Stasia didn’t like the heavy, red pull of late Sunday afternoon. It ached with the menacing threat of the coming morning. Her body was sore from lack of use, and yet she couldn’t imagine moving. The summer heat baked into the rafters and made the whole world thick.
She felt like lead, a toxic presence on the earth. The sky outside was an alarming color, like nothing Grandmother had seen. She called Stasia and her mother out to the porch and warned them that it may be a sign of the End Times. An anxiety rattled Stasia’s lethargy, shaking up the shards of her feelings to cut through the fog of her mind.
Since she could remember Stasia had been taught about the End Times, and how they were drawing near. It was taken for granted that these days they were living in were the very last days, and Stasia resented this more than she was scared of it. She resented that her life was destined to be so short while others had been given a chance to grow up and be kissed, and drive cars, and spend their money as they wished. Stasia was robbed of her chance to make her dreams come true, her and every little kid on Earth. She felt worse for them, and when she imagined all the other souls out there that ached like hers, she could barely stand it. The sorrow of the world was overwhelming, and it was impossible not to think of it when her mind went quiet.
But, these End Times always seemed a bit farther off, like an unwelcome glow on the horizon. Like a danger on the other side of the world. Now, however, the presence of doom was here with them, in the still air that she called into her lungs. Stasia’s mother had an indecipherable look on her face and went inside to turn on the television. Grandmother snapped, “Turn that off! Everyone on that thing is full of lies. Don’t you know anything Wanda?”
Her mother turned the television off, and Grandmother insisted that they say their prayers to square themselves up with God. Just in case. “I am so sorry, God. I am so sorry, God,” Stasia repeated in her head. There was a sorrow, painful and deep, inside of her that was spreading through her veins and quietly bubbling up the surface. She had lied last week about being sick, deceiving her family, and teachers, and friends and everyone just because she wanted to stay home from school to sleep and read.
It was a wicked thing to do. That’s what her grandmother would call it, “wicked.” It was wicked, and she felt that she, herself, was wicked and a sinner. A wretched and wicked sinner. All these words fit so well, so sharp and twisted. So pure. “I am sorry, Lord, that I am a wicked child. I am a liar,” she said inside her head while big tears fell out of her eyes, and her face grew hot and flushed.
Her mother rushed to her, pulling her to her side, but Stasia did not want this closeness. It was not comforting. Things had begun to break down inside her now. She wondered if The End would hurt. She wondered if they would remember this life at all after it was over. She wondered if she would be sent to hell.
Her sobbing escalated until she was all snot and heaving. Her mother handed her tissues and tried to clean her up. “I’m going to turn on the TV, mother,” Wanda said sternly to Grandmother. “I want to watch the news.”
“Well, whatever it is those evil people are saying,” Grandmother said. “I know the truth.”
The TV flickered to the local news, immediately blaring sirens. They were reporting of a murder-suicide that had just occurred this afternoon. A doctor had shot his wife before killing himself. They promised up-to-the-minute updates, but there was no mention of the End of the World.
“See, there’s nothing happening,” Wanda said.
“I don’t want to die tonight,” Stasia said to no one in particular, her mind hurtling down a menacing tunnel.
“It isn’t death, child,” Grandmother said. “It will be a new realm of being. It will be peace and wonders we have never known because we are saved.”
Stasia’s mother looked exhausted, and Stasia began crying again as if her body was entirely out of her control.
Her mother set a bowl of ice cream in front of her and turned on Beauty & the Beast, her favorite movie, but Stasia did not want to watch it. She ate the ice cream, though, ravenously. Her body had been depleted of moisture and energy. She wanted another bowl, but her mother refused.
When her mother told her to get ready for bed because she had school the next morning, Stasia balked. She wanted to stay awake until the world ended. She didn’t want to sleep her last minutes away.
“Stasia, the world is not going to end tonight,” her mother said, a bit impatient and agitated. Grandmother was back on the porch and cold not hear her. “I do not know why the sky was like that, but we are not going to die tonight, OR ascend to heaven.”
“How do you know?” Stasia screamed. “How do any of you know anything?”
“Because that’s just how the sky is. It can be so many different colors,” Wanda said, but Stasia thought her mother didn’t know what she was saying.
Wanda served Stasia a second bowl of ice cream, and Stasia didn’t even remember going to sleep.
She woke up in the grey morning and could almost smell the mist outside. Her thoughts were heavy, draped over her like a warm, thick blanket. At first she didn’t remember last night’s panic, but it slowly unfolded to her like a distant vision.
In the kitchen, her mother had breakfast ready with freshly squeezed orange juice, and she smelled like lilacs when Stasia hugged her. A deep, ragged tiredness still hung around Stasia, but even that was a relief to her. The world was still there, still as it was. She turned to the window to make sure the sky was still grey, and seeing that it was, let herself want the bacon and hash browns and orange juice.
“Are you feeling better, baby?” her mother asked, and Stasia replied, “Yes.” She did not want to bring up the world ending for fear that if she spoke of it, everything would disintegrate before her. She looked at her mother for a sign of what she made be hiding, but her mother was still a puzzle to her, an unpredictable source of fear and hope. Grandmother, Wanda told her, was tending garden, so there was no chance she had been taken, and left the rest of them, The Wicked, behind.
Stasia was going to school today, and she was happy there was still school to go to, and that there still may be more days left for all of them in this terrifying world.