An Apocalyptic Relationship
by Charles C. Cole
I was hiding deep in an abandoned mineral mine when the intercontinental bombs began dropping. I recalled last visiting while on a junior high school field trip some 18 years before, when we’d been scraping for blue tourmaline in the woods of South Paris, Maine.
Living underground was, at first, more natural than one might expect. I’d popped some sleeping pills and curled myself up in a damp bedroll on top of a plastic sheet, with earplugs, preparing to ignore as much of the immediate aftermath of global destruction as possible, waiting it out.
Sometime later, I noticed a woman huddled 300 feet away, down a side tunnel. She got up and was heading for the entrance, maybe to take a peek outdoors, when she stumbled over me. We both screamed. I grabbed her ankle. She kicked me in the face. I instinctively held tighter. She kicked me in the stomach.
“Let go! I don’t want to hurt you!” she yelled.
“Stop!” I countered, pulling her down to my level, grabbing my flashlight, and temporarily blinding her while I removed my earplugs.
“Ursula Gallant? Of all people!” My major childhood crush! What were the odds?
“That’s right. Who are you? Get that light out of my face!” I aimed the light back at me.
“It’s Wilbur Waynright. From Oxford Hills.” I released her and lit a Coleman lantern. I vainly hoped I didn’t look as bedraggled as she did. I grabbed at my sore cheekbone.
“Sorry,” she offered. “I didn’t know it was you.”
“Or you would have kicked harder?”
She smiled darkly. “How long’s it been?”
“Ages,” I said.
“I thought you were going to get away from here. You enlisted in the Air Force.”
“That was years ago. I did my stint and came home. And I’m glad I did.”
“I thought I was alone,” she said, seemingly disappointed.
“So did I. But clearly the place is big enough that we can stay out of each other’s way, if that’s what you prefer.”
“Fine couple of survivors we are,” she said.
“We’re alive, aren’t we? I think that fits the definition.”
“War is stupid. Do you think anyone else made it?” asked Ursula.
“If you mean we have other neighbors, no; you’re the only person to stomp on me.”
“Just you and me. Just my luck.”
“Ready to repopulate the earth?” I asked, joking.
She caught her breath. “Years later, with a worldwide crisis, you haven’t changed.”
“I was joking,” I promised. “It’s what you’d expect me to say. Remember when you said you wouldn’t make love to me unless I was the last man on earth? Surprise.”
“Whatever.” She peered into the shadows behind me. “You didn’t bring any food, did you?”
“Oodles actually,” I admitted. “I’ve been stashing it for days. Nothing fresh. Dried and canned goods mostly. I figure it’ll last longer.”
“I was just scoping the place out on what I thought was going to be the first of many visits, when the man on the radio said it was time to duck and cover.”
“I don’t know about you, but I had the distinct feeling this was no mere dress rehearsal. ‘Mommy and Daddy’ were yelling a bit more intensely than the other fights. No chance of de-escalation. The web news channel actually had a doomsday clock countdown based on votes from their viewers. It was time to find a dark corner and wait for the dust to settle. And I’m glad I did.”
“It’s so stupid, using bombs to get someone’s attention.”
“More effective than stones,” I said, pointedly. I had once pinged Ursula on the crown of her pretty noggin in an awkward effort to get her to notice me.
“Nothing says I love you like a rock to the back of the head.”
“For, like, the millionth time, sorry,” I said. “You were talking with Gary and Sissy, on and on. I was hoping to ride back on the bus together. I was running out of time and options.”
“They got married, you know,” she said.
“Gary and Sissy? No way!”
“It didn’t last.”
“What about you?” I asked, while we were on the subject.
“I came close a couple of times. I was engaged, but things happened.”
“Sorry: men suck, present company excluded.”
“I was mad at you for a long time.”
“I know. The whole class knew.”
“I never told you, but that day you maimed me, I was checking you out. You wore rainbow suspenders! I said to myself: this guy isn’t afraid to let his freak flag fly. There was something charming back then about dating a nonconformist. And then you enlisted!”
“As a vegetarian weatherman! In Humanities, Mr. Orfe asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I, smart-aleck that I was, said: a sentient oxymoron.”
“Funny,” she offered. Her compliment felt like a modest “win.” I sensed détente.
“What happens now?” I asked, semi-serious.
“I need to see the destruction for myself. If it’s not that bad, I’m going home to sleep in my own bed. I’m sure you’ve prepared all sorts of amenities, but I’m not ready to simply walk away from civilization’s niceties, unless I absolutely have to.”
“And if the extended forecast is for smoldering rubble and nuclear winter?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I take it there’s no Mrs. Sentient Oxymoron.”
“Not at the moment.”
“Then we see what happens. Before you clobbered me with that well-aimed stone projectile, I daydreamed once or twice about this day. I mean, you’re not half-bad looking when you’re the last man on earth.”
And that, dear reader, was where the repopulation of Mother Earth began in earnest. Did we love each other? Not yet, but an apocalypse makes for strange bedfellows. I don’t want to say I’m grateful the world went to hell in a handbasket but, clearly, some of us didn’t suffer as much as others.
Copyright © 2020 by Charles C. Cole