We were talking about the world ending. The possibility of the earth slipping off its cone and melting into a sticky mess. Frothy blue-green waves taller than the town monument drowning us like a washing machine set on rinse and then spin. The earth’s crust snapping into pieces like a shared chocolate bar. But for the end of the world there would be no-one waiting with a mouth saliva-wet, no sweet moment of eyes shut in bliss.
We didn’t usually talk about these things. Mondays were ripe with weekend gossip that Danielle rolled across her tongue. Liv alongside her, joining in with a natural confidence that made my throat heavy as if I had swallowed one of Mum’s large oval shaped vitamins. Ryan and I were the quiet ones, not that I minded the label, or being grouped with him.
It was the lady in the plum suit who had started the discussion. Armageddon, that’s the word for it. We were walking out of the back end of the school on our way to Jones Street. We were happy in that simple way that finishing school for the day could make you. Leaving the grey slabs of concrete behind you, the formulas and essay worries dissolving.
She saw us before we saw her, the lady in the plum suit. She was standing on the corner on the street waiting. Her stop-light lips were stretched across her cheekbones revealing pebble-shaped teeth. In her hand she held up a magazine, small hands attached to tinier wrists. I knew it was called The Watch Tower. I had seen Dad find it in the mailbox along with the other ink-saturated catalogues, and use it for kindling in the fire.
The plum suit lady didn’t say anything, just smiled. Her tiny wrists were the colour of bone. We could have said nothing, left her to it, but Danielle was being her usual playful self, which I either found ridiculously funny or annoying.
‘Look! It’s one of those Jo-Hos!’ Danielle raised her eyebrows at the magazine, her hands pinned to her sides.
‘Don’t be so cruel Dani,’ Liv said, laughing.
‘Armageddon,’ Danielle read. ‘The end of the world.’ She was silent for a moment but then giggled. Under the text was a photo of an explosion similar to those in action films that guys seem to like because it must be manly to like disaster and chaos. Red and orange fire spat into the sky, rain like lava falling from the heavens. The end of the world would kill us all.
Danielle stared at the lady who remained frozen in her smile. Danielle leaned closer to her and lowered her voice, ‘We’re not big on imaginary friends, are we guys?’
The magazine remained high, still in the summer air.
‘You know what they teach us at school?’ Danielle raised her chin, ‘Science. The real world. Not to listen to nutters like you.’
I thought I saw the lady’s mouth twitch slightly to say something, defend herself. But Danielle had lost interest and started plaiting her straightened hair with a slight smirk.
‘C’mon Dani, I’m starving!’ Liv grabbed Danielle’s hand and tugged it like a small toddler pulling on a mother’s hand. It didn’t matter what Ryan and I did really, if we followed them or drifted off towards home with our bags of books. Danielle and Liv were so far ahead that they didn’t see Ryan accept a magazine from the lady. He folded it in half and shoved it in his back pocket. He followed the girls whistling. I bit down on my bottom lip to stifle a laugh.
‘That lady was such a freak!’ Danielle said as we sat on the grass outside of the Jones Street takeaway store. It was scratchy summer grass that even a dog wouldn’t want to take a crap on. We usually sat on the white plastic chairs, four seats to the left of the store under the blue and red umbrella. It was a kind of tradition, double biology followed by a trip to Jones Street. We would spread in front of us our paper baby of yellow chips covered in chunks of gravy, and sneak glances of Natasha and the others sitting on the right.
But Natasha and her group had plonked their perfect arses on our seats. Liv gave them the finger but she did it in a way that they couldn’t see. I pulled my white socks over my knees even though my skin prickled with tiny red dots. I could feel sweat pooling under my knees.
‘Don’t you think, Liv?’ Danielle asked.
‘Yeah totally. Freaky lady.’ Liv rescued a handful of mushy chips from the sea of gravy. The sky stretched out above us like a large blue ink stain.
‘But I do feel sorry for her, living a life like that,’ Danielle said.
Liv nodded and I found my head bobbing along as well.
‘But it makes you think, doesn’t it?’
We all turned. Ryan rarely spoke full sentences but when he did he spoke slowly and with precision. He grinned at us and I couldn’t help grinning back. Those spiral curls, the permanently sunburnt nose that used to annoy me but now I quite like.
‘What the hell do you mean?’ Danielle screwed up her nose. She seemed pissed off that Ryan had spoken. I don’t know why, perhaps she thought he had broken his role as the male mute.
‘Your impending mortality, say you only have one day left. Would that change anything? Would you live differently?’ Ryan raised his eyebrows.
‘I don’t like to think about death,’ Danielle said. ‘It’s morbid.’
‘I would sleep with James Kinross!’ Liv blurted. Her cheeks puffed pink as we all turned to stare at her. ‘Well he’s a babe. And I don’t want to die without knowing what it’s like.’
‘To die a virgin! Oh so sad!’ Danielle said.
‘Oh shut-up, you.’ Liv laughed and slapped her on the shoulder. ‘And what would you do, miss? Nail Ryan Gosling maybe?’
Danielle looked down at her nails, a perfect French manicure that she must have spent hours on.
‘I’d do all the things my parents tell me not to do. Steal, lie, jump off Rowland’s bridge topless. Oh yeah, and tell Natasha and the others that they’re ugly sluts.’ Danielle and Liv laughed hysterically. They threw their heads back, their thick dyed hair tumbling down their backs.
I looked at Ryan who was lying on his stomach, head propped up with his hand. He seemed peaceful. I wanted to ask him what he would do. Would his final days include fulfilling an erotic fantasy or some kind of final vengeance? I couldn’t imagine he would want either of those things. Ryan was too thoughtful. He’d have a plan. He’d make that last day worthwhile. But the moment had escaped us, like a loose coin rolled under a vending machine.
The sun was melting into the ink sky. I wrapped up the remains of the paper baby and chucked it in the bin. Dad would lose his shit if I wasn’t home soon.
‘See you guys tomorrow.’
My voice sounded foreign. Danielle and Liv waved me away. They were scrolling through their phones, all thumbs and glazed-out eyes. Ryan turned to me and winked.
‘Bye Hannah.’ His hand patted his pocket, our folded secret.
If there was a god – or an imaginary friend – I hoped they didn’t make the world melt just yet.
Image: Alex Jones
Shannon McKeogh is a freelance writer based in Melbourne @shannylm