Doomsday Cake by S.E. Hartz
On the first day of the end of the world I eat four trays of microwave macaroni and cheese and a half gallon of vanilla soy frozen yogurt. All pale cream, the color of phlegm or a thin, clouded dawn. I know there will be hunger later, once the trains shut down and the delivery windows close at last, but I like to imagine I will choke quietly to death on my own grasping hedonism, warm and plump and happy, before then.
I came into life screaming for apocalypse. Keep the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, I wanted to tell the doctor, clench and hold, I am not meant for this world – but I could not yet speak. December 2012 brought bated breath exhaled, as I watched for alien planets to kick the earth out of orbit, prayed for magnetic pole shifts and chaotic waves.
I vowed to consume all that I had not let in, those past long years of control and performance. I gorged on spaghetti, on loaves of cinnamon raisin toast slathered thick with margarine. I made sheets of cut and bake cookies, a sympathy gift to myself. I baked a whole cake – 9x12, vanilla Funfetti – and kept it by my dorm room bed, pulling chunks of it out by hand, swiping crumbs through jars of speckled icing, laughing at the void with my mouth full. I watched hours of Doomsday Preppers and Life After People and threw away my homework, thrilled for the metric of performance to shift. The end of the world stopped, that time, and I slipped back into the mannequin mold of my life, sliding papers over smooth desks and swallowing my serotonin and eating measured nuts and greens.
Please understand me: I wanted a future while knowing I was not meant to enter it. I craved no destruction beyond my own. I prayed for the end of the world because I wanted the freedom of death without a funeral. To exit in a cataclysm, leaving no one to hold my memories. No audience, no performance.
Now I listen to sirens from the fire escape, breathing deeply of ruined air, imagining spores floating on the breeze and lodging in the pits of my lungs, spreading tendrils of infection. I am still technically working from home but for all I know, my boss has been dead for a week. So I scroll sometimes, shoot emails into the ether. Swipe away reminders of events that are lost to history. I will make coffee every morning until the coffee runs out. I will log on until the internet dies. I will leave the dishes to rot, and relish the thought of life growing from my refuse after I am gone.
I bake a Funfetti cake but it does not taste sweet. It’s a mixed bag, this apocalypse. There is a packet of calm in my brain; I am home and in good company here, the agony lodged in my marrow no longer without cause. But my calculus, desperate scribblings mired in depression, did not factor in the spread of the suffering, did not account for strangers scrambling for air and choking down tubes on the news. Maybe the end of the world is only a comfort for those whose worlds have not yet ended. I wonder when my medication will run out. I wonder whether I will live or die and whether there is a difference or even a choice.
In Doomsday Preppers, the contestants have storehouses and secret compounds filled with ammunition, canned beans, protective gear. My half-baked urban millennial analog: the plastic bins beneath my bed filled with cake and cookie mixes, candy bars, freeze-dried fruit and boxes of microwave macaroni. Now that the end of the world has arrived, I can stop preparing for it. So I will bake cakes and TV dinners and I will ride the subways until they stop, serving a last supper and a practiced smile to all those with the will to survive, and then I will lie down and let the vines of history creep over my body and let the void laugh at me with its mouth full.
S.E. Hartz (she/her) is a queer fiction writer and environmental scientist living in Brooklyn, New York. Her writing can be found at small leaf press, Lammergeier, and applestreet, and she can be found on Twitter at @unsilentspring.