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The Last Day

Margaret Langendorf is a produced screenwriter, living in the Bay Area with her husband and two children.

Florencia Costello wouldn't leave for a trip without scrubbing the walls of the shower, vacuuming the front carpet and remaking the beds. No exceptions. Who'd want to return to dirty sheets or a filthy bath?
No one, that's who.
"But Ma, we're not coming home. We have to go now. It's an evacuation," her son protested as Florencia pulled on rubber gloves. He tried to get her to look at his phone, at the Official Notification of Evacuation, which his father had forwarded two hours ago, and how did his mother react?
She ignored him. So maybe her son was right and she wouldn't return. But someone else might and they wouldn't find that Florencia Brunilda Costello left this house, her home of thirty years, anything but ship shape. Her daughter, watching this exchange, divined her mother's train of thought.
"Ma, it's a planetary evacuation. Everyone's leaving. No one will see this room ever again. Please, listen. They'll leave us if we don't go."
Ernesto Costello, who'd learned a thing or two in twenty-seven years of marriage to Florencia, shook his head at his children. He loved them dearly, of course, but they were making a simple thing complicated like they used to do when they were teenagers. And here, as young adults, they were at it again. "We must go slow to go fast, children. She has her way," he told them.
"But Dad," his son protested, "if she's going to clean the whole house, she should've started yesterday."
Florencia kept scrubbing, ignoring these people who, in her opinion, were acting like they were raised by wild pigs instead of God-fearing Catholics who put an entire creche scene out in the front yard every year. Shame on them.
"You kids go on ahead," Ernesto said, making a shooing motion, "I'll see to Mama." He handed his son a small envelope that appeared to contain a hotel room key from a La Quinta Inn and gave him a look that discouraged further conversation. Ernesto opened the cleaning supply closet and got out the mop. Talking was over.
Bewildered, but with no other choice, the brother and sister grabbed their backpacks and left. They walked through streets that bustled with organized chaos. Specific evacuees must report to specific places at specific times. Correct identification must be presented. No one wanted riots and looting, leading to eventual stand-offs and martial law. Keep Calm and Carry Your Own Bag.
"Do you think she's going to get left here?"
"Yes," answered her brother, "and Dad's decided to stay with her."
"She's so crazy. What can he do? What can we do?" Her tone was flippant, but the frown on her face mirrored her brother's worried expression. "He won't leave her and that's the way it is."
Arriving at their designated evacuation location, Florencia's children were puzzled. They looked around. Signs hanging on street posts lent the place an air of readiness, but the intersection was completely empty. Instead of the crowds they'd expected, there wasn't a soul in sight.
A sign that read LAST NAME A-E hung on a wall next to a huge copy of the evacuation order. They scrutinized it and compared it to the one on their phones. The two were identical. The siblings looked around again, baffled.
Until a second inspection revealed one small difference. The date on the notice forwarded by their father was one day earlier than the date on the wall.
Florencia's son laughed first, joined by his sister as the truth dawned on her. Laughter mingled with relief. Dad knew Ma so well. "Go slow to go fast indeed. He changed the date," she said to her brother as they crossed the street to the La Quinta Inn where their father had considerately booked them a room. "Come on. I'll buy you a beer."
"Beats scrubbing the shower on our last night here," he said.
"Amazingly, not for everyone," she shook her head and they linked arms and headed straight into the hotel bar.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 9th, 2016

Author Comments

"The Last Day" was inspired by a discussion of the exact moment we each realized our spouse was crazy, but we loved him/her anyway. [My late grandmother scrubbed her tub while the ambulance was on the way to take her in for what turned out to be (successful) triple bypass surgery. I understand. --Jonathan]

- Margaret Langendorf
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