He wakes up and the sky outside is dark with thunderclouds and near rain and he wonders if the world will end today, tomorrow, or the next day. It seems that the end must be coming soon.
Roger, someone’s voice calls, and he turns and squints and sees long thin Mark-fingers twitching at the curtain to this space he calls his room.
I’m not awake, he answers. And the fingers disappear. He thinks he hears someone sigh.
Three days ago.
April sits on the fire escape and adds notes to the margins of his notebook of songs. She wears his jacket because there is a growing chill she can no longer ignore. Roger is inside making coffee and waiting for the phone to ring. When it does, it is only Mrs. Cohen.
Mark. Mark honey, it’s his birthday. When are you going to talk to him again? He’s your father.
Her voice hits somewhere deep—he can’t name it but it hurts, and he wonders why Mark never seems to feel anything. When he listens to the messages, or otherwise.
There aren’t any other calls. Roger figures that the gig must have fallen through. He takes April out to dinner and she pays.
One year ago.
The first conversation they almost had was about the end of the world.
Mark is setting up—trying to set up—an answering machine. He says he is just wondering, but Roger thinks that it is the most morbid question he has ever been asked.
He thinks of burning buildings and smoke and despair and crying and hands grasping out for other hands and people torn from each other and everyone alone. Then he thinks—
About quiet. Peace. A gradual cessation of noise.
It makes him shaky and uneasy. So he doesn’t say anything.
He has known Mark for one hour, Collins for two. Collins is putting on his jacket. He says, “The millennium. That minute between 11:59 and midnight. Everything will—”
He gives Roger a strange look. “No.” As if this were obvious. “Just cease to be.”
This is scarier.
After Collins leaves, Mark tries again, but Roger will not answer, and the conversation drops.
Roger isn’t sure if he considers Mark a friend. He is still pushing cereal absently around a bowl when Roger gets up and comes shuffling out into the loft. Mark asks him if he is hungry and he says that he isn’t.
They each have their own bad habits, addictions—things they will not talk about or acknowledge to each other—
—Silent, looming, threats that each knows but will not name. Mark’s involve too much work, women that overwhelm him, dreams that stifle him, and bitterness; Roger’s involve needles, veins, money exchanged in alleyways.
He supposes this (this unacknowledged agreement of silence, this pact) is a form of friendship.
They start to talk about it again—that time when the clouds break and the buildings fall—that time when the world ceases to be—and he wonders what it is about this boy (or maybe now it is him, and Mark is the one who should be wondering) that brings these topics up.
Two weeks ago.
Roger hates it when Maureen tells him about the others. Those boys she does not love like she loves Mark, those girls she loves, she says, sometimes, more than any boy.
Roger is afraid to ask if Mark knows.
She paces, restless. Across the apartment, almost dancing, movements so light it is like she walks on air. Roger watches her until he is dizzy.
When Roger met her, Mark introduced her as an angel, but even then his voice was sarcastic and almost biting. What he meant was devil, and Roger sees it now. This is why Mark loves her and why, in the end, he stays with her.
There is a gulf that separates them. Maureen tries to fill it with secrets, of all sizes and types, serious and fleeting both, but all of her words only drive Roger further away.
Clouds outside get darker and the rain starts, and Roger is saying—
It can’t happen to us.
Mark is whispering. His voice is quiet, hardly audible above the rain.
I think it will.
But, he adds, I’m not afraid.
Bullshit, Roger says, without thinking. He wishes he had eaten when Mark offered. He is hungry and his stomach growls at him, but all he can do is stare at Mark (long thin Mark-fingers, rustling curtain) and listen.
Mark says, I am not afraid of anything. Really.
And because he added really Roger understands that it is a lie, and why he is lying. He thinks (rustling curtain, blowing wind, harsh-jagged edges of broken glass) that Mark must live on lies.
Me neither, Roger answers, and expects Mark to laugh at him but he doesn’t (broken glass, bleeding fingers, scattered papers)—only waits.
Why did you ask me anyway? Roger asks. You know, in the first place. He adds because he thinks he may have been the one to bring it up (scattered papers, needles, window ledges, dizzying heights) this time.
I was thinking—at the time—about making a movie about it.
About the end of the world?
Roger’s heart is beating oddly, quickly. Lightning flashes. No one else is in the loft and he realizes—he doesn’t know where April is, where Maureen is, where Collins is. They are (dizzying heights, holding hands) alone.
About what people thought, Mark answers, the end of the world—
Would be like.
Roger answers, Oh.