There was nothing particularly ominous about the day the Earth disintegrated. It was a Tuesday, and John and Jane were in the car on their way to visit their son. They had done so every other Tuesday for the last twenty or thirty years.
Rolling along in the middle of the lonely road, they sat in heavy silence, watching the usual white lines in the usual black road disappear under the car, swallowed by the bonnet one by one.
It started with the trees. The ground beneath them opened up and they fell out of existence. One second they were there—the next they weren’t.
John missed that second. Left hand on the wheel and both eyes on the road, he was reaching over to turn up the heat. His fingers fumbled for the dial for a while and couldn’t find it. After a few seconds, he gave up, grumbling to himself. The dial had broken off long ago. He knew that but often pretended not to. Sometimes, he even managed to fool himself for a moment that it still worked.
Jane missed the second as well, focusing so intently on the lines and the silence.
She could turn on the radio. The connection was crummy this far out of the city and the car’s antenna wasn’t really anything to brag about. But it had been that way for as long as she could remember, and she had become quite adept at ignoring it. It was all a matter of focus.
She turned the knob.
Between the jumbled cacophony of scratching and coughing, she could only make out smatterings of words and phrases. She leaned in ever so faintly, and after a second or two could almost feel the silence evaporate at the tips of her fingers. They were cold.
Then the rest of the vegetation withered. The flowers stopped swaying in the wind and gradually solidified, turning into stone. The grass and the bushes grew gray in the blink of an eye and then crumbled, becoming dust as they transformed the landscape on either side of the road into desert. And the rest dissolved into a slippery, oily liquid which ran through the dust like melted butter.
Long ago, she was a bride. Long ago, he was a groom. It’d been a June wedding. A warm day. Cloudy, but warm. They had the world to talk about back then.
He used to carry an old folded picture of her wearing the dress, transferring it from pocket to pocket every time he changed clothes. He used to take it out and fiddle with the creases whenever he was nervous.
She hadn’t noticed it in a while.
He lost it long ago and hadn’t had the heart to tell her.
The lines went on and on, swallowed one by one.
Everything mineral went next. The hills and the mountains deflated like punctured bouncy castles. The valleys and empty basins retracted like enormous spyglasses. Every dent and every bump flattened out. After that, everything erected, everything constructed—billboards, skyscrapers, the Pyramids, everything—shuddered for a brief moment before bursting into myriad butterflies. Too many to count in more colors than exist they all fluttered together as one giant unfathomable wave of luster and vibrancy up and up and up and up and.
Folded up, in a crease. That was how they lived. One long winter very long ago, she fell through the ice and into the creek. His hand had plunged through the hole and pulled her out. That was how they met, broken the ice. They used to joke about that.
She still remembered his eyes from back then. He had the creek in his eyes.
She burrowed her fingers into the space between the seat and her buttocks, watching the lines. After a while, she noticed the vibrations of the speakers in her fingertips. They danced under her nails. They were still cold.
He balled the gear lever with his palm like a pool player chalking his cue, focused on what’s ahead. It was how they lived.
He could shift down and then immediately shift back up again, in one fluid move. The thought teased him, frolicked at the front of his mind, and there it stayed.
The radio squealed, suddenly and viciously, like a pig reaching for an impossible note. They both flinched and it reminded them of the sound the ice had made when it broke.