by Alexandra Wuest
They decided the world was going to end on February 8th.
I think the ‘they’ was someone who died a long time ago. Later the ‘they’ became the figurehead of a group of people too tired to make their own decisions in life so they started dressing similarly and listening to all the same music. Later the ‘they’ became the voices on the radio cracking jokes before playing that R.E.M. song, ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it.’ Then the ‘they’ became friends of friends who said they had listened to an NPR show about how the end of days was finally here and Ira Glass said it was a good idea to appreciate what little time on earth we have left.
And then we became the ‘they.’ Finally convinced and urgently calling relatives to say final good-byes, spending frivolously, no longer bothering to change the Brita filter, spontaneously proposing marriage to one another as the clock ticked in between our eyes. Or maybe just attending an ‘End of the World’ party that echoes any ordinary New Year’s Eve, with its skyrocketing expectations for the evening or the sense of impending doom for the morning.
That last thing is what this ‘they’ did at least.
The two Sams met two years before the ‘End of the World’ party. Samuel and Samantha had worked together at a small advertising agency and quickly became a ‘they.’ It was cute when they first started dating. People referred to them as ‘Sam Squared’ or ‘The Sams.’ Restaurant reservations, no matter which party had booked them, were always simply placed under ‘Sam.’ Baristas would raise an eyebrow when they ordered their coffees one after another in line.
They even looked similar. Both brunette with brown eyes, dressed mostly in layers of black. They moved in together and all of their belongings belonged, simply, to Sam, now a plurality.
Like all perfect couples–even those not fortunate enough to share a name, and thereby share a destiny–the Sam’s did perfect couple things:
They went to Ikea. They threw dinner parties for friends and drank too much red wine. They learned to time their morning routines around one another’s crankiness. They watched a lot of TV. They went to farmer’s markets. They bickered about who wasn’t cleaning the apartment enough. They kissed like a habit. They knew each other’s least favorite foods. They broke up.
It’s February 8th.
‘I don’t want to hear if you’ve been sleeping with other people,’ Samuel says. The end of the world is approaching and Samuel is shoving his hands into his jacket pockets, searching for any iota of warmth buried there.
The Sams are trudging through the winter night to a ‘End of the World’ party–just down the street from their formerly shared apartment. They are attending it as a couple: a final effort to not die alone when the clock strikes midnight, the computers stop working, and the universe suddenly implodes.
‘There are a lot of things I don’t want to hear, Samuel. I don’t want to hear car alarms or crying babies or death tolls but sometimes we have to.’ She only calls him Samuel when she is trying to carve more distance between the two.
Snow is falling from the sky like ash, coating the already slushy streets in a layer of untouched white. For a fraction of a second the city is entirely blanketed, baptized, renewed. Until their footsteps ruin the illusion. The streets are crowded. The bars are all full. Elsewhere families are stuffed underground in unfinished basements and custom built bomb shelters. Young people are drunk and yelling to the sky.
Earlier that evening Samuel had scolded Samantha for trying to order delivery. ‘Who do you think is delivering Chinese food on the last day of the world?’
Samantha had shrugged, annoyed, slamming her laptop shut. ‘It’s cold outside.’
This had been right after she asked Samuel if he had remembered to pay the heating bill.
The Sams arrive at the doorstep of the party, late but not the kind of late where the world is over. ‘Sam–’ Samuel starts his sentence but abandons it. He doesn’t have anything to say.
Samantha rings the doorbell. They rub their hands together. They can see their breath. They avoid eye contact.
The door swings open. It isn’t the host of the party but a couple wrapped around one another, stumbling through the entryway. The jumble of limbs leans against the doorframe, leaving just enough room for Samuel and Samantha to shimmy into the house’s stuffy warmth.
The house is decorated with ‘Happy End of the World!’ banners and silver balloons. Everyone has a cup in hand. Many are coupled off, holding one another closely, as though waiting for fireworks rather than finality. Many like the couple that had greeted the Sams at the door are publicly making out. Samantha looks at her reflection in a silver balloon–a convex prism of fun house proportions, all wide set eyes and stretched lips.
‘Sam Squared!’ a friend that had once been just Samuel’s friend, but was now a friend of the Sams, exclaims from across the room. She waves her arms in their air as if her shouting weren’t enough.
The Sams make small talk with the friend: ‘What do you think happens after the earth explodes?’ ‘Have you gone to the Whole Foods in Gowanus yet?’ ‘Do you believed in God?’ Samuel adopts his listening face, which involves a lot of neck tilting and head nodding. He isn’t actually listening. He is trying to telepathically read Samantha’s mind but it doesn’t seem to be working tonight.
Samuel finds an open seat on a black leather couch and lights a cigarette. He has been chain-smoking all week. In a few hours there won’t be any use for his blackened lungs anyway. He doesn’t know why he thought it was necessary to spend his last night on earth with Samantha. He thinks he should be having an orgy. He doesn’t want to be having an orgy. He thinks orgies seem overwhelming.
Samantha is pouring top shelf liquors into a plastic red cup. She is avoiding looking at the empty space on the couch next to Samuel. She knows her body would fit in that space–that everyone else is expecting the Sams to occupy the same slice of ether, maybe hold one another for whatever is left of the falsely promised eternity.
She thinks about being air–being particles distributed all around the room at once. Then she wouldn’t have to worry about where to sit at the party.
Instead she stands in a corner with two other women.
‘Did you know Thoreau’s last words were Here comes good sailing?’ one woman says. Samantha refills her cup.
‘Actually, I’m pretty sure his last words were Moose Indian,’ the other woman says.
Samantha hasn’t yet decided what her last words should be. ‘Later, suckers,’ she thinks to herself. The one bummer about the entire world ending at once is that she’ll never get to see who would have shown up to her funeral.
‘I always thought I would live to be a mother,’ the first says, suddenly changing topic. She looks to be in her early thirties. ‘But you know, this whole end of the world thing comes as such a relief. Who would want to raise a child in this economic climate?’
‘At least I don’t have to pay my student loans.’
Samantha isn’t listening anymore. She is thinking about her first date with Samuel. They had gone to MoMA ps1–it was their first time seeing each other outside the office. This was when they still pretended to like the same art as one another. This was before Samuel’s band had broken up. This was when Samuel still introduced himself to strangers as a ‘musician.’ He had walked through the white walled galleries of the museum, making odd noises with his mouth, claiming that he was testing the reverb of each room.
‘Wa wa wa wa wa’
‘Ooh oooh eeeee’
Samantha watched his tongue move around his mouth, plucking invisible violin strings near his molars. She had liked the way that he didn’t seem to care that other museum-goers were staring.
It wasn’t until they visited the Met together after six months of dating that Samantha got tired of Samuel constantly testing the reverb of public spaces. That was when Samantha began to think Samuel could only really see the white space in between the paintings, never the art itself. This change occurred around the same time she stopped telling strangers she had a boyfriend in a band.
‘It takes a lot of pressure off of your thirties, if you ask me.’ It’s the same woman speaking, still ranting on the topic of impossible futures. Samantha’s red cup is now empty. She looks over at Samuel. A redhead dressed in all red is sitting on the couch next to him. The two are laughing.
On the television, a massive countdown is blinking, a soft beeping that keeps rhythm with the hurried chirps of the party goers’ heartbeats. Thirty seconds until the end of the world.
Samantha hardly knows the names of the women she is spending her final moments with. She thinks one of them works in the agency’s HR department. People are starting to count, louder and louder.
‘Doesn’t it seem a little early to begin counting out loud?’ she says to the woman who might work in the HR department. The woman isn’t listening. Instead she has grabbed the hands of the two other women in the group and joined in on the chanting. Someone has spilled an entire beer on the carpet but no one is bothering to clean it up.
Samantha looks over at Samuel. The party is crowded but she could still make her way through the crowd and to get to him before the clock strikes end of the world. They could embrace at the very moment the earth turns to dust, or dissolves into water, or whatever is whichevered.
‘What if the world doesn’t actually end?’ Samantha asks no one in particular.
She doesn’t want to be with the woman who might be from the HR department anymore. She shoves her way through the crowd, now a dense knot of party goers all holding one another, some crying, others laughing–all in hysterics.
She could get to Samuel just in time. They could end as the Sams or she could end the Sams.
Samantha finds the front door. The cold hair hits her skin the moment the door slams shut behind her. Outside, Samantha can still hear the party’s cheering pulsing through the wooden door. It’s still snowing. Samantha tries to look only at the negative space in between the individual snowflakes.
Alexandra Wuest is a writer based in Brooklyn. Her chapbook of poems, The Female Gaze Is Cool, is forthcoming from Bottlecap Press in 2015. She can be found on twitter @allie_kw.