How We Spent the End of the World
The téléphérique moved so silently that I found myself drowsing despite the biting cold. I kept thinking that maybe we weren’t moving forward at all and the gentle rocking of the cab was a result of wind rather than cable action. The thought didn’t feel alarming enough to make me open my eyes.
My wife said, ‘Look,’ and now I opened them.
I peered through the scratched plexiglas window and saw that we were still moving, about fifty meters above the city—only we were not moving through air anymore, rather through water. I snapped out of my reverie and looked at the floor to see how fast the water was rising, but there was not a drop inside.
“It’s not that cold anymore,” my wife said.
She was right. The chilling drafts originating from the numerous small openings and cracks in the old cab had stopped. The water bloated through without spilling, reflecting the blue neon light of the interior and making the cab seem like it was patched with mercury. She showed me one of the biggest cracks, a place where the edge of the metal door had been dented, creating a fist-sized opening between it and the connecting wall. Which was covered now with a trembling bubble of water. “I wonder what would happen if I poked a finger through.”
For a moment her words awakened in me the frightened fascination that I had felt so often as a child when, traveling by train, I looked at the frightening yet tantalizing red handle under which was written “Alarm. Do Not Pull.” Then my wife smiled. We tacitly decided not to pull. I moved over to the opposite bench, next to her, and we watched the quiet city beneath us.
It was a living city, not some old sunken citadel. Its streets were lit by globes of diffused yellow light that drew a precise map of a place where, we realized, we had never lived at all. Whenever all this water had come over the city, it had been long ago. The citizens lived their lives completely unknowing or uncaring about a past where the sky had been filled with air. “Are you okay?” “Yes,” and we held hands, tightly, relieved to be together despite losing our world.
Through one of the lit windows of a house beneath us I saw, barely, the shadow of a child hunched over a desk. Doing homework late in the night, probably. I imagined this kid, a boy, waking up in the milky water of the winter morning and swimming lazily to the bathroom. Later, going to school, swimming one meter above the sidewalk to shoal with his school mates. Their packs full of books and wrapped sandwiches float chaotically around them, and sometimes the straps get tangled with the girls’ hair and there’s drama, and laughter, all without a sound. Maybe bubbles. And they go to school, where the history teacher tells them about the German archeologist who discovered Atlantis. That had happened far away. Far away from their sweet-water place.
I imagined this boy. Living this kind of life.
And wrapped around it, the warmness of my wife’s body and the firm promise of her continuous presence.
The cabin reached the téléphérique platform with an unexpectedly loud metallic clang. The automatic door grated and opened. Cold, strong mountain air rushed inside. We stepped outside and we saw that the platform rested just above water level. Beneath the surface the lights of the city were turning out one by one and we looked at that for a while. Later we found an abandoned sleigh on the gentle mountain slope, made out of garish blue and yellow plastic. And although the snow was fresh and loose we found a track where we ran the sleigh all night long, taking wrong turns and rolling together in the snow, stopping breathlessly just at the edge of the cliff, crashing into bushes. We kissed each other’s bruises. We laughed all the time. We did everything we could to live gloriously this brief new childhood.
In the morning we left the sleigh back where we had found it and, holding hands, we went down into the city.
Radu Romaniuc studied acting at the University of Theater and Film in Bucharest, where he was accepted after reciting a piece about Jabberwocky taken from a Harlan Ellison story. Years later, he sold his first story to Jabberwocky Magazine. The rest of the details in his life don’t actually match that nicely together so we’ll just ignore them.
Filed under: Jabberwocky 17