Merkez had always known that he would see the end of the world. No fortune teller nor soothsayer nor bones thrower had told him. None had had to. He’d just known.
However, he had always rather thought it would be, well, more exciting. His whole life he had prepared himself for the inevitable invasion of aliens, meteors falling from the sky, war of wars and all the other horrors his demented little brain could think up.
But it didn’t happen that way at all.
The end of the world was surprisingly quiet. If you weren’t looking for it, which Merkez, of course, was, you wouldn’t even see it happening. Nothing fell from the sky. Rockets didn’t suddenly and spontaneously launch. Evil rabid rabbits did not come barreling from the wood in search of succulent flesh. Nothing exploded. Nothing so much as a balloon burst.
Merkez walked home from the small grocery store where he worked in his town’s center. It was a small town and quiet. It was suburban. When he was a child Merkez decided that the suburbs were Less Than Places: they were too urban to be the country but too country to be the city. They were limbo. On the whole they were not enough of one or the other to be either so they hung in the middle.
Also as a child, Merkez had decided that despite being a Less Than Place by its nature, the Middle was the best place to be.
What better place was there to watch fight than in its middle? Sure, this was also the most dangerous place to be during the most interesting of things, but it always provided the best vantage point for everything that happened. If you knew how to look.
And Merkez knew. He had known in the same way as he had known about the End of the World. No one had to tell him. He wasn’t born with this information. A lifetime of observing had told him what he needed to know.
And today, what he knew was that he needed to be home.
He ambled along the road at a slightly quicker pace than normal. He didn’t rush – he didn’t want to alarm anyone – but he did want a hot dinner, a glass of bourbon on ice, one of the nice cigars his brother had given him that he was saving for just this occasion, his rocker, and his wife’s hand in his.
At the house his wife Ionad waited. She also knew that the suburbs were Less Than Places. And she knew about the Middle. She and Merkez had looked for a long, long time for this exact house in this exact spot.
Ionad cooked a fine vegetable, roasted potato, and steak tip stew. She tidied the house and set anything that seemed out of place to right. She went into the closet and retrieved Merkez’s favorite slippers as well as her own. She fluffed the cushions on their rocking chairs the she brought them out of the house and onto the front porch. Just as she finished arranging the chairs so that they perfectly faced each other and the horizon without blocking the entryway, her husband arrived home.
Ionad smiled. “I thought we would eat out here tonight.” She kissed her husband lightly on the cheek, took the small paper sack he carried, and guided him into his rocker in one fluid moment.
Merkez did not resist. He sat and smiled out at the field of a front yard and the houses and buildings and streets and world beyond it. A few moments later, Ionad came onto the porch carrying two tray tables. She set them against the rail then disappeared. Merkez set up a table for each of them. Ionad returned with stew and ale on a wooden serving tray. Merkez took his dinner and drink. Ionad sat with hers.
The couple chatted about his day and hers. They exchanged stories about the neighbors, recipes, and talked about that time they went to New York to see the Really Big City.
After dinner, Merkez collected the dishes while Ionad sat contentedly staring at the night sky. When he returned and tried to remove the tray tables, Ionad shooed him back into his seat and disappeared into the house.
Minutes later she came out carrying another serving tray. This one had a sweet dessert for each of them and two rocks glasses that were empty save ice. “I made our favorites. After all, this is a special night. Now don’t move,” she said then disappeared into the house.
Not a minute later, she came back with a picnic basket. Out of it poured a blanket, the top of a bourbon bottle, and the rich scent of good tobacco. He helped her spread the blanket out on the grass just beyond the porch. He poured each a drink. She served the desserts.
When the food was done, they rested against each other talking, smoking, drinking, laughing, and watching the stars wink out one by one by one.
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