36. The Morning After

Part 2 of the 'The Chosen' series. (Previously.)

THE DAY AFTER THE end of the world was going to be hot - hot with a desert heat, an end of the world heat. Wallis, waking up before dawn as always, went through the house and did what she could to keep the house cool, to keep the heat from seeping in. It was a hopeless cause, but no one could match Wallis for hope. With eyes still shut I heard her progressing through all the rooms in the house, opening doors, closing windows, pulling blinds shut. In truth I’d hardly slept throughout the night, whereas Jamaica, her head resting on her hand, which in turn rested on my shoulder, hadn’t moved. My shoulder was aching with her weight. There would be nights to come, I knew, when I would shift position gently so that we could both sleep, but I didn’t want it to be this night, our first night – not our first night of friendship, but our first night of love. Anyway, I don’t think I would have slept any better had I been alone. There was much to think about – like what would become of us all now that MacKendry’s prophecies had failed. Perhaps MacKendry would try to save face, try to retrospectively reinterpret his own prophecies to build in an element of failure, only to set us up again for another, even more elaborate apocalypse. I didn’t know if he had it in him. I really believed then, and I still do, in spite of everything that has since happened, that MacKendry had a sliver of goodness at the heart of all that madness. But lying there with Jamaica’s head sleeping on my shoulder I knew it was already too late for me. For Jamaica too. It didn’t matter what MacKendry said and did, from that time forward, something had changed in us. We’d become different people. It felt like, in the space of a few hours, we had woken from a strange dream. Not a nightmare. It wasn’t a nightmare. For all those weeks and months we had lived a kind of happiness, I knew that even then. If I was disappointed, it wasn’t just disappointment in MacKendry that I felt, and it wasn’t even disappointment in myself. The disappointment was the suspicion – the premonition even – that we would never be happy like that again. I’d watched dawn break with these thoughts speeding around in my mind, while Jamaica slept on my shoulder, and even as the first glimmer of blue light leaked into the perfect darkness of night I could tell it was going to be the kind of day that would make us want to stay – that our first day back in the real world would be something like the end of the world that MacKendry had predicted. Then Wallis entered my room. I opened my eyes and our gazes met. I expected her to lose her temper, seeing the two of us lying naked together, like she would have done in the old days, which had ended just hours before but already seemed so long ago. Instead she gave us a sympathetic look – something that you could even, without too much of a stretch, call a smile. I must admit, her reaction confused me. It took a few seconds for me to understand it: of course. Everything had changed for Wallis too – especially for Wallis, even. The old rules didn’t apply anymore, not even for the stalwart of the Community, the keeper of the rules, the enforcer of the law. The smile she gave, as subtle as it was, was an acknowledgment: you and me both kid, and the girl, too. We’ve all been taken in. We were all had. We all wasted our time. But at that moment I had another thought: in spite of everything, she had still woken up at her usual time, she was still doing her rounds as she had always done, she was still keeping to the schedule. Everything had changed, and yet nothing had changed. For Wallis, there was nothing else, and nowhere else to go. For a few seconds there I was almost moved to tears, although I can’t understand why. At that moment, there was something so sad and beautiful about her, and the sadness and the beauty were two separate things, and I knew I would never be able to bring them together, no matter how hard I tried. Wallis drew the blinds, plunging the room into a darkness so comforting it was enough to convince you to never, ever leave. And yet as soon as she had stepped out again to continue her rounds, I just knew I had to wake Jamaica up, that we needed to go straight away, that the longer we waited the harder it would be to go.