Jasper hadn’t known what to do, so he’d gone fishing. He sat on a dock, surrounded by a blur of green forest. The sky was pale. The wind had whipped the clouds into frothy, floating egg whites above him. It was like a goddamn Bob Ross painting, he thought.
Jasper’s hands smelled like bait. The fishy smell of freeze-dried death. Every time he scratched his nose or combed his long hair back with his fingers, he smelled it. It evoked the memory of an aquarium he had visited when he was a kid. One whiff, and he was transported back there. He remembered being given a tiny paper cup with chopped up fish parts for a quarter. He remembered the seals, the way they howled. The tank that was too small for their blubbery bodies. Their barks weren’t full of life. The yelping was just to remind themselves that they weren’t dead. It had made him sick back then, the smell of fish, the imprisoned creatures. He hadn’t wanted to dangle the fish pieces over the side like his brothers had done. Instead, he’d chucked the whole cup into the water so the seals wouldn’t have reason to jump up and bite off his digits. They may look cute, but those fuckers have teeth.
Hanging his feet off the dock, he thought about those seals. He wondered how the seals felt about themselves, being hand-fed pre-cut fish when all they wanted was the thrill of gliding through the ocean and chomping on a real, live, swimming fish. Probably not great for the old self-worth, he concluded. That’s why Jasper liked to fish. It made him feel he’d done something.
Birds weren’t even chirping. Where were the birds? There’s nothing scary about being alone, he thought, unless you’re boring. Then it’s fucking terrifying. Jasper always had the sneaking suspicion that everyone else found him boring. I guess I’ll never know if I was right, he thought.
He considered reeling in and recasting. No fish were biting. Where were all the fish? At 3 pm the sky turned orange. Not with the sunset, but with the radiation. It tinted everything the color of goldfish. A titian dust rustled through the trees. It hadn’t reached him yet. But it would.
Still, no bites.
Jasper was hungry, really hungry. His sandwich was sitting beside him on wax paper that crinkled in the wind. He wanted to eat it, but knew the melting mayonnaise and drying roast beef and sloppy pepper jack would be ruined by the fishy odor on his hands, so he didn’t.
He readjusted his legs and held the pole half-heartedly with his left hand. He had an impulse to look at his phone, an act indicative of his age during moments of silence and little stimulation. Then he remembered: his phone was dead. They were all dead. He had had 112 missed calls before the phones died. Hours ago, his girlfriend Amy had called him, frantic, screaming, crying. She was safe, well in relation to everyone else in Missoula, because everyone else was dead. She’d asked him, right before the cell towers exploded, why he was heading up to the lake, and if “heading up to the lake,” was a euphemism for suicide, and what the fuck, and why didn’t he love her, and why why why why why?
He’d replied, “I don’t know how to do anything about the fucking apocalypse, Amy. I do know how to go fishing. So, I’m going to go fishing.”
Another bomb went off, this time closer. It shook the dock. Orange-tinted grey ash rained down on the mountains and the trees and Jasper and his lunch, like flour being sifted into a bowl. I should have eaten my fucking sandwich, Jasper thought, shaking the ash from his hair, not daring to guess what or who the ash was before it was ash.
It seemed to matter less and less about his bait-stained hands. He grabbed the sandwich, unwrapped it, enjoying each action, each tiny crinkling of the waxy paper, the layers of meat and condiments, the little falling shredded lettuce. He took a bite of it, taking in each flavor in a way one only could with the certainness of finality. Even the fishy taste seemed like a sublime addition to the meal.
ANNAMARIE DAVIDSON is a writer with a background in stand-up comedy and a future in science fiction. Her first play, Seven Decembers, is debuting in Los Angeles this fall. When not writing about time travel and talking lobsters, she proofreads friends’ resumes in exchange for candy. www.annamariedavidson.com