Grief had taken hold of her long ago. Long before the cataclysm. Long before everything had disintegrated: the planet, its people, her life. Hope for the future. She crouched at the top of the hill, turning her head slowly from side to side, seeing only what the UV aviator goggles allowed her to view, scanning 180 degrees of verdant landscape, watching. Always watching.
When Lucas walked in and nodded toward the Ice Bus, I thought for a fleeting moment he was finally going to make a move. Not that there was much of a dating scene in the small research station, but sometimes I would walk a short way away from camp and lie on my back and watch the stars and imagine that I could feel the Antarctic ice streams moving beneath me. And every time I would wish someone else was there with me, to let the sound of their breathing tether me to the Earth while my mind wandered among the distant lights.
They whispered: Parveen is in love with the shakarkandi vendor. Figures, said the shocked neighborhood women. Fitting that the girl with polio, this seventeen-year-old with the face of an angel and the leg of a hobbled horse, who stood at her window every night staring into the ghostly depth of Narrow Alley would steal glances at the bright-eyed boy with muscles sharp and confident in his back and a perpetual smile on his face.
I was five when we moved to the island. Mommy and Daddy knew that the end was near. There were harbingers, omens, and dire events: poisoned apples, collapsing buildings, broken sidewalks, and the ever-present idiot boxes, a parade of heathens that prayed in tongues. A riot over papayas and saddle shoes broke out in the fifth quarter, and half the city burned. In a far-off desert, our soldiers fought the sand worms.
The burned house stood at the back of a scrubby lot. If a house could be said to glower, then glower it did: rising from the ashes which were all that was left of its south face, sitting back on its haunches, its wooden front porch inexplicably wrapped in chicken wire (to keep out trespassers? to keep something in?), its second floor rearing up and threatening to topple. The For Sale sign had been there forever.
“I have something I want to show you,” said Nancy. She stared at Jazmine from Jazmine’s front porch, wet and bedraggled. Nancy was a petite white woman with long hair the way teenage boys had long hair: tangled and perpetually in need of a good shampoo. Jazmine sighed and reached out to rest her hand on Nancy’s shoulder, then pulled back.
He thought at first that she was dead. And that was terrible, of course — but what shocked him most was how dispassionate that made him feel. There was no anguish, no horror, he should be crying but clearly no tears were fighting to get out — and instead all there was was this almost sick fascination. He’d never seen a corpse before. His mother had asked if he’d wanted to see his grandfather, all laid out for the funeral, and he was only twelve, and he really really didn’t.
Cars never bounce around the way they make them appear in the movies. No, instead they glide, more like the lull of a boat on stale waters. And they’re just as loud as the boat’s engine, even with the windows rolled up there are always loud swooshing noises assaulting the senses. The sounds should be calming, like the ocean, but they never are. They are annoying and invading.
It had been terrible from the start. He knew it was a disaster, knew from the very beginning, maybe even from the very first instant, that they were not, no matter what she claimed, MEANT FOR EACH OTHER, that he should get away from her as fast as he could, if not faster. And yet, somehow, he couldn’t. He’d always experienced a certain amount of inertia, but it was something other than that. What exactly it was, though, he wasn’t sure.
We gathered for the last time in October, under the pretense of discussing a novel that was currently bobbing along in the zeitgeist like a rubber duck at sea. It was unusually cold for October — the summer season had lasted long and hard and then dropped precipitously in a matter of days. Now we came bundled to Luna’s house, sweaters beneath jackets and dishes in chapped hands and the novel tucked into our armpits.