(Officially the oddest thing I have ever written,
THE CITY, EMPTYING, AT THE END OF THE WORLD
Because it is the week before the apocalypse, even these streets are quiet: empty of old men with red umbrellas and shabby coats who swear vividly at the pigeons; of women pushing perambulators in too-steep heels; of small girls on their toes, noses and fingertips pressed flat against shop windows; of couples kissing and quarrelling in the shade of doorways; of the girl in the red boots who stands on the street-corner week after week, waiting to fall in love. November’s last leaves, cold on the asphalt where no cars go, say hush. The boys with their guitars in the alleyways and sidewalks hush and go home to make love to their sweethearts. The mothers shouting shrilly to one another across playground benches hush and take their children by the hands. The old men, who know Death a little better, keep on swearing at the pigeons, but they, too, wander home, to finish whatever it is they’ve been doing tomorrow for half a lifetime. No-one is buying ice-cream, magazines, violins, rocking horses, bracelets, cigarettes, handkerchiefs, scarves, bread, suitcases, fountain pens, needles, summer dresses, china dolls, gingerbread, alarm clocks, roller skates, armchairs, encyclopaedias, stockings, lipstick, toothpaste, shoes. Nobody loots anymore – that stopped after the first month –; doors swing open, shut, open, and the leaves drift in, and stray cats, who know about the end too, but they are still hungry for mice and pigeons.
The city sits with her windows shuttered, turning the pages of old family photo albums with unsteady hands and drinking a little too much wine and wondering, what will it be like, the very last moments? Someone plays a record much too loud: Bach’s suite in G for solo cello. Someone is weeping. Someone is laughing. Someone bakes a blueberry pie and eats every last crumb, because he has always wanted to do exactly that. Someone phones her mother, across the ocean; “I love you.” She hasn’t said it for thirteen years, though quite suddenly she is not sure why. Someone steps off the roof of their apartment and pretends that they are flying until they hit the pavement below.
On the morning before the end of the world, the sun is pale and stretches long over parking lots and barbershops, street-side cafés and record stores. Another shop door swings open, shut, open, shut. The window says, LAST DAY. SALE. in fearful angles of white paint.
A woman is selling petunias on the street-corner. She is singing songs from the old country for the grandchildren she will not see.
The girl in the red boots buys a bunch of petunias and tucks in jauntily in her hair, just above her ear. She goes down the silent street with her shoulders high and defiant. She still has one more day to fall in love.
images from the video, and this photograph.