The Death of the World

by Michael P. McManus

Two months after she put the shotgun in her mouth and blew away her cranial vault, the family sat down at the living room table. According to the therapist the gathering was good therapy and a chance to get things out in the open and make them tangible. Outside the house the evening sun was throwing its last light across the clean sidewalks and palm trees.

Pete, the husband, a fifty-three year old migrant farm worker had won $375,000 in the California state lottery two weeks after her death. He spoke first. "I still hear her voice at nights. I am the victim of illusions. What does it mean?" He leaned forward and ran his fingers through his hair.

"What does it mean? What does any of it mean?" Clarissa asked her father. She was his only daughter; a skinny woman, twice-divorced, and a pro-choice Democrat, who took methadone to combat a six-year heroin addiction, during which time she worked at Wal-Mart in the garden section. She enjoyed arranging ferns and tulips. That morning she told her father about the nightly dreams in which she saw her mother's face and the hair clump on the wall behind her head that looked like a tarantula.

"Clarissa, how's the novel going?" her brother asked. He had not missed one night of drinking since his mother's death. Before the death he drank only on holidays. Most nights the drinking was not enough so he took Tylenol PM to help him sleep.

"We came here to talk about your mother," Pete said.

"All right," his son replied, wishing he had a beer.

"I'm writing now about the death of the world," Clarissa said. "A disease in the water that causes people to kill themselves. They know the water is poisoned but once they look into it and see their reflections they cannot help themselves. There are many ways to kill yourself. It can be quite an art."

"Please, your mother," Pete said. "Later we can talk about other things that interest you."

"Maybe we should order a pizza," the son said. "Pepperoni. Mushrooms. Extra cheese and sauce."

"Okay, Dadd