by Henry Sane
The world ended one night as I was sitting on the toilet. At the time, I remember I was peacefully reading Amerika by Franz Kafka, having just finished the very last word of the second-to-last chapter. Chapter six, I think. Maybe seven.
And then the world ended.
Naturally, being that it was the end of the world, it was one of those times when you remember everything about the moment—what you were doing, who you were with, what was in the air, and so on. Like where you were when you heard a beloved celebrity was shot, or what color tie your father was wearing when he came out of the closet. Sensory recognition. You can’t forget these kinds of moments, short of suffering amnesia or some other memory-blanking trauma. And you can’t forget the details either. Me, I was half-naked, sitting on my toilet, reading Kafka when the world ended. I could hear the monotonous buzz of the overhead air vent and the trickling of water from my faulty sink faucet. I tasted nothing, felt nothing particularly memorable in the line of the physical or the emotional. The lingering stench of shit was perhaps the most unforgettable. All in all, everything, internally and externally, was very peaceful. Both before and after the world ended, very peaceful.
Perhaps I should clarify—the world didn’t properly end, as one might expect of such a thing. After all, I still existed. As did my bathroom. And the Earth was obviously still there. There was no explosion, or implosion, or redirection or derailment of our orbit around the Sun. No noticeable increase or decrease in temperature or breathable air. No chaos, no hideous mutations, no cannibalism. There was just me. And my bathroom. And an empty void that encompassed everything else.
I’d just finished the very last word of Amerika’s second-to-last chapter when the violent rattling began. Something like an earthquake, but far more jarring and profound. Much quicker also. And whereas an earthquake is like a ten-second upheaval of mountainous wobbling, during which certainty is abruptly discarded like yesterday’s garbage, this was like having your mind separated from body and time, sucked through a black hole, and instantly replaced. And also unlike an earthquake, you knew from the very moment of the tumultuous onset exactly what was happening. But in that fraction-of-a-second moment of intensity, you also realize it’s already come and gone.
So don’t ask me how—but I knew without a doubt I’d just survived the end of the world.
I’d already begun dealing with it—emotionally speaking—before my mind had returned to my body.
The internal conversation went smoothly enough:
It’s the end of the world, said one side.
That’s right, replied the other. So?
So what will you do?
What will I do? Huh? What are you getting at?
It’s the end of the world… Surely you’ve got a plan, yes?
Yes. But it’s the end of the world, and we both know that.
So at the end of the world, you throw out your plans and start over.
So what’s the use in formulating a plan now?
But you said you already had a plan—
That’s right, I did. My plan is to forget about plans. How can we possibly be expected to formulate a proper plan at a time like this, beyond the plan of non-planning, of course? We haven’t even reconnected yet! Once everything internally gets back into place, we’ll sort out the external accordingly. Sound?
Then I chimed in:
The end of the world is a plan all in itself, forced upon us all. There’s no use fighting one Godzilla of a plan with one little BB gun of a plan. We’ll scope out the end of the world, pretend it’s a blueprint for the future of mankind and go from there.
That sounds like a plan, replied the first side.
So it does, agreed the other.
Instinctively, I knew it was the end of the world. I didn’t learn it from the voices and they didn’t learn it from me; we all just figured it out at the same time. I knew it before the cave-in of the bathroom door, the landing point of some weighty debris. I knew it before that faint hint of sulfur hit the air. And I knew it before the air returned to the familiar smell of shit.
Without the need to test it, I was sure I was trapped—trapped in the bathroom at the end of the world. I could have easily cleaned up and tried to shuffle through the tiny crack between the large debris and the doorframe; but the debris was so massive and so obviously cumbersome that even the thought of moving it was completely pointless.
So there I sat. On my toilet at the end of the world. No one, no thing, existed beyond the walls surrounding. And I was sure of it. Still, I wanted to remain positive. Instead of thinking about what I knew there wasn’t, I tried to think of what perhaps there was, if anything, left beyond my bathroom walls. But it was useless. I just couldn’t conjure the thought. Maybe in that split second, when the world ended, I formed a mental block, whereby some fragment of my subconscious refused to pass hopeful information through the necessary channels to reach my conscious mind. Actually, my way of thinking was rather odd in this respect. Assorted words and phrases came frequently to mind, as they normally might after any tragic occurrence, but no pictures or meaning came attached to them. Words like fire, death, misery, desolation, obliteration, re-population, fear, rubble, bodies, loss, nothingness—
It all just bounced right off as if I’d reverted to infancy. The words could have just as easily been hamburger, astronomy, condom and Pileated Woodpecker.
After about thirty minutes of very calm acceptance—it was almost meditation, minus the specific intent to find calmness—I decided to continue reading Kafka. I never knew before I began the final chapter that Kafka had never properly finished the novel. The final chapter comes out of nowhere, after leaving a mostly unresolved second-to-last chapter, and essentially the story finishes nowhere. All in all though, an enjoyable read. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who’s just survived the end of the world.
With nothing better to do, I decided to start reading Amerika again from the beginning, optimistic that this time it would turn out better. Maybe in my first read-through, I thought, I’d approached it in the wrong frame of mind. I don’t usually read novels twice. Too many on the “to read” pile. But I wanted to catch something new that would unite this novel’s broken pieces. I just can’t stand a story that ends like that.
So there I sat, on my toilet, trapped in the bathroom at the end of the world, opening Amerika for one more read-through.
HENRY SANE is a 26-year old enthusiast of literature. He reads it, writes it and, at Columbus State University, studies it. He plans to earn his degree in English Literature in the Fall of 2011. His favorite activities include cemetery war dances, hopscotch, and bumping into random people so as to fulfill the void for human contact. On occasion, he reports the uncanny ability to eat an entire bag of pretzels. His writing varies in style, ranging from the frightening to the absurd, from the grotesque to the whimsical, and from the readable to sheer wiping material.