Eddie had decided not to acknowledge the end of the world. If the bombs were coming, he might as well ignore them. People would die whether they screamed or sunbathed, he supposed, so fear would do nothing. He looked out the window of his house. His lawn was regulation green, corners neatly edged, lawn swept. The sky was blue and orderly, a reminder that the bombs had not come yet. He walked onto the crisp patio with something like pride sitting in his chest. All was as it should be. A neighbor’s cat screeched, and Eddie’s teeth clenched for the fifth time that day. Every sound these days sounded like an explosion. Still, he was not the type to panic. He folded his newspaper in half and walked inside calmly, without looking back at the sky. His heart scratched against his ribs as he entered the kitchen, where his wife was working. Her name was Louise, and they had been married for nine years, and in love for seven. Louise was the type of woman who believed in only three things: God, her family, and whoever was talking on the television. She had sixteen dresses, all of them identical but with theoretically different flower-based patterns, and two bras. One of them was the normal one, the one she wore normally, and the other was a bullet bra, which she bought because Marilyn Monroe wore one. She was quite a fan of Marilyn Monroe, who was the height of sexiness, and even though Louise still wasn’t sure what made a woman sexy, she knew Marilyn Monroe was. There was a creased photograph of Marilyn Monroe in Louise’s change purse, buried among doctor’s notes and medical bills, which Eddie had noticed six months ago and not mentioned since. He decided it was best not to ask too many questions, and his wife decided the same. Louise was making Jell-O. She made a remarkable amount of Jell-O, of all different colors. Once, she had made a rainbow block of Jell-O, a wobbling rectangle of red and orange and yellow and green and blue and purple, which lasted as a centerpiece for eleven seconds until a visiting aunt dropped it. Eddie still wasn’t sure if it had been intentional. Eddie stared down at the Jell-O as Louise tried to pop it out of the mold. It clung furiously to the walls, pulsing and throbbing as she shook it. This Jell-O was red, and it looked like a raw heart ripped from a body, overlaid with gristle and fat and still beating, furiously, writhing on the countertop. Louise peeled off her white gloves and shoved her hands into the sides of the Jell-O, then yanked it out. Viscous red liquid dripped down her wrists, and she smiled with pride, holding the still-beating heart in both hands. She slapped it down on the platter, then smiled up at Eddie. “Want some, dear?” she asked. She had scarlet hangman’s hands, but her pristine gloves rested beside her. “No, thank you.” He felt an odd lump rising up from his stomach and swallowed it down. “I’ve got to get to the office dear, but I’ll have some tonight.” “My tests should be back by then, so we’ll know if there’s a baby,” she said. Eddie nodded, couldn’t find an answer, and ducked out the front door. He couldn’t decide how he felt about this whole baby business. Of course, he wanted children, of course he did, but it seemed so much easier to have a hollow marriage between only two people. He got into the car with his jaw still clenched. The radio was angry that morning as he drove, growling on every wavelength. Left turn, right turn. Soviet. Left turn, right turn. Union. He sighed and parked the car. The sky was still clear overhead. He kept his eyes on the ground as he walked into the office, not noticing the receptionist. She was just background noise, as notable as her staplers and brightly colored paperclips. Eddie climbed into the vat of paperwork, sorting through it and placing each pile into a new, slightly smaller vat. He never looked up except for when one of his friends walked by. They were friends, he had decided, the men who said something about their weekends each time he interacted with them. Even on Friday, they still talked about the previous weekend. Their only other topic of conversation was hitting a tiny ball with a long stick, and how Eddie should come with them, despite his complete lack of skill at it. Before he had married Louise, they also talked about her. He worked late, like he usually did. He couldn’t remember a lunch break, or any sort of conversation even though he knew those things had happened. It was as impossible to disentangle one day from the others as it was to remove a single thought from his mind. His skull throbbed as the fluorescent lights pulsed and the clocks scurried around, the bone struggling to contain the brain inside. He called Louise at five o’clock sharp, warning he’d be late for dinner, and she nodded and hummed and smiled through the phone. She whispered something about the test, and he didn’t hear it. The hours ticked by, and at seven o’clock Eddie leaned out the window to check the sky. Nothing yet. But they would come, he was certain, and soon. At eight o’clock, he could no longer ignore the pounding in his skull. Time to go home. He would speak to his wife, he resolved. Louise. Yes. He would tell her about his day, and she would nod and hum and smile, and then he would eat dinner and smoke his pipe until Louise decided it was time to have sex. They had to keep trying for children, she said, and he agreed with the quiet knowledge that they had no acceptable justification to stop, despite neither one really wanting to. They had to do what was done. Eddie left the building, locked the door behind him. He was always the last to leave, despite being a decidedly mediocre employee and no one’s boss. The office felt safer than home these days, and the sound of typewriters almost stopped the buzzing in his ears. It was better to be an employee than a husband. He glanced up, checking that the sky was still clear overhead. As he drove, the buzzing grew louder still, scratching and biting his ears. He could hear the planes, the Soviet bombers, inside his skull. They were approaching. Tonight was the night. Half a mile from home, he pulled over, unable to tolerate the sound in his head. A drink, that would fix it. That always made the buzzing stop. There was that bar, the one he never went into but only glanced at, across the street. This was not a bar that respectable people – regulation citizens – went into. But he needed a drink, and he felt numbly drawn to the flashing rainbow of lights, as though he wasn’t steering his body but trapped inside it. He hurried inside, trying to keep his face paper as he ducked past the colorful figures inside. He should not be seen in a place like this. He didn’t remember what drank he ordered, only that he drank it, and then another of the same. The buzzing slowed, but didn’t go away, as he finished the second drink and got another. A man sat down next to him at the bar, silently drinking in parallel to Eddie. Eddie’s innards turned to alcohol. He glanced to the side. The other man’s long fingers encircled his glass, the lemon slice discarded on the side, as he drank in silent. He had the type of long, elegant face that made Eddie remember stories he’d read as a small child. He didn’t know the plots anymore. The man nodded at Eddie, who went stiff before nodding back. “Evening.” “Evening.” “The name’s James.” His voice was low and slow and potent, like the sound of whiskey being poured into a glass. “Edward.” Eddie had a queer impulse to correct himself, that Edward was a name that did not belong to him, but he couldn’t force the words out to say otherwise. James continued to drink, glancing over at Eddie between sips, before speaking into his glass. “You’ve never been here before.” “No.” He did not consider that it should have been a question; it seemed natural that the man would know. “So, why’d you finally come in?” “Needed a drink.” He tried to swallow the alcohol, but his throat turned to old leather. James made a noise that Eddie didn’t quite hear. “Anyways. Glad you finally admitted it might be a decent idea.” “I drive past here everyday” he said, by way of wandering over the words. “I just never…” His voice faded. “Funny.” “I had a friend who told himself, every day of his life, that he’d come in here. Told me every time he saw me. Next time, James. Next time. I’ll be there.” He took a sip. “Never did.” “That’s how Louise is.” James’ eyes met his, the color of an ammunition sky. “Every year, going to change things. Never does. She’s lived the same life every day since I met her.” “And you?” “I couldn’t live like that.” The corners of his regulation lawn burned in his mind, and he felt a sudden urge to mow every blade of grass down until it scarred the earth. James smiled, leaning back in his chair. “Do you mind stepping outside with me for a second? I need a cigarette.” The two of them walked out of the bar, into a crystalline sky that looked empty of bombs. The stars had turned to fireflies, swirling overhead and then darting into the grass below their feet. James caught one, and a pulsing yellow glow shone through his fingers. He handed it to Eddie. Their hands brushed, and Eddie cupped the firefly in his palm for a second, unable to feel anything but James’ fingertips touching his. The speck of light flew away easily from his open hand. James dropped his hands to his side. “Cigarette?” he said. Eddie thought of his pipe, of his armchair, of his fireplace, of his dinner. “Sure.” They cradled the embers between their fingers, letting smoke unfurl into the darkness between them. One curious firefly hummed closer, circling James’ head. It landed in his hair, and Eddie reached up to brush it off. His hand lingered for a second longer than it should have, fingers in the dark hair, and James leaned closer. “You couldn’t live like that? The same, everyday?” “Of course not.” “Prove it.” They were too close together, his fingers still lingering in the curls. The cigarettes had fallen, forgotten, and his eyes danced over the face in front of him. Eddie smelled whiskey and paint and blood, and he tried to hold the scent deep in his lungs. Another firefly flew past, illuminating those lips for an instant. Eddie let his hand fall. “Thank you for the cigarette,” he said. The smell was gone, just lemon cleaner and the smoke of the cigarettes. “Goodnight.” “I—Edward?” “Goodnight,” he said quickly, and brushed past James. His heart was pounding far too quickly, trying to escape. It reached behind him, desperately reaching out for the person who vanished into the darkness. He climbed into the car, stifling the movements of the heart in his chest. It did not belong there. It must be calm, orderly. He drove home too fast, not signaling, and skidded into the driveway. Louise came out of the house, nightgown starched and crisp. She had twenty curlers perfectly arranged in her hair and red, puffy eyes. “What took so long?” “Car trouble, dear. Is dinner ready?” “Yes. The test...” He nodded and walked inside. She followed, holding the edge of his sleeve. “There’s soup.” He sat at the kitchen table, ignoring the nearly empty bottle of whiskey and the crumpled photograph of Marilyn Monroe at her seat. She served him cold soup. It tasted like a cigarette, still taped to his tongue. Louise sat across from him, watching him with a quiet smile as she folded her hands together again and again. There was dried blood crusted under her perfect fingernails, and her dress was different from this morning’s. “There’s Jell-O, too,” she said softly. He took her hand across the table, careful not to touch her fingernails. “Louise.” “I’m fine,” she said, and stood up. “The doctor says I’m fine, luckily.” She handed him the plate, a wobbling slice of blood and muscle. It throbbed, pulsed before him. It wanted to pull him back. He took a spoon, stabbed it into the center, and swallowed the piece. Cold and muscular, the tissue collapsed under the pressure of his throat. Another, another. Make it be still, be quiet. Make it forget. He finished, handed the plate to Louise. They exchanged a muttered “Thank you, dear,” and a good-night kiss on the cheek. Her skin was chalky and cold, lemon scented. Eddie waited for her and her photograph to go to bed, then walked out into the backyard. The lawn was still perfect, everything neat. All regulation. He ran his fingers over his own lips, whiskey and paint on his skin. Forget, be quiet, move on. He stared down at his lawn, but a coppery sheen appeared on his vision as it turned watery. Tipping his head back up, his tears dripped out as he watched the ammunition sky. The bombs would come soon.
Drew (Harvey Mudd '23) is a chemistry major from Utah who loves bugs, reuses old calendars, and has been writing since age six.