Fiction — Masha Meyers’ Last Weekend on Earth
By Camille Larkins
Not to be born is, beyond all estimation, best; But when a man has seen the light of day, This is next best by far, That with utmost speed he should go back from where he came.
— Sophocles, “Oedipus at Colonus”
Since we’re some of the first people to arrive, Jackie and I claim one of the bedrooms upstairs with a queen bed. She likes the slanted ceiling and won’t stop talking about how cute and old everything is, even though I stopped responding to her remarks minutes ago. Laying on the bed, staring at the wood above me, I wonder how many people had died in this room.
“Oh my gosh, look at this little hearth. It’s so old. And the little chimney, so cute,” Jackie says. She’s taking off her t-shirt, hanging it in the closet with her other clothes and putting on a pale pink tank top.
“Yeah, it’s adorable. Not that we need it. It’s so goddamn hot and this fan sucks.” She pads over, turns the standing fan on a higher setting and starts trying to take my shirt off. I tell her to quit it, that I wanna go downstairs and get a beer.
“Okay, just let me finish unpacking first,” she says, sitting on the bed and scrolling through her phone.
“Baby, Jesus, do you need to unpack? We’re here for two nights. Let’s go,” I say as I get off the bed and head downstairs.
The doorways are small, built two hundred and some years ago for undernourished people, and I have to bend my neck to leave the room. House music and voices float through the narrow stairway but there’s only one girl in the kitchen taking groceries out of overflowing tote bags and putting them into the fridge. She uses my name when she says, “hi” to me and I don’t know hers but I remember her from somewhere, probably the girlfriend of one of my buddies in college, and the whole thing is uncomfortable so I duck into the ancient fridge to get a beer, open it with my lighter, and try to smile at the girl when I hold it up and head into the backyard.
There are more people here now than when we arrived but the house still isn’t full. From the outside, it is gargantuan and gaudy, and when I had remarked earlier that I didn’t even know they made houses this big two hundred years ago, Jackie told me that the guy who owned it probably had slaves. I think about this for a few seconds and watch some guys that had been on the swim team with me finish their game of cornhole. As one of them comes up to me, I take a sip of my beer but the bottle is already empty.
My friend Bruce is shirtless and sweaty when he claps me on the back and says, “Long time no see, man. Where’s Jackie?” His hair has grown long, nearly to his shoulders, and he’s worked up a good tan like he always does by the end of the summer. We take a seat on a picnic table. He lights a cigarette before offering me one. He’s talking about his day-to-day, working at his dad’s downtown architecture firm in the afternoons but still making it out to the Rockaways most mornings, how the waves have been sick because of the hurricane systems moving through the south, but dude, the sea levels are really rising, at high tide the waves sometimes flood the basketball courts at Jacob Riis, and isn’t it so hot right now? I agree that it is hot, but it’s late afternoon, late fall, it’s supposed to be. But he’s shaking his head for a long time, running his fingers through his hair, saying that there’s no way in hell it should be this hot in November, when Jackie walks up and puts a ceramic plate of food and a glass of pink wine on the table.
“Hey, Bruce,” she says, the red fingernails on her left hand bright on his chest as she wraps her other arm around him. “Xavi, are you smoking?”
I tell her to calm down, that Bruce had insisted, and she just stares back at me. She thinks you should only smoke if you want to die. Coughing and citing a need to go talk to Masha, whom none of us had actually seen yet, Bruce leaves us alone at the picnic table and I start peeling some white paint off the wood.
“I don’t want this weekend giving you any ideas,” Jackie says. She looks like she’s going to cry and when I ask her if she’s drunk she blinks rapidly but doesn’t touch her eyes. “Christ, no. I just don’t know how everyone can be playing cornhole right now. I’m not even, like, her best friend but I somehow give more of a shit than your whole group.”
“I didn’t get any ideas after Brandon’s party, or Emma’s, or Clay’s in the spring, did I?” I respond after some time. She hands me a carrot stick and I take it, mumbling something about needing another beer. The carrot is rubbery and bitter so I drop it in the grass as soon as Jackie can’t see me anymore and think about whether it will ever get the chance to decompose or just be snatched up by a deer later tonight.
Even though it’s hot enough to break a sweat just standing outside during the day, it’s late autumn and the clocks fell back last weekend, so the sky is turning purple and green and it’ll be dark soon. Finally, for the first time in months, I see Masha. Somehow she is more radiant now, fitter and glowing, surrounded by tons of more people who have arrived and gathered in the kitchen. Even though they are technically talking amongst themselves, everyone is looking at and speaking to her. Masha stands a whole head taller than the girl who was putting away groceries earlier. She sees me and finishes dumping an entire bottle of tequila into a pitcher with ice and something that looks like lemonade. Nearly singing my name, she slides out and embraces me.
“Xav,” she says again, “I’m so glad you made it.” She is breathing deeply, kissing my jawbone, and people are pretending not to look at us as I sink my fingers into her side, her lower back, finally allowing myself to smell her neck, thinking about the probability of Jackie walking in. Masha may never have to deal with the repercussions of this weekend’s events but I would, for a while at least.
Cold air from outside hits us. Somebody must’ve opened the door and the temperatures out there are plunging now, going to fall below freezing in a couple hours at most, and I remember a time when the weather wasn’t like this but it was a long time ago and I don’t want to stop touching her but I do because I have to, at least for right now, and I stumble over my words when I ask her how she feels about her impending suicide.
“I can’t explain it,” she says. “It’s like the night before graduation or something. You know it’s going to happen and you’ve known for a while but it doesn’t hit you until it actually does. Maybe it never will. It could be better that way.”
For a while, I just look at her and realize that I haven’t wrapped my mind around it either, that it’s her this time and not just Emma or Brandon or Clay. She knows I want to say, “You don’t have to do this,” but I don’t. Masha mentions something about a sick DJ that’ll be spinning downstairs tonight, her friend that had come from Berlin for her last weekend on Earth, and asks me if I want a bump of anything but I just shake my head and tell her that I need to put on a sweater. Jackie finds me downstairs later, after it has been dark for a long time, and kisses me on the mouth, hard, wild eyes searching my face. She’s nearly comically bundled up because the basement is only a little bit warmer than the air outside and her hands are fluttering, the whole of her body moving slightly with the music.
“Come dance with me, Xavi!” Her teeth chatter as she says this. “You have to come see the lights by the booth. They’re super crazy.”
“Baby, what are you on?” I ask. She pinches my arm and laughs, either smiling or snarling at me. I can’t hear her response over the thumping music, which seems to have grown even louder since she cornered me, but it sounds like she’s asking why I’m smoking again. With my head between my knees, I finish the cigarette and watch the strobe lights hit the floor. It’s weird to see Jackie like this: she’s never been into dark dancefloors or “this kind of music.” Bruce comes over and gives me a key covered in ketamine and there must be over a hundred people when I look out at the dance floor, all hideous and unrecognizable under heavy coats and green lighting. My nose burns but I’m starting to relax, swallowing down the thick medicinal drip in my throat until my beer is empty. I hear Bruce talking about taking a trip down to Central America together this winter, bringing our boards and trying to see some rainforest while we still can, and I want to respond but I feel like I’m underwater and it takes too long so he says, “You okay, man? You know she just wants us to have fun this weekend.”
The next morning, I find Masha alone in the kitchen. She seems to be trying to clean it but the mess is so overwhelming that most of the time she just looks around, shuffling groceries into one corner of the bar and cups into the sink. I ask her if she’s slept yet and she says she doesn’t see the point. People are either still downstairs dancing or sleeping, some in beds and couches, others in their cars or tents they brought. She asks me if I want to take a walk and I follow her.
This is the way it has always been, with her in the front and me a couple steps behind, asking few questions, content to be anywhere with her in my sights. We walk far enough from the house that only with great effort can we hear the heavy bass rising from underground. Most of the leaves have fallen from the trees and we rustle them with every step through the wooded backyard but are otherwise silent. I want to say, “You don’t have to do this,” but before I can she puts her hand over my mouth.
“Do you remember that time we slept on the golf course behind my house?” she asks. “And we went to the driving range and filled our jackets with as many balls as we could, just because we could, and we brought them back to our sleeping bags and didn’t even know what to do with all of them?”
“Yeah,” I say, swallowing hard. I do remember that night—we were fourteen and had ended up throwing the golf balls at a black swan until it ran at us with its wings raised in anger, honking and spitting as we retreated to another green. By the time we felt safe enough to go back, the sun was rising and our sleeping bags were soaked by the sprinklers. “What am I supposed to do after this, Masha? What am I supposed to do?”
“What are any of us supposed to do? Have you looked outside lately, Xavi? The world is going to shit. Not eating meat, not driving, none of it’s enough anymore. We’re all taking up too much space. I have to do this; I’ll be with Clay again, I’ll finally do something good for the world. All I’ve done is take and take and it’s just too much.” She’s rambling, exhausted, bleary-eyed.
Not wanting to cry, I say nothing. She speaks again, this time using words that are not her own: “Humans have the unfortunate distinction of being the most destructive and harmful species on earth. This movement is important. Voluntary population reduction is vital.”
“You’re fucking delusional,” I say, my voice cracking. The walk back to the house is uphill and the crunching of the leaves under my feet isn’t loud enough to cover up the sound of Masha crying.
I don’t want to go into the basement or be outside in the heat any longer, so I climb the stairs, pull the curtains in our room shut and lie down in bed next to Jackie, who must not have really been sleeping because she opens her eyes and smiles a little when she sees me. She looks tired and when I smooth some hair out of her face and ask her how she’s doing, she says, “Better now.” I fall asleep for a while after we have sex but I’m awoken by a piercing headache so I take half a Xanax and have dreams of Masha getting hit by a train.
When I wake up again, Bruce is sitting at the foot of the bed, massaging Jackie’s feet as she laughs, in the middle of telling the story about the time she had a UTI for three months. I ask what time it is and Bruce takes his hands away from her, saying, “Oh, hey man. It’s gonna get dark. I think we’re doing the cake and some pictures outside pretty soon.” Unable to find my boxers, I walk naked into the bathroom, slam the door behind me and take a shower so hot that my skin turns red. When I can’t see through the steam anymore, I get out.
No one thought to bring candles for the cake, but it’s not like it’s her birthday or anything, so we just stand around and look at her for a while, waiting for Masha to say something or cut it or both. Eventually, she says, “Thank you guys for being here. I really, truly love you all. My life has been so full and I owe it to you.” The cake is huge but there are so many of us that the pieces are only a couple of bites. Overwhelmed by the smell and the too-happy murmuring by Masha’s shitty friends from work, I leave my plate on the kitchen table to go outside and throw up.
People look over at where I’m sitting as they file out with champagne glasses. They start taking pictures of each other in different combinations and poses, everyone competing to get photos with Masha, who has showered and changed and is stunning in a low-cut black top, the one she always wears to go dancing. No one comes over to me. The only voice I can make out is Jackie saying, “Oh my gosh, send me that one!” After some of the guests have gone back inside, Masha walks over to the picnic table, flanked by Bruce and Jackie and some of the other people that made up our friend group in college. They are complaining about the crazy amount of randoms here now, how someone’s brother invited his friends from Bennington and the whole thing has turned into a shitshow and Masha says that she kinda likes it. Bruce passes me a joint that’s going around and I try to hide how shaky my hands are.
I speak for the first time in a long time, saying, “It looks like your last sunset is going to be beautiful, Mash,” and then everyone is quiet, listening to shrieks and glass breaking and doors opening and closing until it’s dark.
Jackie and Bruce leave, wanting to put warmer clothes on and check out whoever’s DJing. One of the guys from the swim team asks me for a cigarette. I don’t remember having a pack in my hands and I certainly didn’t bring one to the house but I end up giving one out to everyone left at the picnic table. Looking at me, Masha begins laughing uncontrollably and says,
“I’m sorry, Xav, but are they sleeping together?”
I realize she’s talking about Jackie and Bruce. They probably are, and I’m starting to laugh too, telling the group about how he was giving her a foot massage this afternoon and none of us can stop laughing when two of the guys from the swim team do their best impressions of Bruce in bed. Even though it’s too dark now to make out faces, I watch the red ends of everyone’s cigarettes bob up and down, picturing the smiling mouths behind them, and put my arms around Masha. The two of us breathe in the warmth until everyone is quiet again.
“I miss Clay and Brandon,” someone says.
“They did what they felt was right,” Masha says. “Their lives meant something.”
I say, “Hopefully you’ll be partying with them tomorrow night.”
“I might be too hungover,” she says. It feels good to laugh again until we all decide that it’s too cold to stay outside any longer. As we descend the stairs into the basement, Masha asks me if I’ll actually dance with her tonight. Because it’s my oldest friend’s last night on Earth, I say I will and she smiles when she bites off half a pink pill that looks like a skull, putting the other piece in my mouth with her long, dark fingers.
This is Masha’s favorite place: a dark basement surrounded by graffiti and dingy couches and underage kids whistling with the rises and falls of techno music and I’m thinking of all the stairs I’ve descended, in Montreal and Brooklyn and Hamburg, to see her this happy. It’s strange that our last night is here, in a two hundred year-old mansion in Vermont that was mainly attractive for its large cellar, but I realize she purposefully chose a place so far removed from our lives that we would never need to come back to it again.
I’m grateful that Jackie and some guys from the swim team come up to us, interrupting my thoughts of logistics and how many hours we have left.
“You look happy,” Jackie shouts over the music. I am suddenly aware that my cheeks are sore from smiling and I try to relax my jaw as I nod and say, “Yeah.” Her breath smells like cigarettes when she kisses me on the cheek and tells me she loves me before walking into another corner of the room.
We don’t realize how quickly the time has passed until we ascend the stairs to the kitchen to get a drink of water. Masha curses when she sees the beginnings of sunrise, runs a hand through her hair and rests her palms on her face.
“It’s almost morning,” I say incredibly slowly.
My heart is pounding and the music is still thumping through the floorboards and if I’d eaten anything today I might throw up again. I’m trying to breathe, to calm down, to feel for a second like I’m not the one who’s dying, when Masha kisses me. Once, we were experts at kissing each other. But now in this kitchen we’re too clumsy and eager and I’m crying, wondering why Masha started hanging out with people who kill themselves for the good of the planet, why we stopped doing this together, why we always felt like we had so much to lose, why I’ve wasted however many months kissing Jackie when all I’ve wanted is her.
“Xavi,” she says. “Xav, I love you so much.”
“I hate you,” I reply, sobbing. “I hate you for leaving me.”
She hasn’t slept in days and it shows. “Please, don’t. Just don’t ruin it. ”
“Don’t ruin it? You’re the only one who gets out of this, don’t you get that? We’re stuck here and we have to think about you every day and you think you’re so goddamn righteous but you’re not because you’re evil and selfish and I hate you.” I’m spitting words at her but I don’t care. “You’ll go to hell, Mash. I hate you, Masha. I hate you.”
She starts crying so I watch her until I can’t anymore and I hug her again and say, “I love you so much.”
She wipes away tears. “You’re not stuck here.”
We kiss until the pink light of sunrise becomes distracting. From the little kitchen window, we watch the sun come up with fervor and dread that can only come from two almost-lovers who would never be on the same planet again.
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