BY NATE RAGOLIA
“Are we really going to do this?” she asks, sitting on the edge of the bed. “Right now?”
Standing before her, he loosens his tie and unbuttons his shirt, pacing. He gazes out the window as he passes it. The sky is already turning the burnt color they said it would before it happens. The air outside carries a hint of ozone, which they noticed as they ran from his car to the hotel, but inside the purifiers and fresheners disguise the odor. The room is almost as hot as outside, oppressive, with the smoky smell and taste of a wildfire. The air conditioner blasts vainly as it tries to cool the dry air.
“What else are we going to do?” he asks, dropping the shirt on the floor. “Just sit by and wait?”
She nods. She crosses and uncrosses her bare legs.
“I think I want some more wine,” she says, holding up her middling glass.
“Under the circumstances, I don’t blame you,” he replies.
He leans over and unties his freshly-shined black shoes. She rises from the bed and wrests the wine bottle from its sticky-ringed grip on the end table. She pours the crimson wine, filling her glass nearly to the rim and turns toward him in the center of the room.
He removes his socks and unbuckles his belt.
“You want any?” she asks him.
“No,” he replies. He draws a flask from his pocket and nurses at it like a child. “This is fine.”
Their hotel room is beautiful, filled with yellow light that’s slowly turning orange. Like the news said. More expensive than anywhere they’ve ever shared before. Than they could have afforded under the normal circumstances. One of the benefits of most people staying home with their loved ones in times like these. A crystal chandelier looms over the center of the room, a reminder of what would be lost. The art on the walls is tasteful, and well done. The king-sized bed is cloud-like. The windows look out over the city, its brilliant gasp of humanity that once seemed so permanent. The room smells clean, but aromatic in a way that was carefully designed.
“We don’t have much time,” he says, removing his undershirt and pants.
“I know,” she replies. “This is just so strange. I don’t know how to get in the mood like this.”
“Because it’s the only thing we can do,” he says sternly, stepping out of his boxer shorts.
She looks at him, bare and dangling, through the curvature of her wine glass. The refraction changes his familiar anatomy into something out of a funhouse. She laughs. The laugh surprises her, given the occasion, but she chooses to embrace it.
“What?” he asks.
“Oh,” she replies. “The wine is kicking in.”
“You’re beautiful,” he says. “There’s a part of me that can’t believe this is all happening. I wish this could be more romantic.”
She finishes her glass of wine and sets it down. “Don’t we both.” She lifts her left foot and removes her shoe. She tips and sways, gathering her balance, then she takes the other shoe and drops it on the floor. She feels a low rumble in the floor beneath her feet. If it weren’t one of the precursors, she’d almost enjoy the sensation on her toes.
“I thought that we’d at least get dinner or see a movie or something,” she says. “I don’t like clichés. I don’t know why I fantasize about them.”
“We could try room service,” he says. “But I don’t think they’re still here. There was a vending machine in the hallway…”
She shakes her head, and walks toward him. “Just help me with this,” she says, lifting her hair off of her neck, exposing the hooks at the back of her dress.
He obliges her, carefully tracing the length of her neck before taking the clasp between thumb and forefinger and releasing it.
She turns and dress drops around her to the floor. Its cerulean shimmer looks like an isolated Caribbean island pool, almost unearthly in its beauty.
“Thank you,” she says.
She steps toward him and puts her hand on his chest. “I’m sorry for saying this was a stupid idea earlier.”
He shakes his head. “It’s okay. I probably could have packaged it better. I’m usually not lost for words. It’s just–everything.”
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing,” she replies.
She reaches behind her back and unhooks her bra. With slumped shoulders, she lets the article fall to the floor. Then she leans forward and lowers her underwear over her hips and down her legs, stepping out of them with smooth precision.
“There,” she says, walking toward him. “Now we’re even.”
“Wait right there,” he says.
She stops and looks at him quizzically.
“I just want to look at you, all of you, while I can.”
She smiles. “That’s a good idea.” She looks him over, too.
They stand a few feet apart and they just look at each other. The light from outside bathes her in gold. She is, at last, the thing of bygone cultures, a myth of beauty, shimmering before him. He studies the smooth curve of her clavicle, the gentle arc of her hips, the flow of her chest as she inhales, exhales, living, still living. She admires his shoulders, the subtle cut where his hips meet his abdomen, and the steady, gentle growth that informs her of his excitement.
Why do we desire to keep things most when we know we cannot?
He looks at her face, the gentle point to her nose, the softness of her ears–adorned with hoops, the sweet knowing half-smile that comprises her resting mouth. She focuses on his eyes, their blueness, their sensitive sureness mixed with fear. She reads the things he won’t share in them, and knowing that he’s scared too eases her mind.
Without words they step toward each other. They kiss. He wraps his arm around her lower back and pulls her close. Their tongues meet, tangle, untangle… Breathe. His arm slides up her back to her neck. She glides her fingers over his chest. He kisses her neck, her shoulders, and her breasts. She feels him throb and press against her.
The city outside glows. The golden luster gives way to orange.
A distant siren howls, muffled by the room’s windows. They don’t bother to look outside.
“Hurry,” she says. “We don’t have much time left.”
“I know,” he replies.
They move over to the bed, still entangled, still kissing. She lies down on the soft white sheets, grasping for him, as he lowers himself over her. Their tongues tangle again as he enters her.
She gasps, quivers, and moans.
He releases a held breath.
The siren gets louder.
The orange light grows thick, deep, red. It’s a kind of darkness they have never seen before.
“Look,” she says, her gaze drawn to the window. “It’s almost beautiful.”
He turns, still moving inside her. “Yeah. Almost.”
He looks at her, takes her face in his hands and kisses her.
They find a rhythm into which the siren disappears. They only hear each other, their cries and their demands.
“Harder,” she says.
And he obliges.
“Here, get on top,” he says.
And she does.
Their eyes are locked on one another’s. Their bodies joined. They move together like an ocean wave, like a storm. His fingers move down her back, sending ripples from her skin deep inside her.
The siren bellows.
The light all but disappears, only dark scarlet shadows mixed with beads of delicate sun.
“It’s happening,” she says. “Faster. I’m almost there.”
He leans into her neck and kisses her, his hips thrust, meeting her as she rises and falls atop him. He holds her, cups under her with his hands and turns them back over. He thrusts more, faster, harder. She moans. He breathes heavy.
The siren screams.
The sky rolls with fire.
The last thing he hears is her cry as she comes.
The last thing she hears is his breath stifle, his gentle satisfied grunt.
The asteroid’s impact sends a tsunami of fire through the sky. Powerful shockwaves rip through the buildings, leveling them to nothing, casting impermeable shrouds of dust and ash into the sky.
They are lucky ones. Him and her. Their bodies, entwined, connected, and flayed by fire and sheer power. They don’t feel it. They don’t have to look at the desiccation outside. They don’t have to crawl weak and terrified from some lucky, hiding place amid the wreckage.
They are skeletons, somewhat charred, posed in their final bond.
They have no need for the world any longer, or its endings.