Just the End of the World and Me
BY CJ Hallman
The man sitting at the next table in the diner in Studio City hacks. His cough heralds in the apocalypse, and beckons a waitress, who asks him if he wants more coffee. He nods, yes, because he can’t speak with his shredded throat. He coughs again, filling the air, and she fills his cup and walks away, and he reaches into his polo shirt pocket, pulls out a handful of white pills. One of the pills squirms out from his grubby grip and kamikazes to the floor. The man stares down at the AWOL pill for a moment, as though contemplating its rescue, but then shrugs to no one (fuck it!), and forces the remainder of the pills into his mouth, swallows them down with a gulp of hot coffee. Thirty minutes after the man pays his bill (hack hack!) and leaves, the same hairsprayed waitress who filled his coffee comes by with a broom and sweeps that little pill into a dustpan—and the moment is erased and the broom scratches against the tile and the side effects are gone. And somewhere in Hollywood, on some city street lined with parallel-parked cars, a man is sitting in his Audi and clutching his chest, breathing his last breath, marveling at the possibility that spreads out before him like the sunset across the desert sky, finding peace and meaning and nothing at all in this rare and final silence.
The supermarket employees, congregating around the out-of-service check-out stands, the empty cash registers, each other. The supermarket employees, standing around the supermarket late at night, waiting for the world to end. The supermarket employees, discussing whether the rich man who left ten minutes ago, the man in Bruno Maglis who just gave them coupons for the Red Lobster is the real and actual owner of the Red Lobster. The supermarket employees, wearing vests, wearing different clothes in a uniform color, wearing weary eyes. Speaking English, speaking accented English, succumbing occasionally to Spanish because it’s easier there to express fully the passion that resides in a good bout of speculation, it’s easier there to feel free because the security guard and most of the late-night shoppers/stragglers are foreign to this tongue. Not noticing the ghost girl before them for a good few minutes, and then asking if they can help her/me, if one of them can ring up my provisions—a bottle of vodka and a bag of mini rice cakes and one of those air fresheners that plugs into the wall because when the end is upon us and the freeways collapse and the bodies start rotting, I want my impending demise to smell like gardenias.
There is a phoenix on my windowsill. I watch her, and I drink from the vodka, and I think about the pills, and in advance, I mourn the death of everyone I know and have ever known.
The phoenix is on fire, but she’s not ashes yet, and I don’t drive an Audi, but my room smells like flowers. With shaky hands, I reach over from my bed, the sheets soaked with my sweat, and I feed the phoenix a rice cake. I know it won’t stop her from burning, and it won’t save the world, and it won’t help sustain me, but I do pause and take a moment to marvel at this tiny moment of beauty—the beak, the flames, the smoke—eating from my palm.
Today, I fell out of love. So for today, at least, and for tonight, there will be no tomorrows.
CJ Hallman is twenty-three and currently lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys bringing her laptop to Starbucks and pretending, with everybody else, to be a writer. Unfortunately, her acting leaves much to be desired, and most of the other coffee shop patrons/"writers" probably just think that she is working on her taxes or playing Solitaire or something. Oh, well. Her fiction has appeared in Identity Theory, the 322 Review, Everyday Weirdness, and amphibi.us, among many others.