Jill was sitting at her desk and just about ready for bed when her sister Michelle burst breathlessly through the doorway, her oversized red-and-white plaid flannel shirt reeking of cigarette smoke, her blond hair stiff, brittle, and tousled. "Stay there. Don't move. I've got a bulletin," Michelle said. She dashed out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind her.
Jill hadn't done much work before her sister's arrival. She'd breezed through Romeo and Juliet, her lab book was in acceptable shape, her Latin vocabulary was memorized. She had exited the bedroom once, only to find her father still in his black pants, white shirt, and clip-on black necktie, snoring on the couch with the TV still on--the sports reporter on the Channel 9 News yammering about Walter Payton and the Chicago Bears' 35-7 trouncing of the Detroit Lions. The rest of the time she had spent thinking about nuclear war and the end of the universe. There had been a field trip to the Adler Planetarium the previous week, and she and Muley Wills had spent most of the time making fun of the Sky Show narrator, who imbued every syllable he uttered with great importance: "Perhaps [pause] there will come [pause] a new [deep breath] Ice [pause] AGE. Perhaps [pause] the Earth's [pause] gravitational PULL [pause] will draw the moon ITSELF [pause] to its SURFACE."
She hadn't listened carefully to the narration, only enough to mock it with Muley at lunch in the cafeteria, which may have been immature but seemed far more civil than Connie Sherman's approach. She'd spent the whole Sky Show passing a joint back and forth with Dvorah Kerbis and saying "Decent." At any rate, any deep meaning in the Sky Show eluded her as she and Muley entertained each other at their own lunch table: "Perhaps [pause] this sloppy [pause] JOE is [pause] the most REPULSIVE [pause] thing the UNIVERSE [pause] has ever KNOWN." Until Shmuel Weinberg asked their Science teacher, Dr. Bender, something no one else had considered.
What did it mean about the moon being pulled down by the Earth's gravity, Shmuel wanted to know. Dr. Bender said it was a good question. He said it meant that one day, "a long time from now," the Earth would pull the moon down to its surface and there would be a gigantic explosion. Then the Earth would get its very own set of rings, "just like Saturn."
Shmuel contemplated Dr. Bender's response. "Wouldn't that destroy things?" he asked.
"Oh, don't worry," said Dr. Bender. "We'll all be dead by then."
"That's right," Connie Sherman blurted out cheerfully. "From nuclear war."
Jill had rolled her eyes during the exchange. But ever since, whenever her thoughts wandered, invariably they settled on these two images: the destruction of the Earth by a crash-landing Moon; the destruction of the Earth by nuclear war. And then an image of her mother would come to her, an image of the conversation they'd had after the first week of Aleph at Hebrew school. Rabbi Einstein had discussed an old Jewish legend about the end of the world--he said it was referenced obliquely in the Adon Olam, the prayer that terrified Jill because of the one line of it she remembered, "And in the end, when all will cease to be, he will remain the eternal king," and didn't that seem odd, that God, or G-D, or Hashem, as they were supposed to refer to him, would want to remain the eternal king after all would "cease to be"? Wouldn't that just be devastatingly lonely, wouldn't God just want to start the world over and eliminate some of the mistakes he'd made in the first go-round? Death, for example? Or evil? Rabbi Einstein said that Jewish legend held that at the end of the world, all the dead would rise and celebrate together. The story had seemed incomplete, unsatisfying--if they were supposed to celebrate, what would they be celebrating? The end of the world? And did this mean all the dead or just the dead Jews? And if it meant just the Jews, then what would happen to everyone else? Would they have a party too? And what would happen after the party, Jill wanted to know. Would everybody just go back to being dead? Would the party go on eternally? And if so, wouldn't it just be better to end the world now, so everybody could come back? What was G-D waiting for exactly? Was any of this true, she asked her mother, that at the end of the world, everyone would come back?
From Crossing California by Adam Langer. Copyright Adam Langer 2004. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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