10… My yearning could have deforested Maine; it continued for days, ever since I saw her, open-faced like the books on display in the museum gift shop.
9… I spent my days at the gift shop mulling over the dictionary. I glared at words I would never use. They sprawled before me like a map to every conversation I’d fumbled. There was an exhibit on the five extinctions running at the time; as a result, ordovician was my latest lexical conquest. I was trifling between the uses for flammable and inflammable when she walked up to the counter. “I’d like to buy this,” she said, putting a mind-numbing volume on Egyptology, in front of me. I scanned it anyway. She looked at me, even after I’d corralled the heavy book into two layers of paper bags and handed it to her. I paused.
“Did you know flammable and inflammable mean the same thing?” I asked. She laughed like a peal of bells and took the bag from the counter.
“I didn’t, Reyna,” she said, leaning forward to look at my name tag. My heart dropped into my stomach and started dissolving in my stomach acid.
8… The exhibits glowed in the morning. It was a shame the visitors couldn’t see it like this, the light catching fire as the sun rose into the skylight over the model of the T. Rex. I learned my Egyptologist’s name was Julia, the music-loving children’s docent who sang silly songs about a meteor hitting the planet. She tuned her guitar next to the podium in front of the taxidermied tiger, its amber eyes glassy and lifeless. How anything could be lifeless in her light, I would never understand.
Julia took me through the hall of animals as I shirked my responsibilities in the gift shop—later, my manager would give me a metric ton of shit for it, but in the moment, I just wanted to be warmed by her fire. We stood in front of a pair of taxidermied albatross, and she told me how they mated for life, and how sailors thought they were good omens. She looked at me, and something melancholy flickered through her eyes and slashed me in the chest. I’d always heard an albatross was bad luck.
7… I have been learning how to play the guitar. No matter what I do, my fingers don’t curve the same way hers do, bending and weaving between the strings as if it’s second nature, as if it’s so easy as to look and listen and feel. I have never been good at listening, or at feeling.
6… When I was a child, I had a fascination with photographs. I wanted to be in as many of them as possible, so long as there was no chance of finding them later, tucked away between the pages of some family album. I bombed as many photos as possible, looking directly into the lens, unafraid of getting caught. I found one of these photos at a party—the host is a toothy grade-schooler, all smiles and melted ice cream, and there I am behind her left ear, staring balefully into the camera. I looked at the photo, and the photo looked back at me, and I promptly left.
5… The first time Julia and I had sex, we stumbled our way into my studio apartment. She commented on how spartan it was; I didn’t have the heart to say that I had walked into an Ikea and bought an entire model room. She was enchanted by sliding around on my hardwood floors with her socks. She rubbed her hand up and down my naked back as I called my mother over the phone. “No, Ma, nothing’s falling apart here. Everything is fine. We’re all even still going to work…yes, Ma, the museum is still open…” I shivered as Julia scraped her nails across my skin. “I have to go. Don’t worry.” I looked at her and she looked back at me. For a split second, I felt like running, but I kept looking at her, and she kept looking at me, and I found myself speaking—“Everything is fine.” And I meant it.
4…Her apartment, I would later find out, was full of photos and records and shelves spilling over with books.While she poured me a glass of wine, I scrutinized the thrifted frames of memories. I was particularly taken by a photo of her as a teenager—her family was grinning in yellow ponchos, Niagra Falls rushing behind them. Julia was soaked to the bone and looked absolutely miserable, glaring directly into the camera with a scowl. I looked at her and touched the glass of the frame and didn’t want to run away. I’d stepped into wonderland, and we fucked among her fuzzy throw pillows. “You look beautiful,” she said, and I felt my heart catch fire. We ignored the buzzing of our phones until daylight and consumed each other whole.
3… In March, the skyline caught fire, arches and metal twisting toward the sky like giant candles. I picked at ingrown hairs on my calves, loosened by the heat of the bath. Julia sat on the toilet reading her book out loud and eating licorice straight from the package. It was a tragic love story, and I asked her why she was reading it. It seemed a bit too melancholy for the end of the world. She simply said: “The sad ones are your favorites.” I couldn’t argue. She looked at me fondly; she did this just for me.
2… We pressed our noses to the glass as wildfires spread across the countryside. We didn’t know it yet, but the last evacuation bus just left our street, and would later be engulfed by flames on the expressway. The glass burned, reddening our skin and making our eyes water. We kissed the tears away until there was nothing left.
1… “Kiss me, you’re beautiful,” I said. “This is truly the end of days.”
Sahi Padmanabhan is a writer and journalist in Illinois. Her previous work can be found in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and in 14 East Magazine. When she’s not writing, she’s camping with her dog and knitting floppy sweaters. You can find her on Twitter @sahi_writes or on her website, sahipadmanabhan.com.