“The End of the World was a nightclub... The End of the World was loud. The End of the World leaked music like radiation, and we loved the neon echo, even though it taunted us or maybe because it taunted us…”
Saeed Jones, Alive at the End of the World
“‘I would get up at one or two a.m. and I would call every gay bar I had the number to from the 1940s. I wouldn’t say anything. I would just stay on the phone and listen to the sounds in the background. I would stay on until they hung up, and then I would call another one of my numbers, until I had called all the numbers I had… That phone. Those numbers. That was my lifeline… It meant there was a place somewhere—even if I couldn’t go there—that place was out there. I could hear it. Freedom.’ She called the bars two to three times a week like this—for fourteen years.”
An interview with Myrna Kurland in Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall by Marie Cartier.
Where are you?
I’m inside a box on a grassy hill.
You’re literally inside a box on a hill?
Yeah, I’m literally inside a glass box, resting on a hill.
Wow. Tell me about that.
A woodpecker pecks at my coffin like a persistent boy pulling on his mother’s sleeves. Sometimes the light dances along the edges of the glass. I feel like dancing with it. Most of the time it is so quiet and the only sound is weeping that comes in faint droves. They say someone is coming for me soon. I’m dubious.
I’ve never interviewed a person in a glass coffin.
It’s transparent as all display cases are. When the stranger I’m waiting for comes, he’ll stoop and brush the hair out of my face. “I’m finally here, have you waited long enough? Have you had enough of resentment yet?” He will be decorated in his number of previous kills (stars across a sash). He’ll permit me to rejoin the rest of them (I’ve learned my lesson this time) and take me away to his high-walled palace.
How does the remainder of the story go?
We settle down, have the right number of kids. Baseball practice. A porch to sit on. Sunday service, picnics in July, church plays at Christmas and Easter. Mulch sales. A terrible beast is buried beneath our green lawn. Suntan lotion slathered on heavily for days at the community pool. Barbeques for every occasion. A wooden rocking horse and a freshly painted mint green saddle. A weighted silence after it rains. Goldfish you can buy with pennies, fried dough in copious sums. Our children still can’t imagine what it’s like to grow old.
Who or what are you afraid of?
The light on the floor, seeping in. Nowadays I’m afraid of sleep. I didn’t use to be an insomniac, but being cursed to sleep for one hundred years can do that to a person. I try different remedies—counting sheep, counting blessings, warm milk, cold showers, mixtures of pills, calisthenics—but none of them help. I read the news and my chest hurts. I can’t stop reading the news even though getting closer makes it worse; they want to make ghosts out of people I love.
Who or what do you love?
Moonlight carried home in hats. Crumbling church spires as they fall into the sea. Numbers that end in three and seven. The hunter, sent on an interminable mission, sees something she wants for the first time, so she spares my life. A tundra sprawls before us and covers us. Instead of just me, we are both entrapped. We walk for days in the snow, rendered speechless by the wonderful world. We burrow in a hiding place together, loving one another oddly. We die by the sword and live out of sorts. My head keeps drumming.
What do you do in your spare time? I’m assuming you currently have a lot of it.
Spinning fear into gold. Switching out hot and cold packs for the ache. Guessing the names of short and ill-humored baby snatchers. Fantasizing about a world in which we’re more than a cautionary tale.
Ever run away?
Once, I took a train on a cold night. Studied my face in the window as the stars fell into the water below. I stood at the bank of a fast river and listened to it for hours while entertaining the idea of falling in and staying for a while. Every story is a souvenir of survival. Raizan wrote, I must be crazy not to be crazy in this crazy spring nightmare. This house spins and I spin within it to create the impression of stillness. As long as the music is playing, no one is allowed to die.
Last thing you ate?
Day-old potato salad. Humpty Dumpty, made omelet. A legion of soldiers decorated in their harms, one by one, spitting out their red and gold jackets and stupid fur caps. A biscuit that shrunk me down and allowed me access to another world, with only the price of never being able to look back and be content. As a child I ate communion wafers and prayed to God to look out for all of us, listing the names of everyone I loved; and then, after I’d exhausted that list, everyone I knew or had run into at one point or another. Now I’m older and know better.
Who is responsible?
How will you get revenge? If you’re comfortable sharing.
Chopping off their hands, like how the vengeful kings used to do it. Proofed and baked in an oven inside my gingerbread home. By way of bird, dropping a heavy stone. At last, their ends will correspond to their deeds (2 Corinthians 11:15). We yell get up get up and our dead friends do get up and reclaim their seats at the table, their places already set. There are no more vigils in parks. We stop all this nonsense of losing, and the stories are true; the dragons can be killed. I hold my own close to me, carefully, tightly, and somehow that is enough.
How long is August anyway?
It’s late summer. We fly kites all afternoon. You row us out to the middle of the lake, and we listen to the mix of loons and coyote calls from every shore as the sky gets dark. We fish out from the bottom of the lake an old amulet, arrowheads, and a few gold coins from previous adventures. I tell you a story about us and—because this is still fiction—we make it and stay in love forever.
What would you say, if you could?
I’m sorry I forgot to water your plants that time you were away and they died. I’m sorry I’ve forgotten how to kill dragons; I wouldn’t recognize one if it showed up and laid down at my door now, how useless. Our favorite band came to town, and I went alone but not really because I was thinking of you the whole time. I miss eating breakfast with you. Not too long ago, I threw a gold coin in a well and then was embarrassed I thought anything would happen. Here’s how everything has changed.
What’s your idea of a perfect ending?
Every one of us comes home. The day bends towards us and we are alive! Swimming on a hot day, we imitate the swans for a while, then paddle to shore. We give each other haircuts at home and sleep through the whole night, a song drifting out with the box fan perched near the open window. We get ice cream and squeeze onto the carousel like kids again even though we’re too big, having grown beyond our expiration dates. We hug one another and it only means goodbye for now.