead, women collapsed to their ankles, sunk into tulle puddles. Men pressed temples, loosened ties. There was a silence greater than the silence of deep space or sea; it was the silence of despair. By morning, we would all be dust floating in the great, dark belly of the universe.
All the talk of bellies made me hungry. Ezra and I had a tradition of going to dance halls like Jimbo’s Jamboree to work off anxiety. We had met in a CCF (Clinical Control Freaks) therapy circle a few years back, and dancing was our principal alternative therapy after drugs conked us out one too many times. Tonight, we glinted like glazed ceramic angels.
“Want to grab a bite?” I asked Ezra, squeezing his hand. It was 11PM.
“Burgers at Elaine’s?”
I couldn’t think of a more perfect last meal on Earth.
Under the sepia diner lights we ate like animals and licked our fingers twice. Our waitress, Deb, had cried all over our burgers’ buns on delivery (and perhaps also in transit). “Boy, am I sorry,” she said, shaking her head, releasing more tears. But we didn’t mind; we found the saline to be quite tasty.
The other diner patrons were frozen with dread: here, a thick-cut fry choked between two melancholic fingertips; there, a soupspoon abandoned on a still-warm bed of cheese and onions. These, the least depressing among the gastronomic tableaux. You would have thought they had forgotten how to chew, to swallow, to sip. I suppose impending apocalypse made one forgetful.
Deb was the only waitress shuffling around between kitchen and dining room at that hour, frequently stopping to refill our already-filled water glasses. She spilled a few times and kept saying, “Boy, am I sorry, boy, am I sorry.” After she cleared our plates she tossed two fortune cookies onto the table.
“Donation from Mr. Chan’s. Sure you heard.”
Ezra and I looked at each other, shrugged. Another tear rippled in Deb’s eye.
“Blew his poor head off.”
Ezra and I read our fortunes (which didn’t quite matter) and paid (which didn’t either), and went out into the moon-soaked night.
The news was apparently getting to people. And in the years before the therapy, it would have gotten to us, too. There didn’t seem to be a point to anything anymore, since in a few short hours we would all cease to exist, cease to remember. I had once felt like these people felt now, on the brink, yet always falling backwards. I got so far as to purchase a rope at the hardware store, to scope out a sturdy ceiling spot in my room, to write a letter. And then I found Ezra.
Ezra and I discovered dance by accident. In the early days of our recovery when we were both still drinking, we once got disgracefully drunk after a heart-piercing group session involving Rhonda P. (who asphyxiated her own daughter because she could not stop the infant’s screaming). My control issue had to do with death. I was convinced I would die in my sleep, so for years I didn’t. I would stay up bleary-eyed and reading until I felt like my organs could no longer stay suspended in my body. I thought of a million suicide plans. If I could die by my own hand, I wouldn’t have to wait out fate. Ezra’s issue was objects. He would keep every receipt, toothpick, safety pin, garment tag. He was suffocating beneath the rubble of his own ancient ruins, and spoke forever with a desperate wheeze.
After Rhonda P.’s story, we ended up in the wrong part of town. Two brown-eyed boys started shouting at us. I thought I saw guns. “This is it,” I thought. “This is my time to go.”
“Hey, you two!” They shouted.
I whispered under my breath and crimped my eyes shut, preparing for the hitch of the trigger, the release, the fire of the bullet in my heart, the blood.
“Hey, you two!” They shouted again. I felt them inching closer, foaming at the mouth. And then I saw them smile. “Amateur dance contest tonight at Jimbo’s Jamboree! Take a shot at the quickstep?”
I thought I was already dead. I checked my pulse, and found it was still there. Ezra and I had never danced before, but we were both so drunk anything seemed like a good idea. We followed the boys into the dance hall. They handed me a scarlet sequined dress, and Ezra a bowtie and suit tails. The room was filled with golden-bodied angels. The music swept us into a warm reverie of desire. We came in last place, but it was the first time we could remember being happy.
Of course there were those that tried to make something of their final few moments on Earth. They stuffed heirlooms into makeshift time capsules, wrote shorthand adventure chronicles of imagined lives, engaged in activities of extreme danger and pleasure. There were those that took handfuls of sleeping pills to ease gracefully into apocalyptic death. Then there were the dramatics, those waif-like silhouettes screaming from skyscraper satellite dishes, the daredevils who maxed their speedometers, who broke into amusement parks. People did just about everything you could imagine, including nothing.
We walked through the park on the way to Ezra’s apartment, and I almost tripped over a body or two splayed on the grass. Ezra made fun of how graceful I wasn’t.
“You try traversing this battlefield in heels!”
The dead had mini Excaliburs still protruding from their chests, razor blades cradled in bloodied palms. Entrails and black organs were everywhere, and so were hands: clasped in prayer, held, flipping the bird. A moon-faced lady lay motionless on the pavement, hands clutched around her bulbous tummy. I tried not to look, but you couldn’t not look. I kissed my fingers and touched them to her cold forehead. Even though I didn’t know how to pray, I prayed for her safe passage into whatever new world she now inhabited. It was a world I would surely know of soon.
There were usually musicians in the park, but on the last night on Earth, it was eerily quiet, like everything else. (The musicians obviously didn’t take notes on Titanic.)
“Where’s the music?”
“We’ll make our own,” I said. I started singing, “Let’s Do It,” because it was the only song I knew all the words to.
Birds do it, bees do it,
“You have a terrible voice,” Ezra said, “please stop.”
But I didn’t. I kept singing louder and louder, until my voice filled the entire park, then the entire universe.
“I hate this song, Tess.”
I held out my arms to him. “Sing with me!”
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love!
We laughed and danced, and I was careful to step over the bodies and he was sweating and the moon shone down brightly, like a giant train coming straight for us. I wouldn’t have minded being struck by such a beautiful light. It’s strange to say it, but I found the news of imminent destruction a relief. I would no longer have to wait for death. It was coming in the next hour or so, it would be here before the break of day. There were so many adventures I had yet to have, so many wonders I had yet to see, but there were plenty of beautiful things I had done too. I made love and watched hummingbirds. I read wonderful books and saw wonderful films and ate wonderful food. I danced. I became happy, after all.
We arrived at Ezra’s place around 11:30PM. He unlocked the door and threw the keys in the trash. The place was not the mess it always had been, but it was still a mess. He had finally moved all his childhood memorabilia out of his parents’ house. They had both died ten years ago, which started his control issue. He wasn’t the type to get sad about that anymore, though. “Death is fair,” he always said, “it’s life that’s sometimes not.” On his shelves were no longer toothpicks and safety pins, but boxes of photographs: of fishing trips to Lake Michigan and hiking trips to the Ozarks, of his childhood terrier, Rhubarb, of summer clambakes on Nantucket.
He opened a closet and got out firewood, lit a fire and burned them.
“What are you doing?” I asked, trying to grab the photos out of his hands. “Stop that, Ezra!”
He laughed, holding my wrist. “Oh, Tess.” I felt him taking my pulse with his thumb. Was it fast, or was the world just slowing down?
The fire devoured every last photograph, curling each edge black. “I want to be the last thing that touches them.”
Then he kissed my hand and whispered, “I want to be the last thing that touches you.”
Ezra and I made love for the last time on Earth. It was slow and sad and ordinary.
“What now?” I asked. It was nearing midnight and I heard a cat screaming outside. I wondered if the cat knew, too, about the end.
“Tell me your greatest secret,” Ezra said, lying back on the bed. I lay next to him, and thought for a long moment. The air was stiff, already dead.
“I’m kind of happy about it.”
He laughed. “What do you think will happen to us? A green flash? A giant sinkhole?”
I looked at him. “I think it will be quiet, like a dream.” I then felt my breath quiver. My face burned. I realized I was crying. Ezra was, too.
“I wonder if you can kill yourself once you’re already dead.” He wiped his eye with a corner of the blanket. He held me and cried into the cavern of my neck.
“What now?” I asked again, afraid that he would fall asleep and I would finally lose him forever, or that I would first. I strained my eyes so the seconds would last longer. I thought if I tried hard enough, I could stretch time, make a moment into a lifespan.
“Let’s dance,” he said, “one last time.”
There was no music, just the sound of us breathing, swaying softly to our own internal rhythms. We breathed together and we closed our eyes, and we held each other and we remembered who we were and who we became and we slowly, slowly, fell into unconsciousness, waiting for the universe to take us.
Kaila Allison is a graduate of New York University. Find more of her work here: http://barnblossom.tumblr.com/