The first day that Carol wakes up alone, she screams until her throat aches. Walks past her little sister’s bedroom, her parents’ bedroom, down the stairs and straight out the door of a house so silent she doesn’t bother to check the rooms. She stands on the front porch, watches leaves and block party flyers blow about, and she doesn’t hear her mother say, “Carol, for heaven’s sake, quit dawdling and help me cook the eggs.” And she takes a deep breath, still listening, still waiting, and then she screams.
These houses are mostly double-wide mobile homes, nothing big enough to trap the echo for long. The silence that’s left is the worst thing Carol’s ever experienced. That includes the time when she was nine that the middle school science teacher got drunk before class and brought in live moths for pinning and study, instead of the scheduled lesson on genus and species naming.
She feels a little like she thinks her moth must have felt in its last moments. The feeling that you can struggle and struggle, but you were always going to end up stuck to that board in the end.
Well, something like that. She was a glorified filing clerk who'd just gotten promoted, not a lit major in college. She didn’t even go to college. So why is she the moth who got left behind?
She stays on that porch, screaming to fill the silence, until her throat is raw and aching, until the sun goes down and the temperature drops. Then she goes back inside, sets four places at the kitchen table, and cooks the prepackaged pork fajitas that her mother had in the refrigerator for dinner.
As she eats, she smiles politely at each of the vacant place settings. Bits of their last conversations drift through her mind, and she speaks to each of them in turn.
“Joyce, you’ve almost graduated. When are you going to bring that boyfriend home so your sister can meet him? That’s me, I’m your sister, just me. …..Papa, why aren’t you eating your tomatoes? They’re good for your heart. It needs the help. Mama, of course I’m going to take that trip, I just need the leave slip…” Oh.
The next morning (Day Two Post-rapture-she-wasn’t-invited-to) she fills two suitcases and a U Haul trailer, leaves two wrinkled hundred dollar bills at the front desk to cover the trailer rental fees, and picks the southbound highway just because she always goes north to get to work.
The glove compartment is full of the CD’s her Mama used to sing along to, and every time she stops at a stop sign, she can hear her father telling her, “you’re learning 'do as I say and not as I do' so well, sport.” She holds her breath the first time she goes over a bridge, just like she and Joyce did as children. When she exhales, she finds herself laughing for the first time in months.
Following the rules helps her keep them with her for just that little bit longer. And Carol is the last woman on earth. Who’s around to fault her for that?