In the dream, all I had to do was keep going until I got to the center of the city and then turn right to get to Grand Central Station. Before that I had been in L.A. where some cultists were convinced the world was going to end in another two days. They saw the signs in the street and were all standing around and pointing at a string of lights laid out in a certain way. My boss, Steve, thought they were crazy. He, or someone else, was telling us about a new service, a van set up as a portable office at the airport where you could sit for a while and do your business. Someone handed me a pile of photos which Steve wanted to see so I handed them to him and he found one of himself and his wife and there was a visible reaction that showed me they were very close. Before that I had been standing on my lawn and about a hundred noisy kids were living next door and someone had come by to replace my cell phone and he wanted to know if he should remove the loudspeaker. The further back I went the more complicated the dream got. In any case it must have been Steve who sent me to Grand Central. He liked to have us exercise, so there was someone else from the office out walking too, a woman, but she turned off where there was a fork in the road, following an arrow, while I continued straight through, catching green lights all the way.
It turned out that Grand Central Station was on Union Square and that I’d have to take the subway to get to Times Square. The whole area was under construction but I saw the subway station right away. A woman told me she’d been locked in a room for five minutes and somehow I knew it was Steve who had put her there. She was pretty indignant and wondered if she should go to the police. We were walking together. She was wearing a beret and had a full head of kinky black hair. I was debating if I should really get off at Times Square or continue on to my old house in the Bronx. I knew that I needed money and I wondered where the best place was to get it. I had the feeling that the world really was coming to an end and that I had to act in some decisive way.
I said to the woman, “Where you heading?” and she said to Grand Central too. By this time, she had forgotten about calling the police. She was probably in her thirties and wore flat heels and slacks and a long coat, dressed for chilly weather or maybe rain whereas I was dressed for the summer. She kept up with me, or maybe I kept up with her. There was a connection between us now. The idea that the world was going to end kept coming back and I knew suddenly that somehow, I would have to let go of things. I wondered if she knew too but I was too embarrassed to mention it to her because if she didn’t she’d think I was crazy.
On the other hand, there were signs all around us that other people knew. They were all rushing as if they had to get to wherever they were going in a hurry and the sky was unnaturally dark now so you got a sense of doom. Instead of getting on the subway we continued to walk north, straight up Park Avenue South. The streets were crowded. Everyone kept walking very fast, almost in panic now.
“What’s happening?” she said.
“It looks as if the world is coming to an end,” I said. I said it in such a way that she could take it as a joke if she chose to.
“That’s what I heard too,” she said.
“On the train, when I was coming in.”
“Do you think it’s true?”
“It feels like it, doesn’t it,” she said.
“Do you have family?”
“Me neither,” I said. “Let’s stick together then.”
We were just walking. We had nowhere to go. The feeling of things ending kept coming back to me but at the same time, with the two of us together now, of things beginning too, and I desired her. I thought of what I might say or do under ordinary circumstances to get closer to her but I saw that there was nothing I could do. We would continue walking aimlessly until whatever was meant to happen happened. I felt that these were the last moments of my life. I felt the terror of it.
When I woke up she wasn’t there. I tried to remember at what point I had stopped dreaming and whether I had met her inside or outside the dream. I got out of the unfamiliar bed and looked out the window. The sky was dark so I imagined that I had been in the real world when I had walked north towards Times Square with her. The streets were empty now. I looked around the room and saw a crumpled tissue with a lipstick stain so I knew she had been there with me, but I couldn’t remember anything else, whether we had slept together and made love. Downstairs I had the same feeling as before. The world really was ending. Again I tried to remember at what point I had stopped dreaming. Could I be dreaming still? That was impossible. But it was also impossible for a woman from my dream to have left something behind. She had been with me, in the real world. I was sure of that.
I was in a hotel. Downstairs, I described her to the reception clerk. He said he hadn’t seen her. Then I said, “It feels a little spooky outside, doesn’t it?”
“They say the world’s coming to an end,” he said.
“Then why hang around here?” I said to him. “Shouldn’t you be with your loved ones?”
“I don’t have any,” he said.
“Well, to get your last look at things then.”
“Who’ll look after the hotel?”
That was no concern of mine. I stepped outside. I wanted to find her again. You could say she was the girl of my dreams though she was very real to me. A slight wind had come up now, causing stray pieces of paper to swirl in the street. The streets were empty. Things had an abandoned look. I walked north, then I crossed the street and walked south. I knew she was gone forever. I felt a terrible emptiness, and then despair. I would never see her again. The world was ending and I was about to die and I didn’t know which of us had remained in my dream.
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2 thoughts on “This is the Way the World Ends by Fred Skolnik”
Excellent blurring of the line between what’s real and what’s not, with the desire to overcome loneliness permeating both. Very nicely done.
I loved my thoughts going backwards and forwards into what was reality and what was not.
The last line is a touch of brilliance!
It’s great to see you back on site.
All the very best my friend.