They’ve been talking about it for weeks. It’s been inevitable. Impending. Imminent.
Then, when my old-fashioned clock radio woke me up with the National news this morning, I heard that now this was it. I would have tuned it to one of the other stations—easy listening sliding me into my day—but the adverts demanding that I make my friends envious with the latest hot tub technology are even worse than the daily dose of dread. In any case, it’s handy to know that this is the end, if that is the way it is.
So, I got out of bed and started kneading the bread. I’m unsure if I’ll have enough time for it to proof once—let alone twice—before the sky erupts or something and it all comes crashing down.
I squint at the window, expecting to see the vista lit up orange or a fiery purple, or maybe even blacked out completely—the sun obscured. Instead, the vibrant blue extends on forever, punctuated by three farm-animal-shaped clouds, floating where the green of the hills fades into paler shades of blue.
On the radio, they say the scientists don’t know exactly when it will be. But they all agree that it will happen. It’s just the timing they can’t settle on. One scientist says otherwise, and has facts and theories on how they’ve miscalculated everything. No one’s really interested in listening to her, but they give her time on the air anyway.
A fog of fresh flour puffs in the air as I punch the dough down. For the briefest moment I think about it—wondering if I could flick a match and witness a fireball dancing across my kitchen counter. Then, unignited, it dissipates. Some flour settles on my bare chest and on the new tattoo where it winds its way up my ribs from my abdomen. The artist had said he was happy that he’d begun being able to share his flowers with men too. He’d mostly been doing them on women for years, he said. But I didn’t care. The artwork was beautiful I told him, and nature is beautiful. And none of that matters now anyway, now that it’s the end.
When it is all over, I wonder what will become of the pets. The only pet that I’ve ever cared for is my sourdough starter. I’ve named him Howard and tend to him more than the houseplants. I’ve never kept cats on account of the birds. Never kept birds on account of their wings. The plants are barely surviving, and probably won’t make it through to the end, if the end doesn’t come today.
But Howard—Howard’s doing well. He lives on the bench and vacations in the fridge. I feed and water him daily. I pour his hooch off and keep him healthy. One day, I tried some of the grey swill before I let it dribble down the drain. I just wanted to know.
I give Howard luscious chemical-free water from the three-thousand-litre rain tank I installed two years ago. It was to be for the garden, but that’s hardly a concern now. His sack of flour—stoneground, organic, unbleached, et cetera, et cetera—is almost empty, but there’s no point trying to replenish it. The supermarket’s been mayhem.
Since that first swig months ago, I’ve been decanting Howard’s grey stuff into a four-litre bottle I labelled Howard’s Hooch. Saving it for a special occasion. I drew a logo too—the initials HH and a solitary stick figure holding a loaf over its head like a trophy, pumping the other arm in triumph. My girlfriend scolded me, demanding that I pour it all away.
But I was right to ignore her. Yesterday I ran out of anything else to drink. I decided to give Howard’s Hooch a fair trial. It smelt just like Howard. As I gulped it down, I thought of all the joy he has brought me. Thick, fresh slices, or toasted with butter. And before, an occasional pan-fried cheese toasty—sliced in half and shared.
I was wearing my t-shirt that I have had since I was twenty-three—a favourite for nearly twelve years. I’d never noticed what it said down the bottom, under the faux University logo and the word SPORTS. She pointed it out one day last week, before she left.
Till it’s Done!
That’s my new motto, I decided. So last night, I persevered with HH. I remember finding my way into the bathroom. I lay fully clothed in the empty bath, swigging from the bottle and watching the grandfather clock’s pendulum lurch and the ceiling corkscrew. I can’t recall much else, but this morning the bottle’s empty on the bench and my shirt is scrunched on the floor of my room. Obviously, I made it to bed at some point.
I wish I had venetians, or curtains, or any sort of window coverings, because the morning sun is streaming into the kitchen. She’d warned that HH would turn me blind, but it seems to have had the opposite effect. Even the farm-animal clouds have abandoned me, but the news is still bleating in the background.
There’s a knock at the door.
I’m not expecting her to visit. Perhaps she’s come back to apologise and tell me I was right all along. I grab Till it’s Done! from its resting place on the floor, and slip my head and arms through the soft cotton openings. It smells yeasty and clings to my skin in a familiar way. I take a deep breath, lift my chest, and open the door.
The porch is empty except for a cardboard box that’s almost knee-height. My chest drops. It’s the ninety-six rolls of sustainably sourced toilet paper I ordered last week—before things got really dire. I drag it in just enough to shut the door again. It seems unlikely I’ll be needing it now.
I do the only reasonable thing, and head back to the kitchen, start shaping Howard’s latest offering. It feels as though there’s dough sandwiched between my ears and the back of my throat.
I decide that I’ll risk it all on a single rise—take advantage of the glaring sun and pleasant ambient temperature. Hopefully I’ll be enjoying a fresh, thick slice, before the sky turns red and then everything goes dark.