It won’t hurt
It’s a tough job, evacuating ten billion people to outside the solar system. The flight takes twenty years, so what’s the point of taking those who won’t live that long anyway? Some folks forged birth certificates, offered bribes. Then the rumour spread that if they catch you the crew push you out into space, without a suit. A horrible death.
The sky is grey. Emily sits by my side; her white hand in my work-worn one looks like a wrinkled pearl. In front of us stretches a desert of broken, useless things. The windows and doors of houses are open. Opposite, a dog has died; the stench reaches our doorstep. No pets, they’d said.
Soon the sun will explode, turning everything into a humid cloud. We’re sitting on the porch, closer than ever before, and the wind chases scraps of the world towards us.
“Would you like something to drink?” Emily asks. I squeeze her hand and let go of it almost immediately. She comes back composed, bringing tea, made the way I like it: strong and sweet. A book flies by like a paper bird. I catch it: it’s a story of indigenous tribes from far-off places, with a lot of photos. I remember seeing similar ones in my childhood: South American Indians, half-naked, wearing bone necklaces. They don’t know what’s happened. For them nothing has changed; they’re probably sitting in front of their homes just like me, and when the sky explodes they’ll think the gods have returned to take them home. I close the book and let it fly away.
A bra comes next, huge as a tent. It lands straight in my face. It’s completely odourless. Usually underwear smells of a woman (I like that), of washing powder, of newness, but this thing is like cling film, no smell, none at all. The owner of the giant breasts is probably somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn now and it won'tdoesn’t even cross her mind that someone on earth is pawing her underwear. I feel revulsion that’s almost physical. I unclench my fingers. The bra soars into the sky.
‘I’m cold’ says Emily. ‘And I can’t see you properly any more.’
I hold on to her. The wind is rising. A cloud of paper passes us, which turns out to be a clutch of pages from the Bible; it i's followed by the head of a doll, a handbag, a piece of thin cable, a net, a keyboard, then a whole swarm of bizarre objects that we old folk don’t know much about. That’s all they've left us.
‘Don’t be.’ I reply, ‘It’ll only last a moment. It won’t hurt.’
A kitten has wandered up to us, a tiny tabby. It doesn’t give a toss about the wind or the end of the world. It just lies there, purring.
Not long ago old people still demonstrated, shouted, signed petitions. I was one of them; I believed to the last that we'd be allowed to leave. Now they’re hiding in their homes. Our neighbour has dug out a shelter in his garden. He says he’ll survive, but he doesn’t believe it himself.
I have a cup of tea in my hand and a cat in my lap. I don’t have to do anything any longer. The wind gets stronger, throwing dust into my eyes despite the sunglasses. We look at the sun, I drink. The air shimmers, and suddenly everything becomes brighter. There's a gust of hot wind. Emily presses my hand. Her touch is good; it lets me know I’m still alive.