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In the Blue Buzz

I went to the gym on the day before the world ended. No one greeted me at the door when I came in, but I scanned in my member number anyway, surprised that the place was open.
The bank of elliptical machines was empty except for a young woman in a college sweat shirt and pink running shorts who worked the pedals hard, pushed the handles quickly, efficiently, sweat dripping from her chin and elbows.
One of the salesmen sat at his desk, signing up a couple for a new membership. This is the day before the world ended! Everyone knew it was ending. The man took out his credit card. "We'll sign up for the month-long trial," he said.
"It's on the house," said the salesman.
"Run it anyways," said the man.
Today was for my upper body, so I did sets on the bench press, lat machine, and upright row. As I strained at the weight, a haiku came to me whole. I stopped to write it down. I'd been told a writer should always have a notebook with him.
Summer dies in wind
A green field of corn burns brown
Dead stalks fall in rows
My shoulders ached as I left. I needed ibuprofen.
When I passed Warehouse 25, a bar in town, the parking lot was half full at 10:00 am, so was the parking lot at St. Anne's, the Catholic church on North Ave. Pretty busy for a Tuesday, but not all that surprising, considering.
At the pharmacy, I stood behind an old guy who leaned on his walker. He picked up a new prescription to lower his cholesterol. I noticed he'd tucked a box of nicotine patches under his arm.
"I've been meaning to quit," he said.
The sky outside didn't look any different. Light, wispy clouds. They say that Morrigan is about twelve miles wide, but that's an estimate. They named it after some Celtic mythical figure. All Ragnaroky of the astronomers, I thought. The fuzzy pictures show what looks like a bowling pin, not that the shape matters much. The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs was half the size. They also say that it will only take a few seconds to punch through the atmosphere, so there won't be much time to watch it.
A car roared past the pharmacy going at least a hundred miles an hour. Convertible with the top down, a couple people in the front seat. The road ends in a T-intersection a half mile farther, but I guess they knew that.
I waited at the light on Fifth and Main. A woman pushed a stroller across the street in front of me. She adjusted the canopy to keep the sun off her baby's face. She nodded, and I waved back. "Nice day," she called to me.
"Indeed."
The golf course smelled of fresh-cut lawn. A grounds man steered a tractor down the sixteenth fairway, grass flying from the mowers . A threesome stood in the rough, their golf bags dangled from their shoulders. They looked like high school kids. Ditching school, no doubt. Why not? Last chance to get a round in.
Somewhere someone screamed, maybe on the golf course. It ululated, echoed, and hardly sounded human.
I couldn't think of a reason to go home, so I drove. Another haiku came to me:
A million leaves fall
A vast tree is stripped, barren
Its sap heart beats slow
My writing professor had asked me earlier in the quarter if I wanted to write for an audience or for myself, as if it was a Zen riddle. "Most writing is never read," he said.
"And what is popular the world quickly forgets."
I ended up back at the glass-fronted athletic club. The elliptical machines face the parking lot. I suppose so people can see other people working out.
The woman in the sweatshirt and pink running shorts wasn't alone anymore. Four others had joined her, working their machines hard. Outside, I couldn't hear them. No whirring metal. No measured breathing. All visual. Sustained effort. As if they planned on staying on their ellipticals until tomorrow.
I caressed the steering wheel. If I took the car a few blocks away from the club and then turned around, I could have it up to a hundred miles an hour before the street ended, or I could go into Warehouse 25. They make a mean Moscow Mule. Ginger beer and vodka until the end wouldn't be the worst way to spend my time.
I could go to Saint Anne's.
No family. No close friends. It would just be me, but isn't that the same for all of us... I mean, when you come right down to it? No one really shares your last moment. Emily Dickenson said she heard a fly buzz when she died. She called it a "a blue--uncertain--stumbling buzz."
It comes down to that.
I turned the car onto Main. The air washed through the widow, stirred a hamburger wrapper on my back seat. How could I describe that? What verb would work? Did it rasp? Did it crackle? Did it scrape?
That's how a writer thinks. That is, if I was a writer. How would I ever know? I was still taking my first class.
I slid down the street thoughtfully, fifteen miles per hour in a thirty miles per hour zone. If anyone pulled up behind me, they'd be pissed.
Lots of shops were closed. No cars in their parking lots. No lights inside. But the bagel shop's OPEN glowed. I pulled in.
They make a mean cup of coffee. The bagels are excellent. I took my notebooks in with me. Ordered an onion bagel, toasted and buttered, then set it on a back table.
A blank piece of paper invites the hand.
It asks for ink.
Today would be a good day to start that novel.
I wrote, "Chapter One," on the top of the first sheet, paused for a moment, and then began writing.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, July 12th, 2019
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