By Renee Ge
Art by Julia Wang
Issue: Scintilla (Spring 2019)
The day the world ends does not begin with a fat finger on a nuclear button. It does not begin with a hungry tide. It does not begin with fire. It does not begin with ice. Instead, it begins with a silent winter morning on a cold wet street, with the pallid sun dangling from the sky like a dead man on a noose.
At least to Harper, it looks like it. She rises to her feet—she’d been squatting on the sidewalk, contemplating something along the lines of how to pass AP Chemistry with at least a C—and starts to run, her sneakers making obnoxious slapping noises because she’s a sucker for knock off athleisure. She stretches and reaches and yearns. Passes by the house with the dinosaur painting on its garage door, the one she used to see every morning behind the window of a car. Shoves through the grove of mulberry trees that line the park where she once broke her arm falling off the play structure. Comes to a skidding stop at the corner, where there’s a cavity in the middle of the walkway that holds in rainwater like a cupped hand. Next to it is the train station.
It is nine hours, fifty-two minutes, and thirty-three seconds until the end of the world, and today Harper is going to meet someone.
“You should order for me.”
These are the first words Cas has said to her in years, and Harper knows they are meaningless. Cas is staring at her the same way she’s staring at him.
Cas used to be the short kid with the huge eyes who everyone would fawn over even though they were all in the same grade. He had been an unfairly beautiful baby. In second grade, Harper had been crying because her favorite jump rope wasn’t in the class equipment bin, and Cas had walked up to her and patted her on the shoulder and told her that Samantha would give it back tomorrow and Harper stopped crying. She may have also stopped breathing.
Now, though, Cas has grown taller. He’s skinny like a weed, and she could probably beat him up, no problem. After seventh grade he had moved to Pennsylvania or something because his dad wanted to get rich there, and when he came back a few months ago he enrolled in some elitist private high school with higher tuition than most of the local colleges. She can see that in him too, the way he wears those ugly military-print Adidas sneakers that probably cost half a thousand bucks, and the way he rolls up the sleeves of his beige cream sweater because the restaurant is too dirty for him or something. Privileged. He probably follow sprees regularly on Twitter to be relevant and whines about how his thousand dollar phone has a crack on the side.
“Maybe the green curry then,” Harper says half-heartedly. She picks at the loose string on her shirt and looks at the rain against the window and all the colorful umbrellas people are sporting and the grainy, soggy floor. “So how’s school?”
Eight hours, twelve minutes, two seconds are left. “Uh. It’s good? There are friends,” Cas says, fumbling with his napkin. “Maybe, possibly.” He shrugs.
“Must be all the money,” Harper says, something she immediately regrets when Cas regards her sharply.
And that’s it. The chasm between them yawns, deep and dark and vast. The old, rickety bridge of rope, woven with ten years of love and caring and friendship, isn’t enough. Can’t be enough.
The wind wrenches umbrellas out of tourists’ hands to make way for the beating rain. The chill plasters onto her face regardless of how many layers Harper covers herself up in. Asphalt streets reflect the red from the traffic lights and threaten to pull the ground from under her feet at every move.
At this point, with six hours, twenty-seven minutes, and two seconds to go, they’ve both abandoned the façade of window shopping. Now they’re just aimlessly pretending to blend with the crowd of ponchos, pretending they’re the best of friends out for a casual lunch, because friends do that. Friends, not strangers.
She half feels like she should apologize, maybe. It’s not like she’s done anything wrong, but… Cas is drawing in on himself, reminiscent to the time in fifth grade when he’d been briefly subjected to bullying from his fellow male classmates, who called him “girly” because he was short and quiet and didn’t play baseball after school. When Cas had walked in through the restaurant door he had walked in straight-backed with hands swinging at his sides, so now that she sees him hunched over with hands in his pockets, looking like a turtle, she feels responsible.
She looks up. Cas’ throat bobs, and his body shifts further away, pretending to admire some chocolates displayed near a store window.
Harper wants to scream.
They go see a movie, which is the dumbest decision she’s made in her life. There are three things Harper abhors: AP Chemistry pop quizzes, fermented tofu, and the Marvel franchise, because she isn’t basic and likes plots that aren’t obviously stretched out to make money.
She doesn’t want to see this stupid movie, but it’s the only way she can think of to save this trainwreck of a date. Not a date, a meeting. Reunion. Whatever. They both don’t want to be here, but are staying out of some guilty sense of obligation, so by her memory of Cas’ smile and all things holy she’s going to try and make this work. Relationships are hard.
Before they’re about to go down the stairs into the pitch-black theatre, Cas hesitates and pokes her arm. “Remember when we went in sixth and binged through those movies? I thought you liked Marvel.”
“Well, now I don’t,” Harper says, feeling horribly exposed. Oh no, they’re going to start to reflect now. And shed mutual tears of nostalgia. Disgusting. “It’s… boring.”
Cas hesitates, and uses a hand to floof at his hair. “Um.” Then he gets this look on his face, like he’s about to go through with this thing and nothing is going to stop him. “Suh, spell boring.”
Her jaw drops. She spins around fully, sees the back of Cas’ stupid head, yells a “HEY—”
But Cas sprints away and turns a corner, cackling all the way. He’s referencing the time in fifth grade where Harper firmly believed that standard spelling was some sort of social construct created to silence society’s dissidents, so she would make up random spellings for words and use them to tank spelling tests in protest.
(Four hours, thirty-five minutes, fifty-three seconds.)
At exactly past the two hour mark, until the end of the world, they find a poetry cafe to sit in because who doesn’t love edgy poetry and lattes. There’s a lady going crazy at the mic, screaming about peace symbols painted on guns. When she’s done, Harper claps, but to her surprise, Cas is on his feet, whooping and cheering, even though he looks kind of stupid since he’s the only one doing it.
“That was great,” he says, with a flush high on his cheeks. His eyes sparkle in the dim light. “That was really great.”
“Didn’t know you were into this kind of stuff. Don’t you unironically watch Yu-gi-oh?”
He steals a bite of her pie in punishment. The brief brush of his fingers against hers sends a bolt of static up her hand. His jacket must have some wool lining underneath or something. “Be quiet, we don’t talk about that. I was eight.”
“When I was eight, I was listening to the Beatles. Being young isn’t an excuse for being uncultured.”
“Well, your taste peaked when you were eight, then. Your phone background is Naruto fanart, I don’t even know why I’m talking to you.”
Harper hisses and grips her phone with both hands. “Shut up! I just like the art. Shut up, shut up.”
Cas laughs at her.
Ten minutes. Harper and Cas, they go out into the night. There are a few stars out—tiny pinpricks brave enough to fight through all the clouds. People around them are talking. They find a current. Move with it.
“I missed you.” One minute.
Light from the lamp from the toy store, fairies from the apartment across dance over his profile, they flicker and stutter across the glint of his teeth, turn of his cheek, glimmer in his eye. Ten nine eight he leans forward seven six five she tilts her face up in three two lips will meet and when they do