My grandmother thought it was the second coming of Christ. We were star gazing, she and I. We had one of those old ratty blankets with holes in it that ‘the chiggers could take if they wanted to.’ She kept pointing out the constellations and I tried to follow her finger as it shook with the onset of Parkinson’s.
“That one’s Orion. You see his belt right there?” Point. Shake. “There’s a bull he’s fighting, you can see off to the side…”
Her red-shellacked nail gave birth to the meteor. It seemed to sprout right out of her wrinkles and surge towards the moon. It was beautiful. I wished for the usual things a kid wishes for; new dolls, new dresses, hell, I was cliché enough to want a pony.
I was just deciding it would be a palomino when it tore into the moon. My happy shooting star turned into an asteroid before my eyes. I was so fascinated I didn’t hear my grandmother screaming beside me at first. I watched as that moon spat out glimmering shards, and somewhere in my head my third grade teacher’s voice reminded me that the light came from the sun reflecting off its surface.
“Sweet Jesus take me!” She shrieked, running down the hill, her sun dress fluttering. “Sweet Jesus sweet Jesus take me home!”
I watched after her and started giggling. When she fell over and her legs started twitching I laughed harder. My mother stepped out onto the porch and started screaming as well, first at the sky, then at grandma, tripping over herself to get to her.
She’d had a heart attack. She died three days later. I guess Jesus said yes.
I remember a lot of news reports after that. Neither of my parents really gave a damn about the news before, but now they were addicted. Men in white coats would look out soberly from the screen, dark bags under their eyes, making predictions like soothsayers trying to read the palm of fate.
“The moon has lost approximately half its mass and its orbit has been drastically altered.”
Collective gasps from mother and father. I continued playing with a box of Legos I’d taken from my brother’s room. I asked him if he minded and he said no, but I could tell by the way his nose wrinkled he was lying. I took them anyway.
“Those closest to the coast should begin evacuations immediately. Massive flooding is predicted, but you still have time. Please follow the instructions of the National Guard. It is imperative panic be avoided…”
The white-coated man was replaced by a news reporter standing in the street. People were running around behind him frantically. They reminded me of what the ants did when I sprayed water down their hole with the hose. They tripped over one another, they trampled each other. I saw one man grab an older woman and slam her head down into the fender of a car.
“Riots have broken out in New York. Businesses are being broken into in broad daylight. Crime is rising unchecked, and it’s not safe to be-”
A gunshot. The video cut out and the audio relayed the sound of gurgling. The scene shifted again and a pale-faced fat man in a suit started babbling about politics.
My mother started to cry. I dropped the Lego-sphere I’d been building and whispered “boom.”
We were in the Midwest. We made our home on the bible-belt, Oklahoma. My father was a Preacher. After the moon was hit, the pews got much fuller. He would raise his hands up towards the stained glass and everyone would start chanting after him.
“Lord, protect our brothers and sisters from the floods!”
“Protect them, protect them father!”
“Lord, may your great hand deliver them from harm!”
“Deliver them, Lord, deliver them!”
They wept. They bowed down. They poured their money into the offering plate and sent it to New Jersey.
One hundred million people died. I guess God said no.
Before everyone was mad about the immigrants coming in from Mexico. My grandfather used to rant about it, talk about how they were stealing jobs nobody else wanted. He had a shotgun he called Bessy sitting right by the door, and he was ready to ‘shoot them illegals if they ever came through his property.’
They didn’t like the immigrants from the east and west either. At first we welcomed them, but then the food started running short. There wasn’t enough to go around, and the weather was changing fast enough that things stopped growing. My father started handing out gift baskets instead of letting folks inside. Most took them gratefully because it was more than others offered. Then one night a big guy with three kids tried to break into our house. He gave my mom a black eye, and my dad chased him out with a shovel.
After that, we didn’t open the door when someone knocked. Dad dusted Bessy off and kept the bullets next to the cross on the mantle.
He didn’t preach anymore.
It got really cold. People stopped flooding in and out of our town. Instead it was just us, and whatever neighbors decided to stick around. Rumors started flying about bunkers the government was building. They sounded to me like the promise of Oz being just over the rainbow, like any second the Tin Man would come traipsing over the hill asking for oil for his creaking joints. Mom hung on every word. She stopped eating and started giving me and my brother her portions. Her eyes would get that gleaming faraway look, and she would ask people to tell her more about these magical places where she would be safe.
Then one day Dorothy turned into Judy Garland. Mother downed a bottle of pills with a glass of straight whiskey. Dad said it was an accident and we buried her in the garden where the tulips used to bloom.
I’m sixteen now. We’re leaving. My brother’s face looks grim and tired, and I’d almost think he was older than me if I didn’t know any better. We’re packing the canned goods we have left and the smoked deer jerky my dad brought in with Bessy. It’s still pretty fresh. There’s a bloody stain on the cement in the garage where he peeled off its skin.
“You think it’ll really be better in the South, Jason?” I ask, stuffing my backpack. “You think we’ll make it down there?”
He’s looking out the window. Across the street, our neighbor trudges through the snow towards the mailbox. He puts the flag up as he opens it to stick in his letter and removes the one he put in yesterday. His eyes light up, like they do every day, and he tears it open, weeping at the sight of his own handwriting and at the signature he forged at the bottom. His son’s.
“Yeah, Amy. We’ll make it.”
His nose wrinkles a little. I can tell he’s lying.
Written March 2015.