He means to get up early the next day. For a sleepy instant he thinks he’s woken even earlier then expected – and then his eyes adjust to the hands of the clock.
Fucking ten thirty, he means to yell.
He tries to yell it.
He claps his ears. Gets out of the rickety bed and pads across loose floorboards. He can’t hear a thing, not even the ambient usuals.
A drowsy fog still slowing his wits, he decides this must be going around. Twenty-four-hour deafness. You eat enough processed lunchmeat and that probably happens to you. Everything sprouts new side effects all the time. Or maybe he’s sleepy and his ears haven’t woken up! But this can’t be permanent because he’s got bills due and a postman to beat.
He signs the last check, the alimony one, certain to bounce. He stuffs the last envelope and seals it with his last stamp. In a few years, they won’t even use these anymore. The electric company will own your bank account and know there’s nothing in there long in advance.
He pulls on jeans and a plaid button-down. He buttons it halfway down and skips the shoes because pants-and-most-of-a-shirt is exactly how much he cares about the neighbors. No thigh, no belly, but no more decency than that because they all sided with Zelda in the divorce.
He bursts through the screen door and runs for the mailbox. He is halfway there before he recognizes that it is now a pit in the ground.
It was not a pit in the ground yesterday.
The road is now a series of smoking pits. He visits where his mailbox should be and turns down Cherrywood. Everything below the hill is one gaping crater.
He swears. He doesn’t hear it. He swaps his ear with a pinky and finds blood.
He looks around. The neighbors’ houses are all replaced by smoking craters, so nobody else heard him swear either.
Just before reason sets in, he turns up Cherrywood and checks the other direction. It is another gigantic blast zone. He can’t even see the bottoms of those craters. King Kong could be hiding in there. King Kong may have been responsible for all this.
He cannot beat the mailman today. There is no mailman to beat. There is a good chance they have stopped using stamps by now.
Reason sets in. A hand fists over his scalp and tears out a clump of hair. He runs screaming to the porch, deaf to his own terror. A foot plants inside a bucket and drags it with him halfway down the hall.
He picks up the phone. There’s no dial tone.
Of course there’s no dial tone, he actually tries to say.
The world is over, plus you’re deaf. He realizes enough not to say that.
Can he get Disability Pay? That might cover alimony.
He looks in the mirror. Blood trickles from his earlobes. Did whatever blew up the world pop his eardrums and then concuss him back to sleep? Is that possible? Would Disability cover that?
Wait, he watches himself mouth. You don’t owe alimony anymore. Zelda’s dead. Plus, probably everybody at the Social Security Office.
He mourns the Social Security Office workers on his way through the kitchen-cum-living room. There were probably some charitable people working there and it’s sad that they died. Kind of sad. About as sad as he can be about strangers dying without CNN describing them.
He tries to switch on the TV. It won’t go.
Of course it won’t go, he thinks he says. The world’s over. Electricity has ended.
He stubs his toe against the bookshelf. The one thing Zelda left; she was a movie girl, he was a reader. He growls mutely and knees the ugly oaken thing. So wide that it always jutted just a little into the hall and caught him on the way around, even when one foot was lodged in a bucket.
His bookshelf doesn’t run on electricity. As he pulls off the bucket, he jostles against the shelves and a couple hardcovers shake free, plopping open on the floor. He collects them, shaking his head. He always did buy books twice as fast as he read them. He hasn’t done nearly any of them. Shirley Jackson: Novels and Short Stories. Les Miserables. Man, you could bludgeon a guy to death with The Brothers Karamazov. Plus it’s Russian, so somebody probably does get bludgeoned to death in it.
He picks up The Brothers Karamazov. He brings his bills for bookmarks, and in case the mailman has survived the end times. He plops down on the edge of his filthy porch, resting his back against his filthy but trusty plastic bucket.
He reads out loud, not because he can hear it, but because Zelda hated when he did that.