Fulfilling Wishes at the End of the World
Until the day I die, I’ll never forget those glassy, unblinking eyes. They are frozen in time for all eternity, to replace the face of Michelangelo’s David as it sat carved in my mind. The world had fallen apart in the streets outside that day, as we walked through the museum hand in hand.
It was all we wanted to do.
We had decided to spend the day there, he and I, that morning over coffee. So rarely did we get time to ourselves, having an afternoon together sounded like a tiny slice of heaven. We would play hooky from work and go through the museum like tourists, gawking at the visiting exhibits. Hell, maybe we would even eat at the overpriced cafe. He emailed his boss, I called in. Then, giggling like kids skipping class, we hustled to catch the bus downtown.
Our tickets were stamped 10:45AM. The bombs started falling at 12:23PM.
I remember because I was looking at my watch. He was starting to get hungry. So was I. We were debating eating at the cafe or the new Italian place across the street. I glanced at the ticket in my hand to check for any re-entry policy listed. My watch clicked through half a minute with the quivering second hand.
And the world exploded outside the plate-glass window at the end of the hall.
All we could hear were panicked screams as everyone around us ran for the doors. There was an old shelter of some sort in the basement left over from the Cold War and Red Scare; things that were in the history books when I was in school twenty years earlier. Everyone was headed there. To safety. He tugged my coat sleeve, urging me to join them. We started that way, half a room behind the back of the crowd. Then the next bomb crashed into the building, sending a shower of concrete and pipe and priceless art down the stairwell like a waterfall.
The screams stopped. For the most part. The whistling of another bomb falling somewhere near grew louder and louder, ending in the heavy thud-boom of its explosive impact. We knew we were trapped then; that we’d never make it out.
So we decided to make the best of it.
We slipped into the dark rooms that made up the restricted area of the museum. Lights still flickered halfheartedly, powered by a dying generator down in the rubble-filled basement at the bottom of the stairs. Stern faces half-covered in shadow stared at us from the movable walls, seemingly irritated by our intrusion. For a few minutes, we listened to the thud of the bombs outside as we stared at priceless art, each of us holding the other’s hand as though it were any other Tuesday. Another explosion shook the whole world, sending beams from the ceiling crashing down onto us. I thought we would die then.
I was half-right.
When I woke up, we were still holding hands. Light from the sky poured in on us through the fallen ceiling from two stories up. I could hear the emergency vehicles nearby, the screaming sirens echoing in my ears. A replica of Michaelangelo’s David pinned my shoulder to the ground with its broken legs, the rest of its marble crushed into dust. I looked at it first. Then I looked at him.
I didn’t scream in terror. Maybe I was in shock. I just held his hand and lived, like he held mine and died.
It was all I wanted to do.
Very nearly didn’t make this one. ‘Cause you know what sucks? Working on a story, get it it exactly how you want it, submitting it… and then realizing that, with less than an hour left to go before the cut off, you’ve misread a rule and don’t have enough time to rewrite it to make any sense.
I rewrote it anyway.