“Where will you be?”
He asks: “When?”
“At the apocalypse.”
He snorts, rolls his head back. Her stare continues, unmoving and deadpan.
He clears his throat.
They dangle their legs over the concrete ledge, close to the lapping canal water. Dead scum floats beneath their feet and it smells faintly of harbour when the tide rolls out. They watch as light dances against the blank underbelly of the bridge carrying traffic. About them, the detritus of shattered industry: a burnt-out car, rusted steel drums, puddles made iridescent with a thin veneer of oil. A halo of fast food packaging flutters in the wind. Few boats wander past. Crickets chatter.
He thinks about her question, how it would feel, to watch the world end. Would it be quick, or drawn out? Could he make a last phone call? He lays out on the hard concrete, tries to picture his last moments. The sun above becomes a searing explosion erasing his body. He’d be dead, then: one permanent shadow amongst many. He notices how her silhouette blots out the sun’s warmth. She’d be one of them. “With my family then, I guess.”
“I don’t think you understand.” She looks down at him. “It’s not about where you want to be, but where you will be.”
He sits up.
“It’s not such an easy question, is it?” She holds her hands out, palms up as though the concept were an object for him to see. Her naked feet form a Newton’s cradle. The sound of skin kissing bounces off the water and concrete. And he is reminded, for a moment, of sitting by the municipal pool as a child, listening to the hollow sounds of water slapping and voices ricocheting.
He draws his eyes down, shuttering them from the sun. “I’d be at home then,” he says: “Sleeping and it would mostly be over by the time I woke up, or I wouldn’t and miss everything because I always do.” He adds, quieter, “Important events, that is.”
“I like that.” She pulls a loose hair from his cheek and blows it away. “Permanent sleep. I wonder if you’d carry on dreaming.”
“Probably not.” He bites his lip.
“There wouldn’t be anyone you’d want to say goodbye to?”
“Like I said – my family.”
“No-one else, I mean: no-one you would need to say one last word to?”
He shakes his head.
She brushes back one side of her hair, tucking it behind an ear. She cranes her head a little. The chug of a pleasure boat rolls around from a distant meander.
“I think I’ll be in a supermarket,” she says. “And I’ll be the only one smiling. Have you ever noticed that? That people never smile in supermarkets? They all carry expressions of boredom; or else annoyance, or inconvenience. I saw this woman once, in the queue and she was worried, you know? Like something was distressing her. She had the face of a trapped animal.”
“I’ve never noticed anything like that.”
“Well I have. And that’s where I’ll be, with all those people and I don’t think their expressions will be any different.”
“Why do you think that?” He asks.
“Why don’t you?”
“That’s not what I was asking.”
She shakes her head, and lets her gaze drop away from him.
“I want your coke.”
“What?” He frowns.
“I want it. It looks refreshing.”
She knocks into his shoulder, tilts her head and slips her eyestoward his.
He stutters a moment.
Her eyes drop to the cup and then back up. “It’s hot. I’m hot.”
“Alright, take it. I’m not thirsty.”
She leans into him, pressing their chests together, swapping heartbeats. She grabs his drink, without thanking him, and draws on the tall cup, as her eyes lock with his. The swell of her lips glistens in the sunlight. He shifts a little. She licks the last drop before it can roll down her chin, a laugh in her eyes.
“Done?” he asks.
She nods, leaning back. A thin smile of satisfaction on her face. “This is what I think,” she says. “All those people in the supermarket: the reason they won’t change their expressions is because they can’t – they don’t realise what’s happening to them; the idea that they will all die, that no-one will be there to remember them, will be too much to handle. They won’t be able to comprehend it, so they’ll carry on as if nothing is wrong.”
“You’re a pessimist.”
“I’m not deluding myself.” She lifts a finger. “There’s a difference.”
“But what if they did realise?”
“They’d laugh. Really hard.”
“It’d be too late: the apocalypse will have happened.”