My grandmother says her body broke like the planet did: her lungs collapsed as the ground split open; her eyes clouded over as the oceans rose up. She says the sunset was once a sea of colour, but now the day dulls from an ashen grey into navy and black, like a bruise spreading across the sky. The world has been a corpse for a long while, she says. Rotten and festering. It was bound to cave in.
I sit beside her through her final days and tell her stories to blunt the pain: a woman transformed into a cloud; a father murdered by his own son; a prophetess whose warnings were not heeded. She goes limp during this last one.
Outside the cave where we’ve taken refuge sprawls a landscape of rotted earth, slick and grey, too wet to anchor a body. I lay her in a half-rotted canoe and watch her drift away. With her eyes closed and her arms flat beside her, she looks grotesquely mortal.
Three days pass, or maybe four, or maybe twenty; time has turned to liquid. The days are silent but for the murmur of the wind and I think of her words to keep myself sane. She spoke of the balmy scent of spring, the bite of winter. She spoke of the ones who said, If we don’t destroy ourselves, the water will, and the loudest voices silenced them. My grandmother described the world as a corpse, but to me it’s a fire: vast, raw, scorching its way to ruin. We won’t self-destruct by caving in; no, the earth is too fervent and too furious to die without leaving any light behind.
Apocalypse comes from the Greek apokaluptein, meaning uncover. I imagine a thousand layers of earth peeling away, some giant hand stripping back the dirt and sand as if searching for a secret hidden in the planet’s core. The hand digs and digs until all the layers are gone and finds nothing but dust.
I take out a shard of glass I’ve kept with me and score the cave walls with haphazard dots and dashes. It calms me, etching formless markings into rock—like the humans of the Pleistocene, crouched before a wall of stone, palms thick with charcoal pigments. I press my fingers into my arms, my thighs, the skin above my heart, to reaffirm, I am here, I am real. I shout and howl and sing off-key and receive no answer. I plant my handprint in the mud and the froth of the water comes and erases it.
Jillian Clasky is a writer from Toronto. She currently lives in Ottawa, where she is pursuing a BA in English and working on her stories in her spare time.
Cave Painting illustration by C.B. Auder.
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