I came down to Wally World because I heard there was a sale. A door buster. A barn burner. End of Days kind of thing. Everything 40 percent off, with an asterisk. The place smells like hot plastic. The aisles are choked with shoppers. Most of the shelves have already been ransacked. "Jingle Bells" plays in the fluorescent air above. I keep my eyes pinned to the grid of my oversized blue shopping cart, make my way straight to Electronics. There's a man there in a black trench coat, with a pink scarf and round-rimmed glasses. He's at the counter asking which of the latest flat screens has retina display, because he heard they're making TVs now with retina display. He asks if it's 3D. And will it sing him to sleep, or make him meatloaf on a cold Wednesday, or run a warm hand through his hair like his mom used to. The 10-year-old clerk is overwhelmed. He knows he's got six days to live. He picks up the phone and calls his manager.
You were always so good at letting go. Giving a full black garbage bag of clothes to the Salvation Army every spring, and barely caring that time your hard drive crashed. So good at getting rid of the things you stopped wanting.
I approach a shelf lined with flat screens, and see whales underwater. Charlie Brown walking through a parking lot filled with pink, purple and yellow evergreens. A fireplace crackling and glowing. I loiter there for a minute before I notice a frazzled woman standing five feet away. She has a baby strapped to her chest in a black carrier. She's going "Shhh" in a steady unconscious way, staring at the flatscreens. She notices me looking at her, and turns toward me. She has TVs reflected in her glasses, both playing different channels: fireplace in one, mushroom cloud in the other. I realize that she's not carrying a baby at all. She's wearing a jetpack. Or a bulletproof vest. Ten sticks of dynamite. Or maybe just a very loud Christmas sweater. I don't stick around to find out.
I grab the closest flat screen to me, and put the box into my shopping cart. I push the cart out of Electronics, into the main flow of oversized carts and oversized bodies. My phone buzzes against my leg. I don't answer. Home Decor. Office Supplies. Cleaning Supplies. Weapons of Mass Destruction.
For weeks you've been talking about hurricanes off the Atlantic, mass bird deaths, forest fires in Russia and all the things that Harold Camping got right. Lying in our bed in your underwear and socks, looking up at the ceiling. The alarm clock radio hushing between stations, a static squall. Helps with your headaches, you said. Shhh. The eternal flame of Dartmouth glowing greasy and orange in a corner of our bedroom window. Refining. Keeping watch. Our apartment smelling like take-out and disaster movies. A half-empty mug of eggnog that's been sitting on the kitchen counter for five days, warming and thickening in the heat of our final winter.
Last night, I asked how you could be so sure our time was up.
You said Tim Allen was making a new Santa Clause movie.
Toys. Men's Clothing. Books.
I wander the aisles until I find myself surrounded by candy and celebrity magazines and blue-smocked Wallies. I can see the Exit sign, and I think that it must be time to leave. I look into my cart, and realize that I've filled it: 32-inch flat screen, five cotton sweaters, shower caddy, two yellow-checked couch pillows, circle mirror, small white bookcase, three pairs of black and white sneakers, socks, underwear, greeting cards, ham, bag of carrots, lightbulbs, duct tape, AK-47.
There's a broadbacked woman with big orange hair and a tight green hoodie and what look like sideburns standing in front of me. Her two Mickey Dee children cling to the cart with thick, greasy fingers. Their hair is equally big, and equally orange. I think they may be the Ugliest Family on the Face of the Earth. All three of them are coughing, sputtering into the open air. Sneezing onto the handles of their cart. They'll be dead before supper. Their cart is full of jumbo-sized bags of cheezies and wholesale boxes of candy canes.
In the air above, John Lennon accuses everyone of malaise.
I think maybe he's right, but it's not like there's anything I can do about it. Once a mind is made up, there's no way to unmake it. We've got six days. I'm thinking about telling my mom. My dad. Merry Christmas. You were right. Of course.
Someone steps into the line behind me. A man in grey jogging pants, with his phone pressed against his face, and he's saying, "Suck it, dude. No fucking way. Get bent." Then he laughs. "Merry Christmas."
Before I know it, Paul McCartney is simply having a wonderful Christmastime, and the line has barely moved.
I'm thinking about getting out of the city. Take Mumford out to the 102, and into the black snow, into the night.
I'm thinking about a 17-car pile-up, and twisted metal and blood, my body and car becoming one as the first snowstorm of the year buries its dead.
You say you have a psychic heart. Did you see that coming?
The line inches forward. My cart pulls me along, heavy with things I don't need. Is this even my cart? A hot line slides down my neck. Lasers under my skin. I'm thinking about the glowing eye of Dartmouth in our bedroom window, the only Sleepwatcher that's ever kept me up at night.
I could just go.
But some endings you can't run from, and I want to be there when our street caves in. I want to be there when the harbour catches fire. I want to be there with you, and kiss your lips before they melt from your face. I want to feel the heat of our death before it all goes cold. Smell your hair burning. Bones turning to ash.
I leave the store without buying anything; the black parking lot air is frigid and goes right through me. I won't be home for another 20 minutes, but for a moment I have your gift of foresight: I can see your bags packed by the door, crouching next to your winter boots. A cab waits outside in the driveway, pluming exhaust and shivering cold. Your hand barely grazes my shoulder, to let me know it's over. Wordless oblivion. The ice age approaches. And that mug of eggnog congeals on the counter, but it's not like there was anything we could've done differently.
I'll ask you how you know it's over.
But you're already gone.
Michael Murphy's first novel A Description of the Blazing World (Freehand Books, 2011) was a finalist for the 2012 Margaret and John Savage First Book Award. It was also longlisted for the ReLit Award.