After the End Times
Jova insisted she was John the Baptist, which was fine, I guess, because I had claimed Jesus even though it was clear to both of us that she was more the Jesus type. That was our dynamic, though. She was better and cooler, and we both knew it, but she stepped back all the time and let me play the role just to be nice, which felt good and bad at the same time.
It was August 2015, a month before the end of the world, and there were maybe 50 of us, maybe even 100, gathered from places where people tended to believe extreme things, and everyone knew this was it. Jova and I had taken a bus from Colorado to Utah because we couldn’t afford the tickets to Israel where a lot of other people were going, but we still wanted a desert.
An annual pass to Zion National Park was fifty, and we’d sprung for it. We had an iron skillet and boxes of matches and a rolling bag full of dehydrated chili. We hadn’t anticipated the banning of fires in the park, and eating cold dehydrated chili was crunchy and not preferable, but it would do.
There was a grouping of tents by a small stream where a giant downed tree made a bridge and a hiding spot and a sofa and a lean-to. And though the goal was to eschew worldly concerns, Jova and I were both in love with God, who was played by a 30-something surfer from Laguna who wore an acoustic guitar on a strap around his neck everywhere he went. He wasn’t the only God in the encampment, but we agreed he was the only one worth our time.
For a month it was like this. We made cheese in caves. We wore white robes everywhere, though somehow Jova’s were always whiter and of better fabric, which I could tell even from a distance, though usually I was close enough to tell for sure. When it was too hot, which it almost always was, we took off our robes and sat in the stream. We lay in the water and let it float over us while white clouds worked their patterns across blue sky. Maybe this is what the apocalypse would feel like, I thought but didn’t say aloud. Tourists looked away when we rode the park buses in our robes, which were increasingly less white and more orange with the dust, and no amount of wringing them out in the steam and letting them dry on the tree while we stood in nothing but our similarly orange-ing underwear while God played Neil Young songs and sang badly would help.
We hadn’t let go of our phones; we couldn’t bring ourselves to. We charged them in the Visitor Center, and our Instagram posts looked like this: Jova squeezing liquid from cheesecloth with the rusty rock wall behind her and her arm taut from all the walking and the cheese squeezing and the not eating; Jova on the banks of the stream with her robes pulled up to mid-thigh and wearing old sunglasses with the lenses missing and giving the peace sign. We had lost touch with everyone from home, so our comments on the posts were just back and forths between the two of us, “Ur looking gorg” and “noooo girl thats all u.”
We were ready for the Kingdom of Heaven. We’d stripped ourselves bare and held our arms up and practiced patience. We’d sung songs without a campfire. We’d held hands with strangers. We’d believed as hard as anyone could believe. We’d looked so long at the stars at night that they’d become little beating saviors pulling us toward them.
“Bring on September,” the most devout in the group would say at night, “I couldn’t be more ready.” Jova and I didn’t know what to picture for the actual last day: a cinematic and gentle lifting up of bodies toward sky or something more obliterative. Regardless, we imagined scenarios when we couldn’t sleep, which was often.
But then the first week of September came and went, and nothing happened beyond the standard inching up of yearly temperature averages and repeated heat and dehydration warnings from park rangers and some late-night fistfights among the apostles. People snapped at each other and some packed and left.
I should not have been surprised when I found God and Jova behind the tree with all their skin shining. Their arms and legs were working together in a way that made them into a conglomerate, a spinning animal. I should have seen it as a test, maybe, a way to realign myself and recommit.
Instead, I got on the bus heading to the Visitor Center and from there hitched a ride with a family in matching family reunion shirts to a steak place about ten miles away that was a corporate fantasy of the wild west. In the restaurant bathroom, I dumped the remaining containers of dehydrated chili into the trash, washed my face, adjusted my robe, and went in search of a traveling salesman, if such a thing still existed. I would be lavish as a Kardashian. I would shoplift things with sequins. I would ride in a Cadillac to a state with old-growth suburbs.
A more evolved woman might have chastised me for needing a man to get where I wanted to be: first God, and then just someone to buy me a steak in a room with slabs of fake wood on the walls and wanted posters surely featuring actors who would have loved to get better jobs but then just went with it and did their best outlaw sneer for the camera. But, fuck it.
The main room of the restaurant was full of steak eaters, some solo and some with families, all cutting and gnawing and filling themselves up, all of us there: trying and then trying some more.
Amy Stuber’s fiction has appeared most recently in Triquarterly, Passages North, Smokelong Quarterly, and elsewhere. She’s an Assistant Flash Editor for Split Lip Magazine and is on Twitter @amy_stuber_ and online at www.amystuber.com.
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