By Daniel Lynch
When the apocalypse started about half an hour ago, I thought about cupcakes. It wasn’t really the cupcakes, and I’m sure I don’t know why that was the memory I focused on while the buildings around me were bending like slinkies, but I’d never been in an apocalypse before and for all I knew that was exactly the sort of thing that’s supposed to happen.
“Have you been in an apocalypse before?” Gus asked me about a minute after it started.
I think I made him up.
“This is my first,” I said.
“Remind you of anything?” Gus asked.
The first girl I kissed was Cassie Anderson. I was eleven and she liked to share her cupcakes with me at school. She was twelve. She said to me, “How come you never bring cupcakes for lunch?”
“I don’t know, my mum never gives me any,” I said.
“I always get cupcakes.”
“I’ve got a chocolate one today.”
“Ok,” I said, and then we kissed. It was a golf clap. It was very polite.
That afternoon my teacher made everyone draw what they thought the world would be like in twenty years on a big sheet of butcher’s paper. We were all spread out on the cement walkway outside our classroom, and I used a red marker. I decided by then hover-boards would be invented, so that was exciting. I drew my hover-board with a big red lightning bolt down the middle. The bolt was wonky and looked like broken twigs on the ground, but I knew what it was and I told people about it.
“So it’ll go faster,” I said.
“Sure,” they said.
There were a few hover-boards on that piece of butcher’s paper by the end. Some were drawn better than mine, but I think we all decided that they would definitely be invented and it was only a matter of time, so we better start practicing how to ride them.
The way I tried to practice was by putting some oranges under a small plank of wood. I thought the oranges would roll all over the place, and by staying upright I’d learn how to balance. I squashed five oranges. My mother was pretty angry about the whole thing.
“You’re cleaning this up,” she said.
“What were you doing?”
“Practicing how to ride a hover-board.”
“In the kitchen?”
“It’s where the oranges are.”
“The mop’s beside the fridge,” she said. It was.
We didn’t get any hover-boards in the future, by the way. Not even before the apocalypse.
“Always wanted one of those,” Gus said when the sky turned purple. He had slicked back hair, more wet looking than greasy, and a bushy mustache that exploded from his face like frayed ends of a tightrope. “Shame about the apocalypse,” he said, brushing the lapels of his tweed jacket.
“The sky’s not right,” I said.
“Got any cupcakes now?”
“What else then?”
The second girl I kissed was a head taller than me. We were running on the footpath around our school over and over again. Her name was Sarah Duncan, and she stopped running to sit on a fence.
“They’re timing us,” I said, breathing heavily.
“I don’t want to do cross country this year,” she said.
“You’re not even out of breath,” I said.
“I’m not a runner.”
“Your parents are still together,” she said.
“Is that why you don’t want to do cross country?”
Then we didn’t say anything for a while. Sarah sat on the fence looking at her running shoes. They were worn, with little trails of mud holding a single blade of grass hostage on the outer sole of her left sneaker. Her calves weren’t worn. They had a nice shape. I liked looking at them.
“How’d you know?” I asked.
“That my parents aren’t split up.”
“You don’t look like a divorce kid.”
“What does a divorce kid look like?” I asked.
“Same as regular, mostly. Little thinner maybe.”
“Are you calling me fat?”
“The way you were breathing when you sat down, I bet you eat a lot of burgers.”
“I used to eat a lot of cupcakes,” I said.
When she kissed me I was still a little out of breath. She tasted like cigarette smoke and cotton candy. I didn’t know what to do with my hands and put them on her shoulders like I was trying to hang a painting. Neither of us moved our lips, just pressed them together. Some other kids jogged past us and started making smacking noises with their mouths. I opened my eyes. Sara’s eyes were open too. I’d never been that close to someone’s eyes before.
“Pervert,” she said. And then we weren’t kissing any more. I was sitting on a fence, and she was jogging down the footpath. We were both fourteen.
“You know she made that up,” Gus said. He was lying on the ground next to me, with his hands behind his head. He could have been at a picnic.
“Made what up?”
“About her parents being divorced. They weren’t, remember?”
“You shouldn’t know that,” I said.
“Can’t help what I know.”
“When do you think it’ll all be over?”
“Shouldn’t be long now, I imagine,” Gus said. “But I’m not the one with all the apocalypse experience.”
“I’ve got a minute and a half more experience than you.”
“In apocalypse time, maybe. I’ve only been alive for three minutes.”
“I don’t know how long we have left.”
“You better get to the good stuff soon then. You better get to the S-E-X.”
“I’ve got a headache.”
“You’re hallucinating too.”
The way I lost my virginity was tentatively, and it was in Brett Deacon’s parent’s bedroom. It wasn’t with Brett Deacon, or either of his parents. It was with a girl named Michelle. Michelle had short, brushy yellow hair and thin eyebrows. She could make them arch and I liked when she did that.
“Have you ever?” she said, covered in a gray sheet on a bed that was about as big as the universe.
“Not really,” I said, pressing the words to her cheek with my mouth. At the time I thought the cheek was what some magazines I’d read called an erogenous zone. I was on the other side of the sheet.
“Ok,” she said.
“Do you want to?”
“Maybe means no,” I said.
“There are lots people down stairs.”
“But you’ve never?”
“What’s your name?”
“That sounds made up.”
“I can make a better one up if you like.”
“No, that’s fine.”
And then she moved the sheet, and we were doing it.
“You made that name up,” Gus said. His tweed jacket had started to fill out a little in the chest. It didn’t look like it did when I first hallucinated him.
“I asked about her afterwards,” I said. “Brett said he thought her name was Michelle.”
“I don’t think that counts anyway,” Gus sat up.
“It counts as much as anything.”
“What about Lydia?”
“I don’t know who that is.”
“You really are imagining things now,” he said. “What’d you do before the apocalypse started?
“What does that mean?”
“I did math.”
“How come those buildings can bend like that?”
“How does that work?”
There was one girl I kissed more than once. Her name was Brenda and she was an engineer. Our first kiss was on the Campton University Greens, which is this big flat garden in the middle of tall, metal buildings. It’s also where I was when the apocalypse started. But before that, it’s where Brenda kissed me.
“I’m not looking for a relationship,” she said. We were sitting on the grass, and looking up at the sky, which was still blue (before the apocalypse) and not purple (after).
“Neither am I,” I said.
“Before you leave?”
“Ok,” she said, and then we kissed. I didn’t hang any paintings or gently applaud. Our tongues were mannerly enough to use coasters.
“Happy now?” she asked.
“No,” I said. And then I wasn’t mannerly at all. Neither was she.
“You made that name up too,” Gus said. His hair looked longer. Cleaner. More defined. His mustache was shrinking as well.
“Why aren’t I hallucinating you like before?”
“I don’t control it.”
“How can light make buildings bend and wobble and not fall down?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know who that is.”
“What about Brenda then?”
“She left, I think.”
“She was going to.”
“She changed her mind.”
Brenda didn’t go anywhere because we started going places together. The places we went involved things we had in common. Like machines. And numbers. That’s because we were working together trying to make machines do things with numbers. We never wanted to sleep in in the morning because we were in love. That’s a pretty nice thing to be, I think — an early riser.
“It’ll never work,” she said about our project.
“It might,” I said.
“If it works, things will be different.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“How’s the head?” Gus asked.
“Probably doesn’t matter since the world seems to be ending.”
“It’s not ending though. Not ending ending, is it?”
“I don’t know. Things look different.”
Buildings were moving like glass accordions tumbling down stairs. The ground was swaying like unbalanced jelly. If I had to describe the apocalypse, I would say it was squidgy.
“Things are different,” Gus said.
“You have breasts now,” I said.
“Yes,” Gus said. His voice was softer, coming from behind thinner teeth.
I didn’t want to remember it, but looking the way Gus did, I couldn’t help it. Brenda’s eyes were close to mine, open. She had her arms around me. Her dress was the softest thing.
“Take care of yourself,” she said.
“You almost left once before,” I said. “But you didn’t.”
“The project’s nearly finished. You’ll be ok.”
“You’re being stubborn.”
“It’s better if I go now.”
Gus put his head in my lap and we watched the buildings slink around the soft and wavy ground under a dark purple sky. Only really he was Brenda. And really Brenda was a made up name for Lydia, because I didn’t want to think about my wife when the apocalypse started.
“I’m glad you’re here with me,” I said.
“It’s not me,” she said, “It’s you.”
And that’s when I fell away into warm, fluffy bits. It was a very polite end. It was a golf clap. And I don’t really exist anymore. And these are ideas traveling on light. And that’s ok because things are different now.
Daniel has twice been shortlisted for the QUT Postgraduate Writing Prize, and his short fiction can be found in the national literary anthology REX. He likes to make things up. Accordingly, he lives in a jumping castle. His suspicious sounding Twitter handle is @kurt_lurps.