judas at the end of the world
JAI HAMID BASHIR
Through the tarp Judas heard howls. They inched through him like black thread, pulling all his blood and being together as he pinched his eyes open and shut trying to concentrate. He unrolled the paper and studied it on his knees. A line of blood kept reappearing on his arm as he applied pressure. He had cut himself. It had been another day of non-stop labor, checking boards, hammering nails, and meticulously counting supplies: a large metal spoon, flashlights, extra batteries, boots, maps, matches, flint sticks, mirror, nylon line, two sleeping bags, a sleeping pad, a frying pan, fuel, bottles, water filtering pumps, beer, grease, fifteen cans of Campbell tomato soup, plastic bags, an arm-cranked radio, .357 Magnum Snub Rose, Mossberg shotgun, anti-venom kit, First Aid Kit, hand cream, duct tape, a crate of malt whisky, candles, a whistle, binoculars, sunscreen, guitar, and Mick. Mick was part of the essentials.
It was the alternative to what would have once been considered a job since he had quit the warehouse store. He would no longer have to deal with hyperventilating customers: mothers bouncing babies on their hips and men asking him what kind of material could withstand intense heat, severe cold, and all the unknowns. Judas, wearing his neon orange fleece jacket, occupying himself with the whizzing sound the slick measuring tape makes as it slithers down, would then have to reply, "Nothing.” Then he’d excuse himself to sit once again in the employee’s bathroom, sitting on top of the toilet seat cussing and whispering and trying his best not to hold his head and break into sobs. He’d concentrate on the "Employees must wash their hands" laminated sign. He would then look at himself in the mirror, holding his hands in the cold metal sink and repeat, "It is fine. We are fine. It is fine. We are fine."
Mick walked in, swinging his hips and whistling an old blues song. “You can’t believe the news today, Jude-Jude-Judday!” he said, hitting him softly on the back with a rolled up newspaper. Before all of this, the thing that had bothered Judas the most had been his awful name, but now it was the least of his concerns; that awful name with all of its awful connotations. He was now constantly in threat of being the last man at the last Earth supper.
“What is it? Mick, I am so scared. I am so worried. I heard howls today. I think dogs always know when terrible things are about to happen,” Judas said, concentrating on measuring. How much insulation ought he to be putting in? What if there was a skylight? What if there was no sunshine?
“I’ll tell you in a second.” Mick picked up some of the pieces of tile, soft foams of insulation, nails, and hammers around the house and put them into a basket. He walked over to the cabinets, looking for a spoon. They were constantly missing. “Hey man,” he asked. “Did you take your medication today?”
“Uh-huh. Mick, did you hear the dogs?” Judas didn't look up as he worked.
"Jude, c'mere." He held Jude's face in his soft hands, pulling down his eyelids and looking at the red streams under his blue eyes. He let Jude go and get back to his blueprints.
“Good. Good.” Mick kept loudly humming, looking through the bills. He clicked a pen and signed a check to Mrs. Rosenberg, their landlord. Nothing was getting better.
"Jesus, Mick, I am trying so hard to get things done. Did you hear the fucking dogs?"
"I didn't, Jude. I didn't hear any dogs. Let me make you dinner in a minute." He whistled his way into the part of the home with the toilet, squared away with Japanese paper room dividers.
This was their home—the “Hovel." There was one large fluorescent light bulb, which Mick would stand under in spontaneous moments of enlightenment and point to his head. They often read on the gummy couch patterned by cigarette burns they had found on the side of the road and covered with a deeper red bed sheet Mick had stolen. There was a corner full of cactus, rolling decks on tennis balls and wheels, and a cat skeleton Mick had found and bathed in alcohol for a week and called "The Ranger."
Mick didn’t make a lot of sense to Judas. He thought he was born with everything he could need in a world that no longer made any sense either. Whilst Judas worked on building the shelter, Mick read books on poetry. When Judas talked about preparations, Mick told Judas about his childhood and playing in the wet lowlands, catching soft things in the lines of his palms. It was what kept Judas sane. Kept Judas working. Kept Judas saying, "Fine, fine, fine. It is fine."
The kitchen was chronically bare. Whatever they received they ate quickly on a covered table that Mick had etched Hindu symbols and genitals into. Books upon books were piled around, encircling the room. Both tacked by alphabetical order and a simple categorization of Judas’ own creation. The categories were as simple as: “Books that predicted this kind of thing” and “Wish I had written this.” Judas never understood whether this was to keep his imagination in or the reality of the dying world out. Either way his books were his sense of protection—an infinite storage of memories and humanity bound inside.
Mick still went to work as a middle-school English teacher. He believed in having his students sit in a circle in the classroom. Oftentimes Mick would go dressed as literary characters. "Hey Jude, come here and help me glue this mustache so I can look like a better Ezra Pound." "Hey Jude would Virginia Woolf wear this dress?” "Hey Jude, please come in today and be Zelda. Please? Please?"
Judas sometimes wondered if Mick was at all afraid of the collapse of the planet.
Against one side of the wall was a stair platform from Judas's days working at the hardware store that let him write all over the walls. Mick referred to this as his doodle wall and most nights in the early hours, when everything is simply dark blue, Judas would write his dreams. In the back of his mind he always wondered what would happen when the comet came to his wall. Would it just be crushed like everything else into oblivion? What if he wasn't as skilled at building as he thought? What would happen to all the aching landscapes he wanted to see as a child, holding flashlights over atlases? What would become of the soft wimpling fish in all those cool creeks?
At the center of all this mess was Mick’s calendar that he so despondently tore a page from every morning while walking about the room, brushing his teeth, thinking about his dreams—but never sharing—and spitting out in the water basin. It was a countdown to the predicted day the comet was coming. Judas couldn't help but sometimes flip through it, staring at the last page where Mick had cut out a picture from the visual encyclopedia—an ancient picture, the planet looked so blue and green.
Judas got up, clapping his hands together from the sawdust that had piled up in the entryway of their home. He sat down on the couch and pulled off his boots without touching them, one foot sliding one boot off the other, and kicked them to the side.
"What were you going to tell me, Mick?" He circled around the room barefoot seven times. He couldn't even remember what he had been looking for. He just needed to feel that his knees could still carry him if the Hovel couldn't protect him.
"I don't know," Mick said.
"It doesn't actually have to do with the paper. Jude, are you doing better?" Mick tried to catch Jude's eyes but he stared at the ceiling. Was it sturdy enough? Was it going to last?
"No good news?" Judas asked at last, studying Mick's face.
Mick exhaled. "I guess not. Judas, do you believe in Judgment Day?" Mick asked, as he lit a cigarette in bed. Judas placed his glasses on the side table and pulled off the sweaty green shirt from his head and walked over to the window. Another fire was burning and he saw three men with shaved and tattooed heads walking by, blind as Homer. One looked back at him, his cerulean eyes blank, stuck in the glare of an invisible. Judas stayed silent as he saw a bearded man with focused eyes carrying his child dressed in all pink, with lacy socks and a tutu—the daughter's head resting on his shoulder. Judas closed the blinds and sat down on the bed.
“Do you believe? Clap if you believe." Mick's voice bounced around the empty spaces of the Hovel. "Jude?"
"No," he replied as he turned off the lights, revealing the darkest dark. Occupants previous to Judas and Mick had stuck neon planets, crescent moons, and first-grade stars permanently on the cracking ceiling. Mick could hear a woman weeping heavily upstairs as Judas climbed into bed; the sheets smelt sweetly of wet dirt. Mick rolled over, propping his head up with his arm. "'Cause I would like to see you again, I mean, when it all goes down."
Judas smiled and looked at Mick, his black eyes like hot pieces of black coal, cracking open like eggs in a fire reflecting the cerise and cadmium of the burning streets outside their lone window. Judas curled his fingers around Mick's little ponytail and kissed his torn, purple, wrinkled lips. His mouth felt open and safe as the sea.
"Me too," whispered Judas. Mick put his arm around him, his breathing fitting into the elements. And they slept.