Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Last, Best

After the accident, I drifted apart from Sean, which used to be a terrible thing to say about your twin brother, but we were all drifting then, the entire human race.

Anomie, the news anchors called it, back when there were still news anchors, and news for them to report, and people who cared to hear it. We couldn’t get anyone to take care of Sean, give him therapy, prescribe his meds, because every, almost everyone had just ceased caring. Mass suicides stopped being news. Cities burned, farms lay fallow, ships ran aground. It happened so fast, in just a few years, and I thought, well, maybe we’ve just run our course.

Crazy ideas had crept into my brother’s head through the cracks left there after the crash. Next door, a young mother left her baby to bake in the sun, while she jumped off the roof, and Sean hammered all night long, constructing a rainbow bridge from the shed to the garage, and I wandered off, because I didn’t feel, yet, like killing myself, and I wasn’t going to stay there and watch my brain damaged brother create more insanity.

The woods were all right, and the mountains, places where animals still ran and plants still grew, but whatever disease had infected us spread. Something ate away at the wilderness, sucked up the moisture, and receded, leaving yellow dust in its wake.

For years, I had felt content enough to eat berries and leaves, snare small animals and pretend not to witness the decline of human civilization, but one day the desert took over. Looking up, realizing nothing remained, I felt what the others had felt. Finish it, I thought. You’re just prolonging the inevitable. Your species is done for.

“Don’t do it,” a voice said, although no one had spoken to me in many months. He seemed almost to float over the sand, this tall, elfin interloper, pale of hair and skin, like a man cut from the same fabric as the desert. “We aren’t many left, but it’s not over. It isn’t.”

So I shrugged and followed, since nothing remained here.

“We need men like you,” he said as we walked. “Survivors. We’re rebuilding, regrouping. You’ll see.”

And he opened my eyes to the little signs my death-hungry mind had missed when I decided to end it: trees that still lived, grass pushing through rubble, small birds. And soon we came to some ruins, what had once been a city, and I saw women, the first women I had seen in so long I could not remember, sweeping away rocks and hanging out wet laundry, hammering posts and climbing poles.

“We had to go up, a little,” my rescuer said. “Elevate ourselves this time.”

Over our heads, a scaffolding trailed like a vine, wooden planks and walkways twenty feet above the ground. “Come on up,” a man, sunburned with a devil-may-care grin, called to me from the sky, and finally my heart woke, shook off the anomie, and longed to answer.

“Never mind him,” said my guide. “You need to meet the big man. The architect. The inspiration for everything.”

And we walked on, past more and more scaffolds, until we stopped, and there, dangling from a wooden ledge, hung my brother.


“I figured it all out,” he said, thumping his chest.

“You did this?”

“Someone had to. We needed a better way. Had to create something new. A fresh start for all of us. You’ll stick around this time, won’t you?”

My eyes swept over the funny playground rising up from the ruins of the past, and my brother’s eyes, sparkling with possibility. That small, devastating moment, the cracking of my brother’s head, had blossomed into our last, best hope.

“Where do I get a hammer?”