BY COLIN GRIFFITH
The mirror flickers over my head while I drag Dad’s body through the fields. He was thin at the end, and it’s easy, except for when his skin catches on the jagged rocks that dot the dry plain. I struggle through clutches of tall, dry grass, and as I adjust my grip on his cold wrists, I’m amazed how it can still grow even now. Behind me there’s a house that stands alone, at least a mile separated from the next. Everything here is empty and abandoned, or full of the dead that I haven’t found time to drag out yet. I moved dad to the top of the list because he’s our dad, and I think you’d have wanted me to take care of him, but I’ll get to them all eventually, at least until I join them myself.
The mirror is a common sight here; it’s why I decided to stop here instead of going farther east. Dad wasn’t convinced but by that time I think he knew he didn’t have much of a say. A dead house is better than getting caught out in the next storm—they’ve gotten worse since you’ve been gone, hotter and gustier. We saw shredded bodies on the road, travelers caught in the hail. The last one basically cooked dad to death. I hate to talk about him like that, but that’s all I can think to do anymore, just write this down for you and be honest about it. You, at least, gave us everything you had, right down to the end.
I remember seeing Geffard for the first time on TV, that day he gave his first real press conference for the mirror project. He was tall and lanky and prematurely gray, all the color dried from his face and hair. He looked like a harried corporate lawyer who wanted to do the right thing but had forgotten how. I think I would have teased you for being in love with him if I hadn’t known you like I did. I think I probably teased you a little anyway. It was easy to pick on you; you loved so easily. It made you strong. I see that now.
You sat in front of your laptop for hours watching his videos. You told us over dinner, between mouthfuls, about how he was shaping the glass and what he planned to use for structural support when the thing was mounted to its rocket. You were good at math and you did the proofs for us. Mom liked that; she had high hopes for you, even with everything going on. You were her little fighter. I used to get so jealous about that—I don’t know if you knew. Mom was so excited to see what you would become. I think I’m still a little jealous, now that I mention it. You had so much imagination. I wonder what happened, in the womb, in the various splitting and multiplying of your cells, that sparked that in you. I’ll never understand why you got that and I got...well, I got what I got.
You would hang sheets from the windows in our room, do you remember? We poked holes in them and you’d transform the wall into a sky, and I loved how you filled the space between the stars you made, letting them drift across your face. I took pictures back then, but they’re gone now. You pulled one of mom’s makeup mirrors down from the cabinet in the big bathroom you and I weren’t allowed to use because mom didn’t like when we left water everywhere. I watched while you held it before the dusty light on the wall and cast the beams back against the sheet. The dots scattered around the room as you waved the mirror around like you had the light flowing from your fingertips.
This is how we’re going to do it, you said. This is how we’ll make the world better.
It took me weeks to get the death smell out of the house. There’s not much wind on this side of the bluff, thankfully, because it’s full of particles and when it blows fast enough, it stings against your skin like it would when you and I wandered down the beach before, back far away from the crowds at the water, walking where the sand was loose and burned the soles of our feet. I remember how you would pause sometimes, your eyes closed like the earth was pulling everything you couldn’t take down into the ground, like so much static charge.
I want you to be here with me, especially now that dad’s gone. I miss you. I never did well with loneliness—you know that. Waiting for the end was killing me, on top of everything else. The doctors came up with a name for what I felt eventually; knowing it wasn’t just me helped, but only a little. The name was too scientific. It described the phenomenon but not the sensation. Mine started with dreams, and when I couldn’t sleep anymore it was panic attacks. I still hear dad muttering. Jesus fucking Christ. Mom was more patient, at least, though I think she was just as desperate to know why I was falling apart while her daughter was saving the world. Don’t you have any hope, she would say. There might have been a question mark there but I never heard it. Eventually they both stopped talking to me about the news, once it was all bad. Without the doctors, the pharmacies closed and I couldn’t get meds, so I stayed home with mom and dad all the time and kept my big dark with me. When I found mom I felt responsible and dad was fine with that.
I’m burning dad’s body now, by the way. Just like mom but I did this one alone. I thought it would be nice to be all together again. When I saw that they had burned your house I tried to take solace. I imagine the molecules of you split apart and scattered by the heat. That’s what I think about now when I look up and see the mirror. You’ve been dispersed, no longer all together but everywhere. What I feel now isn’t loneliness, because you’re right here with me, sister, you’re right here and all around me, even if the nearest molecule is miles away, or suspended in a droplet waiting to burst over the sea, or pressed between the fissures of the dry earth I’m standing on. Distance doesn’t matter anymore. When you zoom out far enough, you and I are still the same size, and from planets away, you’re still right here beside me, the space between us statistically negligible.
Geffard wasn’t rich, but as soon as he announced his plan, he had all the money he could have needed. I remember when the seabreak in Florida happened and the world, collectively staring into the headlights of the end, finally snapped out of transfixion. When the waters failed to retreat, I knew you’d be gone soon. You were probably fending off sponsors with a stick. Everyone wanted a piece of the end.
It’s easy to hate Geffard because he failed. We piled our eggs into his basket because the other ones were on fire. I’d actually prefer to hate him, instead of you. That’s why I’m writing this down. I don’t want to bring all this resentment with me. Maybe I’ll find the part where he tricked you, or lured you in with promises of wealth and high ground should everything fail. But I know you too well for that. You’re too good to fall for a fraud’s lies. I think you really believed him. You left us because you wanted to save the world.
I saw it clearly when you testified for Congress the first time. You sat and answered the questions so calmly. I shouted at the screen and cried while they grilled you. It was too hard to watch. Too hard to watch the cracks form, so I looked away. That was the last time I saw you—through a screen across a continent. A week later, the mirror launched. Two weeks later someone brought you their big dark and I couldn’t stop it.
You taught me how to hope. Do you know that? Especially after the college years, when you were gone traveling and studying, making girlfriends and leaving them, sending me the occasional picture from the streets of Budapest, a cafe in Paris, you under a skyscraper of a tree somewhere in Canada. In a few of them I could tell you had been crying; once, we did a video call and I could tell you were just angry, so angry. I think that was right after the first inland storm hit the Midwest. I remember because after we talked, dad came into my room angry himself, shouting at me for being paranoid, for scaring my sister with this end-of-the-world bullshit. I wouldn’t have told you this, but since you’re dead maybe it’s fair, and you probably already know anyway by this point. He used to tell me how sad he was about you, that his bright little girl had turned so soft. He lamented your kindness, I think. Maybe he thought cruelty would keep you safer, but I knew better. You weren’t interested in safety. Otherwise you’d have done what everyone else does, gotten a job and grown old, instead of showing up at Geffard’s door and begging to help him save the world.
I want you to know that I don’t blame you. Everyone gives their life to something.
I wonder if the people who killed you are still alive. Probably not, but I can’t take much satisfaction from that. In a sickening way I’m grateful to them for leaving you to the fires. Geffard was less lucky. I hope you didn’t see what they did to your hero.
I don’t mean to be so bleak. There’s peace out here. You earned that much.
Dad’s done burning now. I’m going to have to go in soon. I don’t know when I’ll be able to come back. The clouds to the west are turning a nasty orange-black and it looks like another storm is about to roll over. If I make it through this one, I’ll be back with more bodies. This is how I’ll repopulate the earth. Maybe our bones will feed something kinder, in a few hundred thousand years or so.
Or I could stay here this time. I could make this the last. The storm is getting brighter; there’s definitely fire in the sky. Someone’s been setting off bombs over the ocean again. Over my head, the mirror flickers like a defunct strobe. I still look up like a little kid, hoping to catch a glimpse of myself, squinting against the glare as if I’d see you there too, reflected back from some other angle. But the mirror just turns, and the sun glaring into it leaves streaks in my vision that could be memories, or ghosts. I like to think it’s you, showing me exactly what I need to see.
Colin Griffith is a writer and editor from Denver. In addition to developing a collection of short stories, he cohosts a literature podcast and works as an associate fiction editor at Barren Magazine. He lives in San Diego and tweets at @darkfrasier.
Photo by NASA
Published September 13th, 2019