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BERKELEY'S NEWS • NOVEMBER 20, 2023

The last day in the world was a Tuesday: A short story

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MELANIE WU | STAFF

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MARCH 11, 2023

T
he last day in the world was a Tuesday.

When the girl woke up, she had a feeling. As she brushed her teeth, it grew into an inkling. By the time she pulled out of her driveway for work, she knew. Today would be the very last day.

By the time she pulled out of her driveway for work, she knew. Today would be the very last day.

At her office desk, she sent a little thank you to the heavens that they wouldn’t all have to suffer through another Hump Day (she knew God appreciated people who appreciated silver linings). She left work early, because she found that she had simply run out of reasons to stay. The office door rattled as she slammed it shut, earning a few agitated glances from the coworkers she left behind. But she kept walking, unaware, for she didn’t care to look back for the same reason she hadn’t cared to quit, the same reason her boss hadn’t cared to fire her: Time is precious when you’re nearly out of it.

On the walk home, she got her affairs in order. It took three minutes: one to call her mother, two to hang up (the woman could be quite hard to interrupt). Turns out, there isn’t an awful lot to do when pretty soon, even the mightiest institutions would turn into cosmic dust — another punchline in a 4.5-billion-year-old cosmic joke. She embraced it with a sigh.

Time is precious when you’re nearly out of it.

As she walked, the man on the street corner shook his cup steadily — something he did every day, not just the ones when the world was ending. Years of lived experience had taught him that people were far more willing to assist a struggling man than a hopeless one, so he always kept the bottom half of the cup full — even if that meant filling it himself. On those days, he’d steal coins from fountains, bury them deep into his pockets and keep them like promises. Once inside his cup, the coins would clink eagerly, each penny still bearing the tight-lipped wish of a child that had once cast it into the cheap plastic fountain of a nearby mall. Then, when he had just enough wishes, he would go to the 7-Eleven and buy cigarettes.

The girl placed a twenty into his cup as she passed by, earning a grateful nod and the equivalent of a final cram sesh for a passing grade into Heaven. She hadn’t been the proper type of religious for a couple years now, but karma was the kind of extra credit you wanted to invest in when the angels came singing.

She hadn’t been the proper type of religious for a couple years now, but karma was the kind of extra credit you wanted to invest in when the angels came singing.

Home at last, she turned the key in its lock, felt the familiar click of a thousand hellos and goodbyes the wooden frame had borne witness to. Shivering, she shook off her raincoat and hung her umbrella to dry. The storm was persistent, but she imagined she would be too if the sky was her canvas and she had spent the better half of history letting the sun hog the paints. Yes, if she were the storm, she would certainly throw a fit on the last day in the world.

But she was not the storm, nor the sun, and she did not see much of the point in throwing a tantrum herself. In fact, the only thing that made much sense at the moment was a bubble bath. Slowly, softly, she ran the water, adding the good salts she’d been saving for the right time and pouring herself a full glass of red. As she soaked in the warmth, her mind wandered into the depths of nostalgia and reflection (as humans with timely expiration dates tend to do). She wondered why the world was ending, but not nearly as much as she wondered what had prompted it to start in the first place. She wondered how butterflies could defy the rules of gravity through the miracle of flight but withered at a single human touch, why corner pieces of cake tasted better than the middle parts, what the perfect thing to say was in every possible situation. She wondered and wondered a little extra, for all the time she would never get to wonder again.

As she soaked in the warmth, her mind wandered into the depths of nostalgia and reflection (as humans with timely expiration dates tend to do).

When tomorrow came, or rather, failed to, what would the new day bring? She wondered if there would be anything left to grieve, anyone left to do the grieving. It was tricky to think about what feelings could exist if there was no one left to do the feeling, so she stopped.

Sitting there in the tub, an empty glass and overflowing mind, there was an unmistakable silence. The water had long gone cold, but she didn’t mind the chill. She knew it would be soon. Somewhere, distantly, the stars began to wink out, one by one like birthday candles on a cake. She made a wish. And when the skies collapsed, the mountain peaks folding in on themselves like crumpled origami, she went out with a sigh.

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MARCH 11, 2023