Short Story: At the end


Description: A story about a man that reminisces about his life and failures at the end of the world.


Submitted by: Dani

The world ended right after John got done with his eight hour shift.

To be honest, the only emotion he feels right now is a burning irritation. He spent his last day with his hands deep inside other people’s guts, trying to save lives already doomed. And now, in his final moments, his back hurts and his feet throbs and his head is pounding so terribly that not even his tumbler of whiskey is cheering him up.

John was never much of a believer,in God or in the idea of mercy,and he didn’t have a family. Not anymore, at least. So now here he is, sitting on his rugged couch, still in his scrubs and drinking an entire bottle of whiskey by himself. Alone. He swirls his glass around, takes a sip. The liquor burns his throat going down, warming him from the inside.

When did his life become like this? Where did it all go so wrong? The irritation he felt moments ago is fading away and in its place an emotion bubbles up that John knows well. He grabs one of the pink decorative pillows next to him and holds it tenderly, like he once held his daughter ages ago. Just thinking of his little girl sent pangs of longing and grief through his chest. He would do anything to kiss her cheek again, brush her golden hair. Last time he saw her, she reminded him so much of her mother. Oh, Alissa, he thinks numbly, squeezing the pillow tighter. I will never see you or our daughter again.

He remembers the first time he met Alissa. He was in his first year of med school, and she was in her third. They had met at a mutual friend’s party that celebrated the end of the semester. Even now, almost twenty years later, he could picture the exact moment he saw her for the first time. It wasn’t like it was in the movies, where an orchestra played romantic music in the background, his eyes popping out in heart shapes out of his head. No, he caught her eye and awkwardly waved with one of those tight lipped smiles you make when crossing paths with acquaintances. She had looked at him strangely before turning around. Years later, Alissa told him she assumed he was waving to someone else. In that moment, John saw it as a solid rejection and turned and fled with his tail between his legs, cringing at himself.

He was sitting outside on the porch bench when he saw her again.

“Your mom or your dad?” she asked, holding a plastic cup filled with an amber liquid.

“Wha-what?”

He remembered how the way she laughed at him had warmed him up and brought an easy smile to his face as well. Throughout their marriage, that was the thing he loved the most about her; the way her laugh was bright and infectious.

“I asked if it was your mom or your dad.” She rolled her eyes when he still looked confused and went to sit next to him, sipping at her drink. “Don’t take this the wrong way, pretty boy, but I have never seen someone look so out of place as you do. I’ve seen you around campus and I just don’t think you want to be here. So, was it your mom or your dad that wanted you to become a doctor?”

She had seen him around campus? John grinned, feeling somewhat proud that he had caught her attention. Then her question caught up in his love-addled brain. His grin faded, and he fumbled with the strings of his jacket.

“My dad. He’s a neurosurgeon and his father was an orthopaedic surgeon. Both of them came here, so he pulled a few strings and made sure I got in.”

Alissa smiled at him, a smile tinged with what he now realised was bitterness. “Feels good to be a legacy, huh?” she said, clutching her cup a bit tighter. She held it out in offering to him.

“Thank you, but I don’t drink,” John said, waving the cup away.

“Why not?”

“My mother was a heavy drinker. I saw what it did to her and I would rather not take the risk that alcohol destroys me the same way,” he admitted, running a hand through his hair.

Alissa nodded, pulling the cup back and smiled, waving towards his now dishevelled hair.

“With curls like that, you should quit med school and become a model.”

He laughed and held out his hand for a handshake.

“John.”

“Alissa.”

They shook hands, and then, well, the story went like any other cheesy rom-com movie.

They fell in love, got married and had their happily ever after.

John snorts, bringing himself back to the present. He can not believe he was ever so young and foolish to believe in happily ever after. He checks the clock on the wall. 10:45. The reporter had said that NASA expected the meteor to crash into Earth no later than midnight. He still has some time to wallow in alcohol and self-pity.

With shaking hands he grabs his phone. The faces of his wife and daughter on his lockscreen stare up at him and he has to stifle a sob. Almost on autopilot, he calls Alissa’s number. It rang and rang and rang, and with every second passing by John felt more and more miserable. Hearing her voicemail message makes the tears begin to flow in earnest.

“Hi Ally,” he begins, voice cracking. “I know I’m probably the last person you want to talk to right now. It’s just that we might never get a chance to talk again. We had some good times, didn’t we?

Don’t you remember how happy we were? At the start, before everything went to hell? I still remember that day with the pillows like it was yesterday.”

“My dearest, loveliest Ally,” he called her fondly, embracing her from behind. She turned around and gave him a glare, although her smile betrayed her amusement.

“Yes, husband?”

“Why are there about fifty pink pillows on our couch?”

She smirked, running a hand through his hair. “It’s decorative.”

He hummed, pressing closer to her. “I think it’s stupid.”

Alissa gasped, before wrapping her arms around him. “I’ll show you stupid!”

And they laughed and didn’t go to bed for the entire night and he thought that he would always be happy so long as he had her.

He was wrong, of course.

They started trying for a baby a year after their wedding. Alissa had been so happy when she got a positive pregnancy test, and though they both had been late for work they had taken time to properly celebrate, both their wine glasses filled with grape juice.

She hadn’t even been pregnant for 3 months before she miscarried.

They grieved and healed and tried again. The second positive test was met with a tentative hope, a hug and a joy that they were too afraid to fully feel.

The third positive was met like a soldier meets war–grim and full of determination.

The fourth positive is what finally made John pick up the bottle.

Alissa was at home and he did not have the strength to go see her. After spending the entire day around dying and grieving people, he thought that he would puke if he had to see his wife mourn their child. He knew she hated it too, to be on the other side of her job. She was probably scared and grieving and he knew she wanted him at her side and yet…

He didn’t care. He went to a bar and drank himself to death and did it the next night and the next and the next, and then somewhere along the line he started doing it during the day too. The hospital had given him time off to process the miscarriage, so all he was doing was drinking, drinking, drinking. Sometimes he would look into the mirror and see his mother staring back at him, with those sunken eyes, red blotted cheeks and trembling hands. His hair, the feature Alissa had loved most, was dry and brittle. He feared Alissa would not recognise him and he feared that he didn’t even recognise himself anymore.

He remembers one night, a few months after he started finding comfort in the bottle instead of in her, she sat him down and took his shaking hands. She rubbed his hands, arms, and shoulders. Ran her hands through his hair, the hair that she was so fond of.

“Oh John,” she said, looking so sad he started to cry. “What happened to you?”

“I’m sorry,” he said, sobbing. He grasped at her stomach and kissed it softly. Alissa tensed up before pushing him away.

“Let go of me,” she said sharply, standing up and turning to walk to their bedroom. “Do you want to turn out like your mother, John? Is this who you want to be?”

‘It’s not,” John protested, getting up to follow her. “I swear to you, Ally. Never again.”

He took Alissa in his arms, soothing her when she started crying. “Never again, I promise,” he said softly. They stayed there for the entire night, holding each other and crying.

The only thing John could think of was how badly he needed a drink.

About a year and a half later, when his daughter was finally born, John suddenly understood something his father had said to him years ago. “Look, son,” his father had said, grave-faced and holding a university acceptance letter. “I know I seem like a villain right now, but I want you to remember this moment. As a parent, there is nothing I want more than to see you happy. But if I promised myself on the day you were born that if I have to choose between you being happy or having a safe, secure future, I will always choose to see you safe.”

He would do anything to make sure his daughter had a bright, secured future. In some sort of sick way, his father wanted the same for him, and thought a stable career was the way to assure it. Bouncing his little girl in his arms, his thoughts were filled with his father. He would do the same for his girl. Make sure that she was safe and secure, but John was not the same man his father was, so he swore to have her happy, above all else.

Because John was not a man like his father, he could not keep his promise.

The drink kept on calling to him and John was a weak man. He drank and drank and five years later Alissa left him.

“I don’t know what happened to you,” she said, repeating what she said the night after she came home from her fourth miscarriage. “What kind of man have you become?”

She took their daughter with her and he hadn’t seen them in a year.

He stares at his phone. The line has gone dead while he was lost in the past. He calls again, suffering through the endless ringing, ringing, ringing.

“Sorry about the last message. Got lost in memories,” he says quietly. “I guess I just wanted to call to say that–that I have a lot of regrets in my life. I was an awful doctor, husband and father. I failed you, I failed our baby girl. I’m sorry. The one thing I never regretted was you. I love you, my dearest loveliest Ally.”

He presses end, tears blurring his vision. He had it all and he threw it away like it was worth nothing.

His phone buzzing brings him out of his misery. With shaking hands, he unlocks and answers.

“Ally? Is that you?”

A pang of hope shoots through his chest. Maybe it wasn’t too late, there was still time, they could talk one last time before–

A burst of light.

A BANG, like the kind in the movies, where your ears ring and your teeth clatter and oh is this what dying feel like is this–

The last thing John hears is his wife calling his name before everything went dark.


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