• Carolyn Steele Agosta

The End of the World as We Know It

It’s the end of the world as we know it.


Here’s the thing about the End of the World as We Know It. There’s still housework. Barbara held that thought in her head as she carefully wiped the glass bird and the vase and the two volumes of Dickens that always sat on her end table. Dust we will always have with us.


One of the things she learned by the End of the World as We Know It #4 was to focus. Concentrate on the task of the moment, on the physical actions rather than the mental or emotional ones. While writing thank you notes, it was possible to pay attention to her handwriting, to the loop of a ‘y’ or the three downstrokes of an ‘m’. It was not necessary to ponder the choice of words. Just say thank you for the casserole or the flowers or condolence card or the attendance at the service. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Keep it simple, write the address, stick the damn stamp on the envelope. Done.


By the End of the World as We Know It #8, Barbara appreciated the value of laundry. It always piled up. She could do the ironing, smooth those seams, run her fingertips over the warm fabric, and ignore the news on TV, the constant rerunning of those visions, the clouds of smoke, the bodies falling. What really mattered was perfectly smooth pillowcases. Handkerchiefs folded precisely. A good sharp crease on the edge of a shirt sleeve.


End of the World #11 helped her appreciate music with a new enthusiasm. When the children asked awkward questions, she could sing-song a plausible answer instead of seriously replying. She could fall asleep to the sound of Beethoven’s Fifth or even the soundtrack to The Muppet Movie. It was, indeed, quite possible to fill her head with commercial jingles to the point that they crowded out any other thoughts or ideas, or questions about how this could happen to her.


So, this new End of the World as We Know It (she’d lost track of the count, by now) was nothing to get all het up about. Barbara ran the vacuum, carefully getting the corners. She washed the windows, watching the circles her clean white cloth made as it moved from one pane to the next. Around and around, much like her thoughts, but at least achieving something. Worrying could never claim that. No point in wondering how things would look in a few months – missing faces, shuttered businesses, maybe a complete financial failure. Better to concentrate on that nice, clean window. Don’t look beyond.

Because here’s the other thing about the End of the World as We Know It. It’s never the end. A new End of the World as We Know It will come along and change everything all over again, and Barbara knew by now that things never went back to normal. They only went forward, until a new normal, a new World as We Know It, could begin. And end.

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