published in Volume 2, Issue 2 on April 3rd, 1995
I hang limp between the grays of my dreams and my life. Reasons to get up forgot me long ago. Way back the factory's guts worked themselves loose from fittings of metal turned to rusty toast and spun out and kicked the husky walls. That was after my job went over the cliff with everyone else's, after Norman, marching the building, squinting and held erect by a necktie, scraped at his face with a hankie on such a warm dusty day, until we found him swimming on the floor, his head sanded down to a small wailing potato. I used to tell Honey (for I think that was his name) how the world was full of such strange harbingers. He'd say "Ruth" (for I think that was mine) "The world ends not with a bang, nor with a whimper, but with a" and sit there for a minute with his pointy little smile. And now I see it, maybe better than he did. The universe is a pendulum too tired to stop swinging, though you couldn't see it moving some days. You couldn't mark the date when everything started failing. It crept up on us and slowly soiled our lives. In an age of decay, our marriage was bound to be first thing on the compost. He decided panic was the most rational choice after all, took off to try to get himself killed where no man had been killed before. That was the fad then, but now it's hip to stay in bed, last I heard. I don't have to attend to the baby anymore either. Gave her the bottle once and walked off, later came back to find a gray pasty-tasting gruel reclining in her crib and empty diaper, piddling out and finally sleeping on the floor. Took a couple days to clean up. Later on I remembered that I was supposed to cry, but I couldn't get wet over this spill. I was so stupid, the doctors had told us to quit liquids, but I found this jug of milk in the fridge from before the FDA ban, and habit took over. TV was last to go, as far as I remember. Toward the end they ran these stream-of-consciousness sitcoms, and anchormen complained about their personal griefs. It was hard to take your eyes off, even when the programs stopped, I sat for days in a static trance. And once not too long ago I actually took a walk. My toes crushed the brittle concrete, and my joints argued with me the whole time, setting my rusty cables sparking. Only saw dust-devils around, but maybe that's what other people look like these days. Now my sheets arch over me, protecting my lungs from the air. Crawl out carefully, so as not to tear or break anything. Look at the floppy snail shell stomaching my pretzel-stick bones. The stain, my last friend, has faded away. The brown multicolored stain from the pipes across the room, in the shape of the face of a storybook grandfather, the last drop of color I could find, has finally been defeated by the dusty film which gets between my fingers and my lips. I sigh and blow a graceful little smoke ring, a cold little jellyfish that wanders into the wall and bursts. I feed myself back to my bed. I offer my head to the mercies of my pillow, trying not to crack my skull. I'm an ancient dried out corpse, but death has forgotten to come. It's sleeping in a gutter somewhere, with a clipboard ruffling out reams of names to be forgotten to the wind. Maybe it will come, eventually, blinking and slicking back its mussed-up hair, call me, "Ruth," and blow me apart like a sand dune. But not in a hurry. Nothing comes easily when the world is ending.