My Beautiful Apocalypse
-Who are those people in the U.S. who don’t have electricity?
-No, not them, you know the ones with the funny hats and carts…they wear black clothes.
-No! They live on farms and don’t have modern appliances!
-No! Ohhhh Les, the women wear bonnets and don’t drive cars.
-Ahh, it’s the Amish!
Marie was sitting at her computer looking through catalogues of appliances that didn’t need electricity.
Marie had met Les, her partner of the last five years, while she was visiting the grave of her husband Ron with whom she had spent thirty one bland but untroubled years. Ron had driven trams for Public Transport Victoria for twenty nine of those years until he was killed crossing the tracks in Chapel St while checking the weather on the Bureau of Meteorology website. Too late he noticed two equidistant trams trundling like green behemoths towards him. He clutched his new iPhone to his chest, tightly closed his eyes and sank to the ground on his knees just as they screeched to a halt a little under half a metre from him. Still, his heart gave out from the shock, just as the iPhone screen registered that the weather in Prahan would be cloudy with a sixty percent chance of rain.
She was sitting on her little camping stool at the cemetery disconsolate, contemplating Ron’s end, her final years alone and her visits to Aldi’s Supermarket to browse the centre aisle for bargains when loud male weeping made her look up. There beside a nearby grave, covered in bright flowers like an Italian tablecloth, was a man on all fours sobbing wildly. He grabbed fistfuls of earth, rose up on his knees, threw his face skywards and shouted, “Why? Why?” Then settled his forehead down to the earth with shoulders heaving.
Marie felt her heart flip and wondered what to do. First she thought, she would do nothing but look away to give the bereaved privacy but the sight of this large man in the extremity of his grief was too much for her and with a full heart she immediately rose and went over to him.
-Ohhh, ohh now, oh you poor, poor man! Oh come here! Up you come…
She held him by the shoulders, pulled him upright, then knelt beside him. He half turned and buried his head on her shoulder, relaxed with his teary red eyes open at this surprisingly warm presence and her mouse brown hair softly scented with Sunsilk shampoo, just like his wife’s had been.
That was five years ago and their relationship had always been accepted as ‘meant to be’. They both felt they had found their lost slippers or put on their most comfortable winter jumper, it was a coming home feeling and they loved each other warmly and happily.
Les ambled over to Marie at the computer desk and put his large square hand on her shoulder tickling her neck and asked,
-What’s this about the Amish love?
-They have the most amazing gadgets! Look at this Les and what a great price! It’s a grain mill.
-Yes but love you have to get it here from the U.S. it weighs a ton!
-Worth it Les. Worth it. Then here…look, here’s the dehydrator I’ve been looking for and oooh a bicycle battery recharger! Peddle and create electricity as you burn calories! What a great idea!
Les smiled murmuring, good love, yeah and moved to sit at the other end of the table putting on his headphones to listen to Harold Karl Weller speak of Aliens; Grey and Nordic types, Black Goo and Morgellons.
Marie and her deceased husband Ron had had three children, now all grown up, two boys and a girl and all doing well. Garry was the bright one. He’d gone on to do well at the Caulfield Institute of Technology getting a Certificate IV in Logistics and Warehousing and had recently got a great new job at a big Coles in Williamstown and was in charge of imprest services, getting rid of out of date stuff at the end of each week which kept them all in groceries for the most part. It was good to feel they were doing their bit not to have the stuff go to waste, up-cycling Leanne called it.
Leanne the eldest, worked as an Aged Care Attendant and had three kids, all nice but the eldest boy Abel who had ADHD. He was a handful and a half, but still, Les had a soft spot for the boy and often took him outside to play cricket or walk the dog, generally taking him along to do anything he could that was physical. He shared a lot of his theories about everything including Lizard People with Abel who he considered a very bright boy and capable of much more than his teachers said.
The youngest son Simon had moved into his own place the year before when he started work driving trains which then left the front bedroom free. After he’d moved out, Marie kept the room locked, the blinds drawn and none of the children knew what was in there or why they no longer had access to it.
One Sunday after lunch the three of them sat stoned by the great load of nutrients their mother had made for their lunch, which was miso soup, grilled fish with crunchy coleslaw and fresh fruit salad with yoghurt, Simon got up and went to the door of his old bedroom and turned the handle. Immediately a voice came out from the kitchen where Les and his mother were doing the dishes.
-It’s locked. Marie called loudly.
-Well duh. Why? We never had locked doors before. Simon gave it an extra rattle.
-We’ll tell you later. Les seconded and the clatter of pots and dishes continued with the added sound of the kettle boiling.
Simon slouched back into the room irritated and slumped into a dining chair. His board shorts slung on the low tide of his arse were a loud, vibrant pink with frayed hems and his T-Shirt had an image of a bearded gowned saint with the words, ‘Jesus is Coming: Look Busy!’ across the bottom. His sister Leanne wore jeans ripped at the knees and picked her teeth with long red fingernails. She frowned and looked over at Garry staring at her and asked abruptly.
-Nothin’, said Garry.
-No really, what? You’re actin’ weird.
-No I’m not.
Garry sat up straighter and pushed his pompadour hair back, and watched his sister resume foraging in her mouth for bits of pineapple fibres caught in her teeth.
-Do you have to do that? He said irritated.
She rolled her eyes and puffed out a sigh then wiped her finger on the paper serviette.
-What’s goin’ on with Mum? Simon said.
-What? What d’ya’ mean? Garry frowned at him.
-Lockin’ the door.
-Weird. Leanne replied.
-It’s fuckin’ Les. It’s him and his weird conspiracy theories, he’s got to her.
-He’s alright. No harm in Les. Jeez he makes her happy. Leanne examined the frays in her jeans.
Garry grew tighter.
-He’s not right in the head either. Both of ‘em you know like BOTH of ‘em are up to some shit.
Simon looked at his brother and asked coolly.
-Like what? Wha’ d’yer mean, like what shit?
-It’s like this. Garry leaned forward and Leanne saw little smears of mayonnaise on his finely trimmed beard.
-I saw a stack of magazines in the garage. Survival magazines, like Bait and Trap and Off Grid. There was a box with Grassroots magazines and I found an article he’d torn out of something on how to zombie proof your house! I reckon he’s gonna kidnap mum or some shit is going down bigtime, he’s turned man…fully turned. Cuckoo cuckoo!
He tapped the side of his head and twisted his finger.
-You’re full of it! Simon scoffed.
-Bullshit! Said Leanne.
Garry stared straight at them in an otherworldly way and tapped the edge of the table with his hand saying.
-This is serious. We’ve gotta say something. At least find out what they’re up to.
-We’ve gotta find out what’s in my old room.
The three of them jumped up and went to the front door, opened it very quietly and stepped onto the front porch. Simon pushed his way behind the hydrangeas to the sash window of the spare bedroom and reached up to try to jiggle the window open as the lock had always been faulty. It made a sudden movement, he turned and smiled at the other two getting ready to make a jump up on the sill when the face of his mother appeared through the curtains and with a sharp movement she slammed the window shut and locked it tightly.
-I can’t believe you three! No respect! She shouted through the wall at them.
She was reproaching them like they’d just stolen her last square of Rum n’Raisin Chocolate.
Leanne touched her mother’s arm.
-Sorry mum but we’re worried about you, I mean it’s all so weird!
-What’s so weird? Marie asked peering at them, cross.
-Well the magazines, the locked room, the boxes arriving. What’s going on? Garry asked.
Marie looked across at Les. He smiled, shrugged and said it was up to her. Marie took a big breath and said she’d tell them everything after September the 25th and there wasn’t anything to be said yet.
After they said their brief but tense goodbyes and Simon got in his car, he Googled Sept 25th and came up with a bunch of stuff about the coming financial crash in Germany, a blood moon, signs in the heavens that had Never Happened Before but that fulfilled a prophecy from the Book of Revelations about something about a virgin then a tribulation maybe another messiah maybe a rapture, then again the wandering yet invisible planet Nibiru popped up on the day to make its curtsey to earth before flattening it. It was cheery stuff.
Simon got home and pulled a beer out of the fridge Garry had given him that had been discarded at Liquorland where Garry’s best mate Shaun worked, conveniently next door. He didn’t mind that the labels were torn or had marks on them, the beer was great, BeezNeez and it was free. He liked free stuff and while he was at school he had got lots of free stuff when he and his mate Jezza paid their monthly visits to JB HiFi and The Reject Shop. This all stopped though the day the finger was pointed at them at school by the science teacher Mr Jessop who was a holy roller and wore the same grey gravy stained jumper all year whatever the weather. Simon and Jezza had been by the lockers in the corridor trying to offload some extra stuff they didn’t need when Mr Jessop saw the transaction and the bulging bag.
-Oi, what the heck are you two dickheads doing? Jessop shouted from close quarters.
They tried to grab the bag and run but Jessop had long arms and took hold of the bag, a scuffle ensued and a dozen MP3 players a couple of phones and a heap of headphones slithered onto the floor. They weren’t expelled but suffered an in-school detention for 3 weeks, had to give the stuff back and were put on playground duty picking up papers for the rest of the term but it could‘ve been worse, Jessop could’ve found the dope in their lockers as well.
Sitting there on the couch, lounging back with his BeezNeez his feet up on the coffee table staring into the print on the wall of Ned Stark sitting on the Iron Throne, he felt something strange enter his mind, a thought, an original one came to him all pink and glowing, soft and newborn calling for him to tender it and cosset it.
It was the simple realisation that Les was mad. It was like a virus, that kind of madness and his mother was infected too. Something needed to be done. First he had to see what was in the room and then the three of them had to confront the fact that Les needed to be put away, yes, put away never to bother their mum again. He’d think on it, make a plan and talk to Leanne and Garry.
Marie finished the last of the packages sometime after nine on Wednesday night. There were three of them and they were the same size, the same shape and weighed around eight kilos. Last week the estate agent had sent through the contract of sale to be signed and there arose within her a frisson of excitement at the possibilities stretching out before her like a well fed cat in a sunny spot. She was satisfied with everything. She was truly prepped.
She was most content with the price she’d got for the old family home in Caulfield. Bought by her parents back in the 1930s it was where she’d grown up and later moved into as the only heir after they’d passed on and she’d sold the flat she’d shared with Ron and the kids. She had done the house up about a year after Ron died, employing an architect to make some important improvements, fully intending to sell, as Ron had gone too, and get herself a nice little unit in Parkdale, get involved in the community life and so forth till she met Les. Then everything changed.
She thought how his big hand held hers as they went off to sleep at night and how he often rubbed her small cold feet between his fleshy warm ones in winter when she hopped into bed grateful to be able to rest next to the man who accepted her just as she was. He was interested in all that she thought and did with great and gentle humour, loving her simply; Sunsilk shampoo, Pine-o-Clean, loose leaf tea and all.
She called him in to the bedroom and they stood together surveying the fruits of their labour which would all go inside the removalists truck in a fortnight ready to go down to Wilmot in Tassie to start their next and last phase of life before the day of The Great Disaster.
-We’ve done it Les. We’re ready.
Marie’s face beamed delight and hope and Les caught her in his arms and though he tried to pretend he was clearing his throat, he was in fact choked up with love for his Marie biscuit, and he had to wipe his glasses on his t-shirt.
-When are the kids coming love? He asked.
-Tomorrow night. We’ll tell them then.
Simon called Leanne who called Garry who called Simon who called Leanne in circles of dialogue of what to do, what right did they have, who would say what, how did they know what should they do with Les how would their mum react and in the end they decided just to play it by ear when they got there for dinner; an extraordinary meeting, as they would later call it.
After the dessert of blueberries and coconut panna cotta, Simon looked meaningfully at Garry who shifted his gaze to the remains of wobbly white pudding in his bowl. Leanne opened her eyes wide at Simon and said, “Well?”
It was much easier to drive a train than a person, let alone two and much older than you. He put himself into gear and checked the dials of his thoughts.
-Mum, we’ve been thinking a lot about all this stuff you and Les are into and we reckon it’s mad. That’s it. It’s mad and we want you to stop seein’ him an’ that because you’re becoming someone we don’t know anymore!
Marie smiled calmly at him and reached over to take his hand in hers, rubbing the top of it noting that his hand was the same as his dad’s, long and fine with reddish hairs sprouting on the tops.
-Simon, yes, it does seem mad. Yes I’ll agree with you there. Les, it is a bit like that isn’t it, mad? Marie looked around to Les.
-Yes Simon it does seem like that, but come on son, let your mother speak.
They listened and it was as though the tectonic plate collapse she described so clearly and had seen in dreams and visions not once but many times over the last three years had already happened here in this very room: the house sold, the new one bought, the move organised, the parcels now sitting in front of them not to be opened until the day when everything they would need to do and know would be found within them.
-But mum, how will we know it’s the one? Asked Leanne pale with shock and as wobbly as the pudding.
-Remember when you were having Abel, you got all those Braxton Hicks contractions and every time you wondered if this was it? Then the real contractions started…there was no mistaking them. You knew! It’s the same thing. You will know, everyone will know, the huge noise, that deep deep percussion as the plates drop. It will be unmistakable! Then you will have to open the parcels, do what they say and leave, no delays, straight to Tullamarine, you’ll have no more than a few hours before the city starts to submerge and all the roads will be blocked.
Abruptly the tension uncoiled in Simon after he sat jiggling his knee all the way through his mother’s speech and Simon jumped up leant into Les and pointed his finger into his face shouting.
-You. You stupid old fucker, you’ve done this. You’ve done this to our mum, why? For what? Not enough to get free bed and lodgings now you’ve taken everything we have from us, our home, where we grew up where we were made for fuck’s sake with our dad! Well you can fuck off! Just fuck off!
He flung himself out of the room but just as quickly re-entered and wordlessly took the parcel slamming the front door on his way out.
They all left then, quietly, tearfully hugging their mum on the way out the door. Half angry, full of disbelief, in shock, as though their own mother had suddenly declared herself a communist spy or the channeler of an entity called Zog, they hugged each other silently and went home weeping.
They weren’t the only tears shed as the next day, the removal truck closed up the rear door, the skinny guys in navy blue singlets and shorts hopped into the truck cabin and it trundled down the road. Marie held onto Les for dear life. She wondered dimly whether the die she had cast was merely the rolling of a crazed brain feverishly attempting to escape the inexorable cycle of her own personal history. But as she stood there at the front gate, the ground beneath her juddered and lifted quite firmly making her stagger a bit. Although lasting just a few seconds, it was the third time that day, each quake a little worse. It had begun, it was time to go, time to step into the next phase, the better than just surviving phase, the new life.
Some weeks later, from their kitchen in Wilmot, with the rest of the world now feeling the great jolts and upheavals, the waters rising just as Marie had seen in the months prior, Les called out to her.
-What time will the kids be here love?
-The flight arrives in Devonport in about 30 minutes so we better get going, I’ve got the keys. She said firmly.
-Hang on Marie. Sheeeshhh! Les was pointing up in the sky.
Take a look at that will ya? Up there, see that cloud over to the right of the chimney in the lounge room? Just above it, yes follow my finger, pointing there, yes there… see… Nibiru! Planet X!
Marie peered trying to see the invisible planet of doom then turned around, took Les’ glasses off his face and gave the right lens a flick holding her fingertip to his nose.
-Not yet. Chia seed, love.