I passed Elise the entertainment section and my father passed me the front page and my mother was stuck with the sports. Like all mothers everywhere, she had no use for sports. I read about the drought in Louisiana. We were passing through a red zone labeled "exceptional drought."
"I think the end times have already begun," I said, showing them a picture of a woman standing on the ashes of her house. She had her face in her hands, a couple of smudged children in the background.
"This is nothing compared to what's coming," our father said. "It'll be like nothing we could even imagine. There'll be three 9/11s in a daytornadoes in places that have never seen tornadoes and earthquakes where there are no fault lines. The sun'll turn red as blood and bodies'll be piled up everywhere. Thank God we won't be around to see it." He always sounded so excited when he talked about the tribulations. He liked the idea of all the sinners getting what was coming to them while we were rewarded with eternal life.
"These things have always happened," Elise said, pouring another creamer into her coffee.
"They seem to be happening a lot more now," I said.
"They're just reporting on them more, or they come in cycles we're too young to remember," she said. "I'll tweet Anderson Cooper for some hard stats, it's probably just global warming."
"It seems like everything's global warming." I wasn't sure what global warming was, exactly, but it felt disappointing. Our father didn't believe in it. He said it had been made up by the Left for political gain. I could see him wanting to say something, but our food came and he picked up his napkin and set it on one knee. Then we all bowed our heads.
"Thank you, Lord," he said. I kept my eyes open and watched the cook's legs move, the slight bulge in his pants. "These are simple words, but they come from simple hearts that overflow with the realization of your goodness. We ask you to bless us as we eat, bless this food and bless the hands that prepared it. May the words of our lips spring forth from hearts of gratitude and may we bless others as we fellowship today."
As soon as he said "Amen," Elise was typing on her phone, thumbs moving fast over the keyboard. She stopped and reread it to herself before reading it aloud so I could tell her it sounded good. She loved Anderson Cooper, thought of him as a personal friend. He was gay, thoughnever before had there been so many homosexuals: "If a man also lie with mankind, they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."
While the rest of us ate, Elise drank coffee and paged through the paper. She checked her fingers to see if they were ink-smudged, picked up her phone and set it back down. She was about to cut into her waffle when her phone signaled the arrival of a text message. She smiled and shook her head, so it must have been Dan, the boy who had done this to her, only he didn't know it yet, and maybe never would. She wasn't like the girls from 16 and Pregnant whose boyfriends left them to raise the baby alone, frazzled and post-baby fat, studying for the GED.
When the last of my burger began to fall apart, I pushed my plate away.
"Do you want my waffle?" Elise asked.
"Okay," I said.
"You aren't going to eat anything?" our father asked. He didn't like it when we didn't eat. It made him angry.
"I'm not hungry," she said.
"You need to eat something. You hardly had any dinner last night."
She slid her plate over to me and I scraped butter into the holes, filled them with syrup. Elise was sick with the baby and the driving and she'd always had a weak stomach, like our father. She was the delicate sister, she liked to tell me, which wasn't true, but I'd found there was no use in telling people what they were like.
The waitress wedged the check between the napkin holder and saltshaker and my father picked it up and went over it carefully, running his finger down the column. He had a number 3 in black ink on the back of his right hand. Every morning he scrubbed it clean and wrote a new numbertomorrow would be 2 and then 1 and then 0. At zero, we would be in California, listening to the rapture on the radio or watching it on TV. I still didn't understand why he thought it was important for us to be among the last; it was something he had gotten into his head.
Excerpted from The Last Days of California: A Novel by Mary Miller. Copyright © 2014 by Mary Miller. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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