THE END OF YEARS
It was Saturday night, New Year’s Eve. Arlen was at the mini-mall Lavanderia Laundromat loading a washing machine. He was alone under the fluorescent glare. He shut the washer lid and pushed the tray of coins into the slot. The washer began to throb.
Arlen shuffled outside into the icy-cold evening. There was a lot of moonlight. He looked up at the great asteroid now looming brightly behind the full moon. The great asteroid made the moon look like the iris in a cosmic eyeball. It peered through the shimmering auroras in the upper atmosphere and it blinked behind the gauze of smoke from volcanoes far away.
“It’s actually beautiful,” said a voice behind Arlen.
“Aesthetics is dead,” replied Arlen curtly to the stranger. Arlen went back inside the Lavanderia Laundromat to watch the TV on the wall.
The stranger followed him inside and said, “Funny how the European Space Agency nick-named the asteroid Godot.”
Arlen muttered, “What’s a GUH-DOH, anyway?”
“Waiting for Godot?”
“The famous play: Waiting for Godot? Oh, Godot’s the pivotal character that you wait and wait for and never hear and never see,” replied the stranger.
“That’s probably why I never heard of it and never saw it.”
“It’s about waiting in faith, about the meaning of day to day existence, about God.”
Arlen looked over at the stranger and furrowed his brow, “What are you?”
“Oh, I was a Performing Arts major. There are no students left. It was a private school and they closed.”
On the TV, a team of NASA administrators addressed the army of glaring cameras. “The prognosis remains the same: Godot will likely miss the earth but there is a slight chance that it could strike the moon and send it careening into… toward us… the earth.
A reporter asked, “What does ‘a slight chance’ mean?”
A NASA administrator consulted with his colleagues and then answered, “We are working on an exact answer. Parameters are shifting as Godot approaches.”
Another NASA administrator said, “Even if it misses the moon, we know that the effects of Godot’s gravity will be…severe.”
The TV flickered and lost the satellite signal.
Arlen turned around to see if the wash was done. The washer rocked rhythmically with the spin dry cycle.
“Almost done,” observed the stranger behind him. That irritated Arlen for some reason.
Arlen said to the stranger, “The last wash allowed was at 9PM. What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I just wanted to share this with somebody.” said the stranger as he reached into his oversized coat and withdrew a big squared bottle of Devil’s Cut, “Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey,” he smacked, “Happy New Year!”
Arlen licked his lips involuntarily. “What’s your name?”
“Name’s Asher. And yours is…?”
“Arlen.” He instinctively recalled his salesman’s smile.
“Can you believe that the Iranian guy in the liquor store next door just gave this to me?”
“Actually, he’s giving everything away. He’s leaving for Las Vegas.”
The TV reignited. A pale news anchor was blinking, “The migrations are continuing. This is the stream of vehicles going to Las Vegas, Nevada, as seen from SkyWatch-6.”
“And this is a scene of the Holy Repentance Tent City in the Canadian wilderness. It was taken by a viewer in a private plane crossing to Colorado.”
“Please remember to forward your pictures and videos to us at Channel Six…”
The picture became a dancing jig-saw puzzle rainbow. Then the TV lost signal completely.
“Arlen, let’s drink to the end of your spin cycle!”, and Asher took a hot gulp. He winced and handed the bottle to Arlen.
“It was a flawless cycle, wasn’t it?” asked Arlen rhetorically as he dug out his damp compressed clothes and plopped them in the wheeled basket with one hand and received the Devil's Cut with the other. He halted and took a quick series of gulps. He sighed, “Flawless.” Arlen then bent over and wheeled the basket around the washers, “I only hope the dryer is half as good.”
Asher laid his palm on the round glass door of a dryer, “This one is still warm”.
Arlen loaded the dryer, “The owner of the Lavanderia Laundromat came in awhile ago to collect coins and to refill the bill-changer. He is thinking about staying open around-the-clock now. He won’t leave his business. He doesn’t approve of Vegas, and he is not religious. He will stay open until the electricity and gas are gone. He told me that this business is all he has. ”
“It is good to have something,” said Asher wisely.
Arlen shut the dryer door and nudged the coins into the slot. The dryer began to labor. The damp clothing leapt up and collapsed down, again and again.
The TV signal revived briefly, “Already there have been recurrent tidal inundations along all seaboards.”
Asher recalled thoughtfully, “There was an army truck up at the Food-4-Less. They told me that most of the military has deserted to be with their families. They said it’s the same in most other countries.
“At least, at last, we have ‘peace in our time’,” observed Arlen reverently.
“Except the Middle East, of course,” amended Asher.
“War is all they have.” said Arlen.
The Devil’s Cut was shared between them like a gentleman’s game of tennis. Their understanding grew more and more incisive. Their minds became one.
“I am sure that the government has created a giant underground computer to back-up all our knowledge and understanding.”
“What will it run on when the power grid is gone?”
“Nuclear power. They have dozens of nuclear reactors underground that are cooled by underground streams. They will provide power for hundreds of years even if no one touches them again.”
“Well, by then the streams will have changed course. The reactors will have overheated and melted and fallen into the center of the earth.”
“Whoa. Then, when the computers are found by our descendants, or by the aliens, they’ll wonder why we carved those tiny silicone tablets, and wonder what the strange patterns mean, and ask why we enshrined them in a catacomb of metal. There won’t be any Internet to search for understanding and meaning and truth.”
“So we will not even be a memory. We will not have existed in any way that can be proven except by God.”
“Except…by…God… thus proving the existence of God!”
“You see? You understand.”
“I like to understand.”
“What else is there to strive for but to understand?”
“What about faith?”
“We must have the faith that we will be able to understand.”
“But, when you understand then there is no longer faith.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Take this dryer here. I pretty much understand how it works and so do you. It doesn’t take faith, it takes money.”
“So, money is faith understood?”
“That’s a good way to think of it.”
“So that is why the money says ‘In God We Trust’.”
“Yes, the government understands God.”
“And we have faith in our government.”
“Your logic is like clockwork.”
“I’m not sure. I heard that even the atomic clock is undependable in Godot’s gravity field.”
Asher looked toward the large plate glass window of the harshly lit Lavanderia Laundromat. There was a ghostly Asher and a ghostly Arlen that seemed to be standing out in the empty parking lot.
“Is it the New Year yet?”
Arlen made a sour face, “What does it matter?”
“I have resolved to be more understanding. Won’t you join me?”
Arlen raised the diminished bottle of Devil’s Cut, “We still have a little Sweet Abandon left before our New Year’s Resolutions are in effect.”
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