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(translated by David Bowles)

How painful that the entire planet should end violently at seven o’clock in the morning, when everyone has woken up and is headed to work. What a shame that the news outlets barely manage to mention the concern expressed around the world by experts and authorities and that hardly anyone on the streets pays attention and that nobody understands a thing. How sad to hear the first tremor and see the cracks open wider and wider and the tongues of fire that burst from the asphalt at the bus stops. How painful to fall to one’s death during that first wave among pieces of broken ground and pedestrians and passengers and vehicles with their drivers and magazine stands and fast food and pirated movies and cops and thieves. How terrible not to even see the (terrible) beauty that is beheld from the helicopters of traffic reporters and the police and the businessmen who were going to make this country great and also from planes full of passengers or military personnel or drug traffickers as the flames shoot up thousands of feet in mere seconds and reach them and devour them and for a moment one can glimpse under them the newly born rivers of lava and molten rock that have already consumed so many little people and are much larger and deeper than anyone could imagine because they keep getting wider and wider and wider even after they have incinerated nearly everyone and tumbled buildings both big and small and effaced the entire city, leveled the mountains, evaporated the water and reduced homes and palaces to nothing but dust. And what a tragedy at last that the two people who still have not died but who expect to die here in this smashed city and there, above the sea that boils and splits, at those two opposite points that the destruction has not yet touched . . .

But before we continue, we should clear up a few things:

1. The last man to die will be Rafael, a twenty-three-year-old poet from Toluca, capital of the state of Mexico. He was in that city, walking to his job as a waiter in a restaurant, when the city exploded under his feet. In a most unlikely turn of events, the blast did not immediately kill him, but instead simply flung him upwards at a high speed. Hundreds of meters in the air, Rafael is hugging a lamppost, ripped like he was from the ground, which rises with him and makes him feel he has a firm grip on something. And although it is, at least here, seven o’clock in the morning, and the day had just begun, and the children were heading to school, and everything seemed to follow the same routine as always, and there was no perceptible way to escape from that repetitive and miserable story, precisely because of all this: how could he have imagined that the whole world was about to go to shit?

2. On the other hand, the last woman to die will be Jauza, a thirty-one-year-old app designer from the city of Ambon, in the Maluku Islands of Indonesia, on a flight from her country to India until moments ago. The plane, diverted far from its route by terrorists, just exploded in the air, but she miraculously has not died from decompression or from the cold and falls, seemingly in slow motion, towards the Indian Ocean; having been untethered from her seat, so that falling without it now, alone, parachutist without a parachute, gives her the misleading feeling of simply flying, reinforced by the fact that for her, on the other side of the world, it seven o’clock in the evening, not seven o’clock in the morning. Fear takes several tenths of a second to manifest itself, the span of time it takes Jauza takes to see the cataclysm of fire that erupts through the water, flames and burning steam from the invisible depths of the abyss.

How can one imagine that the world could end at seven o’clock in the evening, while everything prepares itself for rest, while the last bit of sunlight sparkles on the water and (despite everything, everything else) there is hope, as the flight attendants just received permission to take snacks to the hostages?

3. These two really are the last human beings. Bad apocalyptic films, of which there were many in the last days of this world, used to omit the shattered bodies, the agony, the blood: all the horror that can still be seen here and there across the planet and that has mercy on no one. Elderly women with their bellies sliced opened by a hunk of car, babies decapitated by fragments of glass flying at hundreds of kilometers per hour, et cetera. It must be said that everyone—the seven billion, three hundred and forty two million, nine hundred and eighty two thousand, one hundred and two inhabitants of the planet—has already suffered, by this moment, a similarly horrific fate . . . with only those two exceptions. Only Jauza and Rafael have not yet had their dreadful and swift end, and although in fact they have not seen the end of anyone in detail, and for the moment they (both of them now, Jauza as well) are simply terrified beyond reason and reflection, they will have more time than anyone else in human history to ponder the nearness of their own extinction, as well as that of all things, and therefore they will end their lives with that additional suffering: they will know perfectly well what is going to happen to them.

4. The separation between the last two human beings can be seen as significant.

5. Why can the separation of Rafael and Jauza, anti-Adam and anti-Eve, be seen as significant, responsible as they are (figuratively, of course) for closing the door and turning off the light? First because to say that the end of the world is at seven o’clock in the morning, as has been said, or at seven o’clock in the afternoon, as was said later, is to omit that the world also ends, in another time zone, at six am or at eighteen hundred hours. And in another, at nine am or at twenty-one hundred hours. And in even another at three am or fifteen hundred hours, or at 11 am or twenty-three hundred hours, and so on by virtue of the roundness of the earth and its rotation upon its own axis, in the cold and hostile depths of space. The world, then, ends at all times.

6. And second: although the end of the world is in reality at all hours, it does have an axis, different from that of the rotation of the Earth; this axis is the line that can be drawn from woman to man, from the inhabitant of “Lovely Ambon” to “Beautiful Toluca,” from Mexico to the Indian Ocean, from seven o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock in the evening, from one to the other, in short, between those points on the globe that in fact are exact antipodes. If someone else lived (and if there were still land, cities, infrastructure, electricity, internet), you could check it on a map or on a website that offers tools to find, with precision, the direct opposite of any place on the globe.

There is an invisible arc, a line of force, an imaginary band, perfect, that crosses the entire Earth; one ends of it touches Jauza above the sea and the other touches Rafael above the earth. One rises and the other falls in the path it sketches. The two will die within its curve.

7. And they themselves are antipodal (we might use the term perioeci), diametric opposites and complementary in a physical sense, as well as many others: not only man and woman but practitioners of very different arts, one very new and the other very old; she in the southern hemisphere and he in the northern.

Besides, Jauza was doing well in her profession while Rafael worked as a waiter because, at least in his country and time, poetry doesn’t pay a living wage.

Besides, Jauza had just broken up with Abdurrahman, her boyfriend of two years, the man with whom she had been the happiest and with whom she had most enjoyed life, simply, in public and in private. She had left him due to a difference of religious opinions: some harsh, degrading words, which Jauza now remembers fleetingly and which she never imagined she would hear from him. And Rafael, on the other hand, had just met Tatiana, a confirmed atheist like him, and had had a serious altercation with her in a bar, and the two, drunk, had said terrible things, and yet later, in a moment of distraction or fatigue, they had begun to kiss. And now—in this moment of destruction—Rafael thinks fleetingly of her face, the feel of her lips.

8. (Besides, let us not forget that this story could have started like this:

How painful that the entire planet should end violently at seven pm when everyone starts to think that they will get survive this situation. What a pity that the news of unrest throughout the world do not reach the passenger cabin and that even if it could there would be no one to pay attention or understand a thing. How sad to hear the groaning of the fuselage and then to feel the first bit of turbulence and the explosions outside and suddenly the great explosion inside. How painful to fall to death all together yet at the same time all separated amidst the hunks of broken fuselage and useless wings and the passengers and the crew and the hijackers and suitcases and magazines and various objects and engines still roaring. How terrible to not even behold the (terrible) beauty visible from above because one is already dead or because one is spinning at great speed and panic prevents one from appreciating how the sea on which the last sunlight sparkles is not an unbroken plane of glass but a roaring chaos such as has never been seen and even at this height is seen breaking into giant waves and split by currents that should not exist because they move in all directions at once and with them from below come bursting to the surface ruins and rocks and underwater creatures, from entire schools of smaller fish to whales and monsters from the depths and any ship that might have sailed that chaos is already torn to pieces because beneath it all, the bottom of the sea also shudders like the air and though one cannot see this, it is releasing boiling gases and torrents of lava. And what a tragedy in the end that the two who have not died and hope to die here and there, above the sea that boils and splits in two, above a smashed city, those two opposite points that this destruction has not yet touched . . . )

9. Besides, both of them, Rafael and Jauza, feel generally frustrated with their lives. But who doesn’t. A few seconds ago, the truly prosperous and satisfied people of the world had either a fast, fulminating end that destroyed them without their noticing, or they had just enough time before they died to realize that all their beauty, their health, their power and their money were not really worth anything, just as the Europeans of the Middle Ages at the height of the plague used to tell themselves to feel some solace about their miserable lives and horrible deaths.

(In the air over the Indian Ocean, there falls a suitcase containing a copy of a book about the French Dance Macabre, that stellar exemplar of its genre: a reproduction of the fifteenth-century frescoes of the Holy Innocents’ Cemetery in Paris concerning Death the Great Equalizer, each accompanied by texts about the deceased, perhaps translated or not in this case, but exactly the same—the book, that is—as the one being read in Toluca by a person whom Rafael did not glance at as he passed just minutes ago. Now that the person has been blown to bits by the explosions, the book ascends alone, still intact, as unreachable and unknown to Rafael as its counterpart is to Jauza.)

10. And now we can continue.

“Mom,” Rafael says out loud—a second or two has passed since the memory of Tatiana’s lips—at the same instant that Jauza, on the other side of the world, says, “Daddy,” in her language, of course, after the last thought that she will ever dedicate to the words of Abdurrahman.

Then she adds, in the midst of her fall, also in Indonesian: “Daddy, I did everything you asked me,” while Rafael adds, in the midst of his rise: “Mom, I never did anything you wanted.”

11. And so on: if we keep observing them even longer, attentive to more details, we will see more involuntary reflexes, impossible for either to know or agree upon. In fact, if in addition to watching them we were now to look around them, we would find more correspondences between their environments (not only the copies of the Dance Macabre: the biography of those two girls, the bullets in those two guns) and if we look not at the present but the past, the time lived by each in their own countries and their own circumstances, we would realize that each and every one of the events of their lives also have that same symmetry or correspondence. Every joy has its sadness that opposes it, every triumph its failure, every vigor its fatigue, every night its day.

12. But it bears repeating: neither of them knows.

13. And now, once a little more time has passed, they have sobbed in the same rapid way and felt the same terror and understood the same things; once both have become convinced that they are totally alone, that there is nothing in their future except the final bit of this horror, because now the two glimpse the convulsions of the earth itself under them more clearly than ever before and understand that what is happening is really the end of everything, everywhere, the cataclysm that they thought they knew everything about from movies and television but that neither of them really believed they would ever witness; now that the flames from the devastated city rise to reach and burn and completely destroy the man’s body before it stops rising; now that the waters have truly opened under Jauza because a fissure at the bottom of the sea is swallowing them, and at the same time other fissures open, releasing clouds and jets of superheated matter that will also burn and utterly destroy the body of the woman who falls towards them; now that perhaps neither of them will manage even to finish those last words to others, to him or herself, to their sliver of future and the past that is reduced to nothing . . .

Now, at this moment, here, the planet explodes: a detonation beyond all thundering roars, which turns all the matter of the Earth into fiery plasma and expels it outwards and disperses it through space, without anything remaining, without there being a single trace or shred of evidence that the world was here before, all lost and all erased, cleanly, forever.

14. The sadness of all this is not the end itself, but the realization that neither Rafael, nor Jauza, nor any other of the dead, saw these symmetries at the end.

Nor did they see how (in fact) everyone’s stories, not just those of the last two, corresponded and intersected, balanced in the present and as they flowed the past, all conspiring to continue their patterns and their correspondences up the very last moment.

They could not have seen it because it would have required them to have supernatural vision, beyond all human perception of time and space, to be able to perceive not only all space and all time, but also the tone, bittersweet and tragic, of every moment and cause and effect. Only the creator of the world and his equals can perceive such things; only they can appreciate the value of such a painful and bitter globe in so many dimensions, and only they, furthermore, can appreciate how even the sadness of not being able to see these designs, of a species and a world that died without understanding anything, is also part of the work and its precise, deliberate impact on the palate of those leviathan creatures that now begin to move away from the final explosion and to comment on it, in exactly the same way that folks would comment on films, back when there were people, and cinemas, and the former went to the latter.

And now we can finish:

What a tragedy (we were saying) that the two who still have not died and hope to die here and there in those two places untouched by destruction do not see any of this.

What a tragedy in the end that the last two to die and the only ones who at least began to see the final explosion of everything were not made to understand that the whole world was a work of art or mechanism capable of creating beauty out of their ignorance and fear and nonsense, all of which now expands and cools, transformed into formless debris without trace of pain other than the pain of being nothing at seven or the other seven or ever.

“I didn’t quite get the point,” a viewer complains, in another place.

“I don’t think it says anything relevant about our times,” another adds.

“These things exist so you can have shallow fun and turn off your brain,” says a third, ostensibly trying to defend the work, which no one will remember tomorrow.

Originally published in Spanish in Los atacantes (collection), 2015.

About the Author

Alberto Chimal is the author of the novels La torre y el jardín (2012) and Los esclavos (2009), and several collections of short stories. He has received numerous literary awards in Mexico, including the National Short Story Award and the Fine Arts Narrative Award. Los atacantes [The Attackers] (2015) is a collection of stories that deal with the theme of terror in modern environments. Alberto Chimal lives in Mexico City, where he teaches writing courses and literary workshops.