Everything Was Always Waiting To Be Lost
The fiery pit swallowed the lawn the day after the light stole the children from the earth.
Natalie sat at the edge, her feet dangling over the swirling molten lava below, watching her toes glow in the light, strangely reminiscent of childhood days by the pond on her parents’ farm. Her little house hibernated behind her, upstairs curtains drawn halfway, front door agape, like the old home was frozen at the precipice of sleep, yawning at the end of the world.
The leaves turned brittle and brown in early June, fluttering lifeless to the ground in the heat that frazzled her chestnut hair. There was no reason to care anymore, no more burdens and responsibilities, the air around her light even though saturated in doom.
The end comes so quickly.
A few flowers clung to the dirt beside her, like her dress clung to her lithe frame, the rise and fall of her breasts the only sign life was still lumbering forward. Natalie plucked a daisy, the blue variety planted long ago to make a home for her family. She smelled its sweetness, inviting it to move through her with eyes closed, then let it tumble from her fingers into the fire below.
And the fire will consume us all.
Six days ago, she was mapping out summer break, making plans to hold them together, going through the motions of an endless, exhausting life; searching for watermarks, highs and lows to look forward to in the wake of a placid sea that expanded the horizon, spreading out infinite before her constantly aging eyes.
Screen door slams and the chugging bus plodding down the road in a whoosh of dust, the ordinary chaotic cacophony signaling the arrival of children. Natalie orchestrated the disjointed ballet like trying to control comets in an open universe. Backpacks on the floor, sternly directing chores, dinner cooking, daylight fading, Beth and Betsy arguing over bathroom time and TV time and tablet time, and Natalie’s directions thinning in the steam rising and voices swirling until she collapsed at the table with her head hidden behind the curtains of her hands. Then the girls’ footsteps flung them open, and she hid her fatigue behind radiant blue irises and forced smile.
And the table set, and the rumbling truck and rusty door slamming turned Natalie’s body rigid, and Tim stepped through the back door, his long ago but not forgotten infidelity reeking in the cheap beer lingering on his breath. Years spent making amends until one day he gave up, seeking reconciliation through confessional prayers in offerings of alcohol. A stiff-lipped customary kiss on the cheek was as far as Natalie could go.
And the dinner devoured and table cleared, and the fading light brought closing eyes and quiet to settle on the house. Natalie wound herself in the linen alone in the darkness, metering breaths without purpose.
The sun turned the page, opening the wound of another day. The bus chugging and squealing brakes, the rusty truck rumbling. Natalie offered a hug and kiss and “I love you” once, twice to little girls growing up too fast. A tertiary “I love you” to Tim disappearing down the road. She repeated the words to the flowers, unsurprised at how hollow the consonants and vowels sounded in her throat.
The blinding light came at mid-day when the sun was at its zenith. The sky sent streams of pale blue to every corner of the world, and all the children rose from the earth in beams, one after the other, vanishing into the waiting embrace of a cloudless heaven. All the adults were left abandoned on the childless ground.
Natalie sat alone in the kitchen at the end of the day, captured in uncertain contemplation of what to do with her hands. The light had died into a moonless black. The news unbelievable, a portion of her heart bleeding invisibly into the chasm in her chest. Tim arrived far too late, crashing his truck into a tree in the front yard, daisies in pieces beneath. His drunken shouts seeking girls he knew were gone. It was only Natalie left, and he wasn’t calling for her. She would not have responded if he did.
Natalie faded from the nightmare into her dreams, the lonely linen her only comfort. She was awoken by a great cracking, the splitting sound of solid earth giving way to the fire that rested deep within it, now alive and energized. Natalie raced to the window as the ground fell away in the front yard – the tree, the truck, almost all the flowers, swallowed by the rapture of a raging planet.
She joined Tim at the opening, staring down into the pit of flames and roiling lava below. They scanned across the pastoral landscape as columns of brown smoke rose in the distance. Tim tried to say something logical and failed, then opted for something spiritual but came up short in his second attempt as well. Natalie, listless, wasn’t listening. She turned and went back inside.
Tim turned on the TV. For the first time in a long time, she joined him. For the first time in a long time, she sat next to him on the arm of his chair. For the first time in a long time, he placed a callused hand on hers and she did not recoil.
The news brought the horror, the gaping pits opening up every mile spreading across the surface of the planet in concentric circles, the intent of destruction a successful endeavor. Scientists turned to theologians; theologians turned to scientists. People were throwing themselves into the pits in droves, crowds panicking, fighting to fill pews in cathedrals and churches across the world. There were calls to repent, calls to offer prayers, calls to sacrifice and atone.
Natalie refused to believe in God, even with evidence. He was absent only a few days ago, and she would not acquiesce to his existence because He finally wanted to offer his presence. She simply climbed the stairs and wrapped herself in bed. Tim joined her later, careful not to touch.
We two are in hell together. This is the cost of our sins.
A few days passed. Tim did not leave the bed. Natalie roamed the silence and smoke, a ghost haunting empty rooms, holding cherished stuffed animals for hours, thoughts ticking like the clocks still moving forward but counting downward.
The third day after the pit, Natalie returned to the bed. She took off all her clothes, let them pile on the floor. She slipped next to Tim, wrapped her arms around his sleeping body, listening to his breath rise and fall, trying to force her chest to mimic him until their rhythms aligned. When he woke, she fell into his eyes, their lips opening for reassurance, their arms grasping, seeking. They made love in fits of passion, their bodies clutching to each other, pulling and pushing, the exhilaration of their moans and gasps deafening until all the pleasure in the world collapsed into a singularity, a pinpoint of their bodies entwined as one.
When it was over, they lay motionless in the dark, naked and clinging to each other, a thin veil of sweat shimmering on their skin. She remained enveloped in his arms, hiding her face in the nape of his neck, trying to ignore the ominous orange glow from the pit outside.
When she woke, the dawn dripped in murky brown pools just beyond the window pane. She was alone in the silence, an indention in the mattress next to her the only reminder Tim was gone. Natalie walked to the window. Tim was standing naked at the edge of the pit, his back to her. She admired the beauty of his lines in the frothing sunlight filtering through smoke. There was a moment when she thought to call his name. He took a step forward and plummeted into the pit.
Her heart broke, which she didn’t expect.
“I love you,” she said, understanding a truth so solid even the pit couldn’t swallow it.
She stared at the space where he once stood, ruminating over the sensation that gravity had never felt so heavy. She crossed to the closet and pulled on a dress she hadn’t worn in years. It was a light summer dress she bought her senior year during her spring break trip to Cabo, thin little lines of blue daisies sashaying across a landscape of white. It hadn’t fit her body in over a decade.
The west coast had fallen into the ocean, and Natalie imagined all those pretty-patterned dresses in the Pacific, floating and sinking, drowning in the depths of a vast world.
Everything was always waiting to be lost.
The smoke was rising from the pit, thickening in hazy brown clouds to blot out the sun. Natalie sat at the edge childlike, throwing all the remaining flowers into the fire one by one. Then she stood before the pit, peeled the dress from her body and let it fall. It fluttered downward like a butterfly in flight tracing its way to a rose, disintegrating in the flames at the bottom.
Natalie walked on wobbly legs back across what was left of her yard, through the yawning doorway and up the stairs. She clambered for the repose of her bed, wrapped herself in soft linen. She hid her face from what was left of the world, abandoned and waiting for the skyfall to come, for the arms of oblivion to envelop her, all alone at the end.
Beneath her cocoon, the continuous ticking of the clock subtly echoed from an empty room. In the near darkness, she let time fade. Her fingers were infantile; her hands were spotted and wrinkled. She was youth; she was ancient. She transcended time. Natalie moved forward and backward in stasis, twilight dreams clinging to the sheets.
A blue light permeated the ceiling, poured through the thick blankets to her nest at the end of the world. Natalie only turned away from it, closing her eyes.
And she fell into a deep sleep that the blue light could not penetrate. It vanished, and the clocks froze, mid-tick.
Nothing could wake her, not the heat rising in the room.
Not the rumbling of the earth, shaking the house like it was trembling with fear.
Not even the sound of the ground splitting, a sickly cracking like solid bone snapping.
And now, this is how the bough breaks.
And Natalie slept in her linen womb, without form, as all the world came tumbling down, back into the fire from which it came.
And a light blinded her in the darkness, and the sheets fell away in a blanket of space. Natalie was stretched to molecules, each a pinprick star against the canvas of the universe. She could see the Milky Way swirling beneath her, the billions of stars twinkling endless possibilities, all waiting to be discovered and lost.
The world is found in its loss.
She hovered high above, the sun a brilliant orb of luminescence in the middle. And Natalie tumbled downward, straight for the lustrous epicenter, her throat emitting joyous liberation.
The galaxy swallowed her.
All was light, her tender voice cracking in the first bursts of the wailing of an infant bathing in the haze of newborn illumination.
About the Author: Adam Huening grew up in a small Indiana town with a tree growing from the courthouse tower. He currently resides around Bloomington, Indiana, where he keeps a toe on the ground, his head in the clouds and an wary eye on the world. Read his stuff in Soliloquies Anthology, Burningword, A Lonely Riot, Crab Fat Magazine, and Vine Leaves, among others.