by Douglas James Troxell
* "The End" originally appeared in the Fall 2010 edition of Word Fountain
The End would come in 16 minutes—that much was certain.
The uncertainty lay in how Richard Graham would spend those final 16 minutes. He sat slumped in the breakfast nook of his kitchen, staring at the remaining half of his bacon and cheddar omelet. The omelet had been a parting gift from his wife, Tammy. She threw it together before leaving for the First Presbyterian Church on Grove Street. His wife begged Graham to join her, but he refused. He had spent enough Sundays at that church. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in God; he simply hadn’t needed any kind of higher power for most of his life, and, contrary to popular opinion, now didn’t seem like the time to start. In 16 minutes, they’d all be gone, sinners and saints alike.
Graham rose from the chair and picked up his plate, preparing to empty the rest of his omelet into the trash and wash the plate, a practice Tammy had ingrained in him after 32 years of marriage. He paused, then let the plate fall onto the Zapotec placemats (the ones Tammy bought on their trip to Mexico), spilling the omelet everywhere. He left the mess there, half-eaten omelet and all, and wandered into the living room.
Graham plopped down in front of the television, a habit he had developed when he was trying to kill time. The thought of killing time now had an all new meaning. Molly, his Labrador retriever, lay on the carpet at his feet. Graham wondered if she had any idea what was going on. She was far from being a pup and over the years had developed a sixth sense when something wasn’t right in the house. During his separation from Tammy, Molly staged a hunger strike that was partly responsible for their reconciliation.
The remote somehow found its way into Graham’s hand, but he tossed it back onto the coffee table. He knew the news broadcasters would still be on; they vowed to be on until The End. Yesterday, Channel Six ran a man-on-the-street segment where a reporter asked random people what they wanted to be doing when The End came. Most of the young people they asked said they wanted to be having sex, which Graham thought was kind of cliché but appropriate for the age group. One young guy—Graham pegged him at 16 or 17—even said he planned on “fucking his way to Armageddon.” His comment aired, uncensored. That’s when Graham knew The End was certain, when he heard the word fuck on television in the middle of the evening news.
As for Graham, he didn’t have an answer to the question. He didn’t know what he wanted to be doing when The End came. He thought it might be nice to be sitting on the wrap around deck—Tammy insisted he build it three summers ago but rarely went out there—with a glass of brandy. He often spent his free time on the deck reading Tom Clancy novels and watching the sun set.
Graham only seemed to be sure about what he didn’t want to be doing. As terrible as it sounded, he was glad he wasn’t with Tammy at the church. He regretted that he and his wife wouldn’t be together when The End came, but Tammy’s first instinct was to seek out the church in times of crises, whereas Graham felt more comfortable in solitude. Really, being together didn’t seem as important as both being where they wanted when it happened. The End seemed like such a personal event. Rather than argue about which of them would give in, they decided to go their separate ways. Besides, there wasn’t any time to argue.
Since he couldn’t think of a better alternative, Graham puttered out onto the porch for the time he had left. He didn’t bother with the brandy. He left the sliding glass door open in case Molly wanted to join him. The sun hung low overhead and a cool breeze blew through Graham’s graying hair as he took a seat in his favorite lounge chair. The world seemed unnaturally beautiful for the day it would end. He had a picture in his mind of the final day with rain pouring from a dark, unforgiving sky, but the image couldn’t be further from reality. The final day of the Earth was serene and beautiful.
The burnt wreckage of the Festoni residence still smoked next door. The Armageddon party they had thrown the previous night had not ended well. The corpse of the eldest Festoni boy, Chester, lay motionless in the backyard with most of the contents of his head fertilizing the overgrown lawn. Graham didn’t understand the people who chose to take their own lives so close to the end. Why kill yourself when the world was going to take care of it for you?
Graham remembered when the Tanners lived next door and his daughter, Vicky, would spend her summer days in their pool with the two youngest Tanner girls. Now Vicky was married with a child of her own. She had called that morning. Vicky and her husband, Phil, were taking little Emma to see the ocean before The End. Graham thought it was a nice idea. It was more than most young people got to do.
Graham moved to stand, then paused, then settled back into the chair. He thought of Tammy, not as she looked now but the way she looked when they first met at a dive bar his senior year of college. She was trading kisses to anyone who would buy her a whiskey sour. Molly appeared at his side with her favorite tennis ball in her mouth. Graham smiled and wrestled it from her jaws. Then he thought, what the hell, and gave it a toss.
And then The End came.