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Post Road Magazine #33

The Closer the End

Shelly Oria

In the foothills of the mountains of Virginia, we stop every night on our way to dinner and look at the stars. Most of us believe that sort of thing is good for our health.

We walk to the gas station often to buy bad wine. They sell fried chicken there, too, and burgers, but only few of us can eat them without tasting fuel.

We make art, yes, or some days we die trying. There are also days in which we don’t try at all; on those occasions, we just live. Is living, we ask each other, its own form of art? Some people say absolutely, but others don’t hear the question.

Bea drives us to town twice a week for essentials, but most of the time no one leaves.

Except one time, Dakotah does: a trip to her hometown, an opening of a group show. When she comes back, we pack food in small containers. We give them to Clare who goes to collect her from the station. Later in the living room, Dakotah says: It feels like coming home. When some of us ask her about the turnout at the gallery, she answers a different question. Yes, she says, she wishes Tomas stood up to his parents more. She then explains why, and the explanation has to do with guns. It’s blood money, she says. So the next day when she gets sick, we’ll wonder, of course we will: did the angst exhaust her body? But that night, we dance.

We play ping pong—four, sometimes six people at once. We run around the table, we use the wall, we use our words. A few balls, two pedals per player. Matt gets bored otherwise.

Claudia is dating her ex-husband’s current girlfriend’s ex. It’s basically like someone shuffled two couples, she explains one night, but we never talk about it again.

Theresa draws her breath: this is a thing you can do.

Molly makes stinkbugs a hundred, two hundred times their natural size. This, too, can be done.

One day, two of us take our clothes off while a third films from a loving angle. We all watch the footage together and think of art.

Some people depart, new people arrive. Most of the time, we don’t notice. But then one of us will think: Steven! Steven was so nice. And it will seem as if Steven was someone we knew in childhood, perhaps a neighbor, or a father’s friend. Time makes its own rules here, dictates its own rhythms.

Beth: on her last night, one of us sees her face from a new angle. But Beth’s face must have had that angle all along, which means that we must have noticed this resemblance before, just not with our eyes. This brings up a big question w/r/t Beth. We consider conducting a quick poll, collecting anonymous notes in a hat. Did we like Beth for Beth, or did we like her for having the face of a woman we once loved? We would type up the question, print it out in the library; this would help avoid any hand-writing-recognition. It’s been proven that polls work best when impersonal. In the end, we decide against it. We find a note from Beth inside a book: kind words, a small drawing. In this way, we learn that some questions are their own answers.

We talk about the end of days often, of course. The longer we stay here, the closer the end appears. Every day, the world beyond the foothills of the mountains issues new injunctions—orders that hadn’t existed before, or orders that existed so long ago and far away enough that we’d forgotten. Some of us are scared that by the time we leave, our hometowns will be in ruins, our children gone. This is a fear we carry whether we have birthed children or not. We talk about ways to save the world: two of us believe it is possible. They devise plans which involve the use of violence and mercy in equal measure. For instance, they want to talk to people from far away: five, maybe six hours every time, longer if necessary. They want to share a meal, a hard drink or two, and connect. Another one and then another, they tell us. They believe the world is only ending because not enough people want it to go on. When we ask them about the violence, they answer a different question. Yes, they tell us, yes: art.

But that night, we dance.

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