The End of Days
by Daniel Ross Goodman
Before the days when the world became crazy, Yossef Benshída liked to wonder what things would be like in the end of days. At night, he would lie awake in bed and look out the window. A dense group of evergreen trees blocked his view of the night sky. He tried to picture the stars that were hidden behind the thicket of treetops. Then his eyes would become tired from straining to see the stars, and he would fall asleep.
In the end of days, Yossef believed that the stars would come closer to Earth. They would be so close that you could travel to them in two hours’ time. Yossef believed that the powerful rockets which launched the spaceships into space would become smaller. The rockets would become so small that a skinny little boy like him could put one in his backpack, press the start button, and fly into space.
The backpack was silver with azure stripes, and its powder-white straps were streaked with turquoise. After two hours of flight, he would reach a small planet that had purple grass, golden dirt, blue water, and a yellow sky. The golden ground of the planet would give off delicious scents that would fill his entire body with the warm aroma of roasted marshmallows.
He would land in a lush purple field, surrounded by winding blue streams, with towering snow-capped mountain peaks visible in the distance. He would look around, scoop up several little olive-sized pink eggs, and put them in his backpack. Then he would fly back home and let the gravity of his native planet pull him back to Earth.
When he would land, he would see a long line in the school playground because all the kids in his class wanted to use the backpack during recess. Each of his friends desperately wanted to be the next one to try the silver rocketship-backpack and embark on an exciting adventure of their own. ‘Let me!’ ‘Give it to me!’ ‘Let me have it!’ ‘I want to do it!’ each would scream, astonished by his amazing story of the nearby planet with purple grass and orange skies.
He would listen patiently to the imploring of his classmates, determine which of them seemed to be the most eager to traverse the short distance to the nearby planet, and simply give the backpack to the kid who was next in line.
For his school science fair project, Yossef worked on a report about the rocketship-backpack. When the other schoolchildren and their parents came over to look at his exhibit, he explained to them how it would work.
‘In the future,’ he would excitedly explain, ‘the rocketships will get smaller. It’ll be just like what happened with computers.’
When they asked him how he knew this was true, he answered, ‘Mr. Q told me so. That’s what he said.’ He continued, referring to his curly-haired science teacher: ‘Mr. Q said that computers used to be as big as this room. Then they got smaller, as small as this table. And then they got small enough to put on a desk. And then they got small enough that you could put one in your backpack. And now they’re so small that you can put one in your pocket.’
The other kids’ eyes lit up, and the parents softly nodded their heads and smiled politely.
‘You press start,’ Yossef excitedly continued, ‘and you have to wait five minutes for the rockets to warm up. Once you can see smoke coming out of the end, you know it’s ready. Then you press a green button, and there’s a loud rumble and big burst of energy, and you take off. You have to be careful not to fly during a storm. And when you get to the star-planets, a parachute opens from the backpack, and then you land, but when you land, you have to be careful to land on the grass, not in the water.’
‘Why would you want to go to one of these planets?’ one of the parents asked.
‘Because of the chocolate,’ Yossef answered.
‘There’s chocolate there?’ asked one of the kids.
‘Yes,’ said Yossef. ‘Chocolate grows in the ground. In eggs. If you find a pink egg, that means there’s chocolate inside. You can open it up, peel the egg, and get the chocolate out. The green eggs don’t have chocolate inside, only the pink eggs. You want to go to the planet so that you can fill your backpack with the pink eggs and bring back the star-chocolate. It’s better than any kind of Earth-chocolate.’
‘Is that all?’ asked one of the spectators assembled around his exhibit. A number of parents and kids had crowded around his exhibit after they had noticed the excited gesturing of the other kids who had already gathered around the exhibit.
‘No. There’s also orange juice. It rains from the sky. The sky is yellow, and when evening comes, the sky starts to glow, and then it rains. If you hold out your cup, you’ll get a cupful of orange juice. But it only rains for a few minutes, and then the sun sets, and the sky becomes red, dark red.
‘But before sunset, while it’s raining, you can put the orange juice in a thermos and bring it back to Earth. And you can play soccer on the purple grass, but you have to be careful to check the grass for eggs, because you don’t want to play on a field if there are any eggs on it, especially the pink ones.’
‘Are there any creatures on the planet?’ asked on of the kids. ‘Does anything live there?’
‘Yes,’ Yossef answered. ‘There are fish.’
‘In the water.’
‘And there are grass-horses,’ Yossef said.
‘Grass-horses. They come from the green eggs. That’s what lives there. They grow inside the eggs, and then they hatch into horses.’
‘Are they big?’ asked one of the kids.
‘No,’ Yossef answered. ‘They’re the size of squirrels. They scurry around and climb up the trees like squirrels, but they’re horses. And they’re green. Different shades of green. Dark-green, light-green, the grass-horses come in all kinds of shades of green. If you go to an open field and there are no eggs on it and no grass-horses, you can play soccer on the field.’
‘How do you play soccer if there’s no one else there?’ asked one of the kids.
‘There won’t be anyone else there at first,’ Yossef answered. ‘At first you have to go alone. But eventually we’ll all be able to go together. The first rocketship-backpacks will be very expensive, there won’t be so many at first. So you have to go alone, one by one. But eventually everyone will be able to buy one.
‘Mr. Q said this is what happened with cars. The first cars were very expensive. Not everyone could drive them. But then they found a way to make them less expensive, and then lots and lots of people were able to get them, and now many people can drive on the roads at the same time. So once they start to be able to make lots of backpacks, we’ll all be able to go up together and then play soccer on the purple fields. But at first we have to go up one by one.’
‘Well,’ said one of the parents, ‘you’ve clearly put a lot of thought into this.’
‘I like your drawings,’ one of the mothers said, referring to the crayon-and-pencil drawings that Yossef had drawn on the white cardboard display board.
‘Great sketches,’ said one of the fathers. ‘Very elaborate. Very detailed. Could I fit one of the rocketships into my briefcase?’
‘Yes,’ said Yossef, ‘but it will be uncomfortable to carry it for two hours. And you won’t be able to bring back that many eggs. That’s why I use a backpack.’
‘What do you mean use?’ said one of the kids.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Yossef.
‘You’re talking about it as if you’ve already done it,’ explained one of the fathers.
‘No... um... well... I haven’t done it yet,’ Yossef explained. ‘But I will. We all will. They just haven’t invented it yet. But I have the sketches all here. And the drawings. It’s all planned.’
The crowd of people that had gathered around his exhibit began to disperse. Slowly, one by one, they walked away. Yossef was left alone. He stood by his exhibit and watched the other kids and parents gather around the other exhibits. Many of them were laughing, but he couldn’t tell if they were laughing at him or if they were laughing because they were making other kinds of jokes to one another.
He leaned against the table and watched as the other kids became more interested in the other exhibits. Some of the younger kids were whining to their parents. The older boys gathered around the older girls and said things that made the girls laugh, but they were too far away for Yossef to hear what they were saying.
At first he was afraid that they were laughing at him, but then he thought about it for a moment, and he realized that his fear was foolish. He was right, and he knew it. He’d be proven right one day. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not even years from tomorrow, but in the end of days, Yossef knew that he’d be right.
As he was thinking these thoughts to himself, Mr. Q walked over to Yossef’s exhibit.
‘What is this?’ asked Mr. Q.
‘This is the rocketship-backpack,’ Yossef excitedly answered. Yossef pointed to the sketches, described the drawings, and explained the entire idea to Mr. Q. After he was done with his breathless explanation, Yossef looked up and waited for Mr. Q to acknowledge the brilliance of his idea.
‘This is a D,’ said Mr. Q.
‘What do you mean?’ Yossef couldn’t believe it.
‘This project should really get an F. You did put some work into this, so I’ll give you a D. A D-minus. This is not a science fair project.’
‘You’re lucky I’m not giving you a failing grade for this. This isn’t scientific.’
‘No. This isn’t science. It’s not science at all. It’s completely unscientific.’
Mr. Q walked away, and Yossef lowered his head. After a few minutes, he looked up and saw Mr. Q at another exhibit across the room. The student was talking to Mr. Q, and Mr. Q was smiling. Yossef saw their mouths moving but couldn’t hear what they were saying.
He looked at Mr. Q’s curly black-and-white hair. It was a few inches thick, and the blackness and whiteness of his hair mingled together in a curious, uneven manner; to Yossef, Mr. Q’s hair looked like a checkerboard. A black pencil-thin beard looped around the pale skin of Mr. Q’s doughy, oval face. Mr. Q’s small, black, beady eyes strangely harmonized with his pointy, elfin ears. His loose-fitting, pale-blue, worn-out button-down shirt was drained of its color, and languidly lay upon his protruding paunch. Snowflake-sized scales of dandruff adorned his stiff, starched collar and cascaded down upon his narrow, slouching shoulders. His baggy, fraying gray pants, barely held in place by a lackluster plastic black belt, absentmindedly drooped down upon the dusty white laces of his dreary black rubber shoes.
And, for some reason, Mr. Q always carried a small glass jar of brown beans in his left hand, the way a tottering old man would carry a cane. It seemed as if the glass bean jar somehow supported his entire existence, as if it were an external heart without which he could not live.
Yossef looked across the room, and when he saw the pulpy, pinkish flesh of Mr. Q’s eyelids instead of the small beady eyes, he knew that Mr. Q was still talking to the other student, because Mr. Q would always speak with his eyes closed.
Yossef suppressed the subtle impulse to sprint over to Mr. Q and seize his glass jar of beans and smash it into smithereens upon the white-tiled science fair floor. He wanted to scatter each and every single one of Mr. Q’s precious mystery beans to the remotest regions of the four corners of the earth. Why in the world does he need those beans? Yossef wondered. What possible purpose could they serve?
Yossef looked back at his exhibit, stared at the drawings of his rocketship-backpack, and wondered what had gone wrong. ‘Who cares what Mr. Q thinks,’ Yossef said to himself. ‘This is true. I know it’s true. It’ll work. One day, it’ll work. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not even many years from tomorrow, but in the end of days it will work.’
After the science fair was over, his parents picked him up from school and drove him home. His parents asked him about the science fair, and he told them about his project. He told them about the rocketship-backpack, about the planets and stars coming closer, and about the pink eggs with chocolate inside.
After they arrived home, they walked into the kitchen. As his father placed his brown leather briefcase on the small round kitchen table, Yossef, showed his parents the careful, colorful drawing he had made of the backpacks.
‘How did you end up doing?’ his father asked.
‘Okay,’ Yossef answered.
‘A? B?’ his father asked.
‘D?! You got a D?!’
‘Yeah,’ Yossef meekly responded. ‘A D-minus.’
‘A D-minus?! How could you get a D-minus?! You were working on that project for two months!’
‘Mr. Q said it was unscientific.’
‘Unscientific?!’ His father’s anger frightened him. ‘How could you submit a science fair project that was unscientific?!’
‘But it was sci—’
‘I work hard all day to... oh, forget it...’ His father walked out of the kitchen and slammed the door behind him. Even though his father was a small, almost petite little man, his father’s anger made Yossef tremble. When he became angry, the bristly hairs of his thin black moustache fluttered because of the sharp, forceful exhalations of his nostrils. His father suffered from an illness which made him easily irritable. The nature of his father’s illness was mysterious to Yossef, but he knew that his father become angry more easily and more quickly than the fathers of his friends.
His mother hugged him, and after she tried to console him, she sent Yossef to his room. His mother was a large, corpulent woman who, though she didn’t dress as fashionably as his suave father, was possessed of a calmer, warmer, nearly imperturbable sensibility.
After sitting in his room for about an hour, Yossef’s mother knocked on the door. ‘Pepe,’ she said, ‘your father is angry at you.’
‘You have to try harder in school.’
‘I know. But I do.’
‘No, Pepe... we mean... you don’t follow instructions. That’s what your father’s upset about. You can try hard, but if you don’t follow instructions, it doesn’t matter. If your teacher wants a science fair project, you have to work on something that’s scientific.’
‘But I did.’
‘No, Pepe... You can’t just make something up... with your imagination, which is what you did.’
‘So your father wanted me to discipline you. I had to send you to your room. But here,’ said his mother, bringing in a plate of food that she had left outside his door. ‘I made you some eggs. And there’s some toast on the plate. And some jam. And here,’ she said, bringing in a glass cup, ‘here’s some milk.’
‘I wouldn’t send you to bed without supper!’
His mother hugged him again, kissed him on the cheek, and closed Yossef’s bedroom door as she left the room.
Yossef spread the raspberry jam on his toast, sipped his milk, gazed into the distance at the mottled mauve sky streaked by the sunset with glints of violet and hints of indigo, and wondered, Will the nearby star-planets have raspberry jam in the end of days?
Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Ross Goodman