Nadia could barely breathe she was so anxious. Her hands were shaking. Raul, squashed in beside her on the bus seat didn’t seem to notice anything unusual. But she’d already come to the fateful conclusion, after a few casual dates, that Raul didn’t really notice much beyond the orbit of his own rather tall frame. It was all ‘big picture’ with him.
They were on the Number 14 bus heading towards her family home in Putney. It stank of damp dejected office workers glad to be out of the rain. The bus inched forward in a clogged bus lane, water pouring from steamed-up windows as everyone broiled in an overheated cabin. Normally Nadia would walk from here, trying to keep fit, but the rain was pelting it down and Raul, being from South America, hated the English rain. Brazilian rain, he had assured her on many occasions already, was much superior to English rain. She didn’t care either way. Rain was rain in her opinion.
Raul carried flowers on his lap, pretty chrysanthemums, burnt orange, now wilting in the dreadful humidity of the bus. They were a gift for her mother. The source of all fear in Nadia’s life. The mother who had insisted that she bring Raul home to meet them, as though ‘he’ was the one. Nadia’s mother was obsessed by the idea that Nadia should marry.
‘You’re a graduate. You have a good job. You’re twenty-three. You must marry before you are twenty-four. No one will marry you after twenty-four.’
She glanced at Raul who was staring at his iPhone watching some guys playing rugby and grunting. Raul was ‘into’ sport, but was too thin and too tall to actually play anything physical. In the two months since she had started dating him, she had never seen him do anything physical (except in the bedroom and even there she did most of the work). She had absolutely no idea why she had agreed to bring him home. To shut her mother up perhaps? Buy her time? It could only lead to more questions, to more demands about when he was going to propose, then when will they have children, when will they start repeating the nightmare that had been her mother’s miserable life.
Her phone beeped. Another text from her mother. ‘YOU ARE LATE’ it screamed.
Nadia shook some more. Why oh why had she come home? Why Raul, of all people? Was it just because he was there? The only guy to have actually taken an interest in her since her return from Edinburgh. She missed Scotland and the freedom it gave her. Four years of bliss away from family and the shame that surrounded it. Her friends had implored her to get a job in Edinburgh, but her mother had pleaded, begged, screamed at her to come home after graduation and in the end she had given in, as her mother knew she would.
She had regretted every day thereafter.
Raul tried to clear the window and peer out.
‘Much further?’ He asked, already miserable.
‘We’ll get off at the bridge,’ she answered. ‘It’s quicker to walk from there. Just gets stuck on the high street anyway.’
Raul made a face. In Rio he never used buses. They were for poor people. In Rio he had a Golf GTI and lived in a secure gated compound unsullied by traffic or people. His father was in government and Raul fully intended to follow in his footsteps.
‘I’m not sure about the flowers, Raul. My mother is superstitious. I’m sure they’re the wrong flowers.’
‘But they are pretty.’
‘In a graveyard perhaps.’
Raul shrugged. They had been on offer in the supermarket. You get invited to eat, you give flowers. Everyone knew that. There were no ‘wrong’ flowers.
Nadia frowned. She wasn’t even sure she even liked Raul. They’d met at the noisy ruby loving South African pub by work. He was completing his MBA at City and Jules had pushed them together. Jules was always trying to get Nadia off with someone or other. Raul was good-looking, a bit shy really, but bright. There was nothing he didn’t know about mathematics, but then again, there was nothing she wanted to know about math. Numbers bored her. She worked on the social media team at the office, blogging and tweeting garbage for a select group of corporate clients. Her Masters in Applied Media were utterly wasted on recommending products to unsuspecting tweeters who may actually believe they were personal recommendations by the celebs they were following. It sickened her, but it was well paid and better than being unemployed and at the mercy of her mother.
‘Will your father be there?’ Raul asked randomly.
Nadia blinked. Had he never listened to a word she’d ever said? She had distinctly told him that her father had abandoned her mother and run off with a girl only one year older his ‘precious’ daughter. (So precious she hadn’t heard from him once in the last two years). She glanced at Raul again. Would he do that to her she wondered. The moment she turned 40 and had grey hair. He’d just up and go and shack up with a 20 year-old nightclub dancer?
‘No. We haven’t seen him since he moved to Spain. Raul? You must forgive my grandfather, understand? He’ll say things, do things…’ She shuddered at the thought of all the embarrassing things he could potentially do. ‘He’s a broken man. You mustn’t mock him.’
Raul looked at her with surprise clear in his face. ‘I was looking forward to meeting him. He was quite famous in Rio.’
Nadia winced. She knew he meant notorious. Grandfather Alphonse was the great family shame. A renowned professor at Escuela Técnica Superior de Ignenieros Industriales in Madrid, he’d suddenly developed a mania that the world was going to end. He published a paper on it, given a date and from that moment on he was mercilessly mocked and ridiculed. For a while he was a celebrity. He went on a speaking tour (Rio was one of the stops she recalled). At the appointed date thousands gathered on a rock outside Madrid to await the end of the world and of course… nothing happened.
He was shattered. He’d done all the calculations. Used the latest computers to crunch the numbers and he was so absolutely sure…
All this she remembered from when she was around twelve years old. He had come to them like a broken toy. Holed up in the loft, then taken over the living room where he was often found sleeping on the sofa curled up like a child. He still believed of course, but he was alone in that belief now and he was their eternal shame.
‘He’s fragile, Raul. One wrong word and he just starts crying. If you see him, it’s best to say nothing.’
Raul nodded. ‘I’d heard he went crazy. Many people agreed with his calculations in Rio, y’know. He wasn’t alone. I have read his paper.’
Nadia was surprised.
‘At my university in Brazil. It was a lecture. ‘How Numbers can let you down.’ I was surprised when I met you. Aracena is not so usual a name. I guessed right away you must be his grand-daughter.’
Nadia was shocked. He’d never once mentioned this before. She’d never discussed her grandfather – except to say he was sick.
Nadia pursed her lips. Did this mean anything? There could be any amount of Aracena’s in this world.
‘People use math for all kinds of things. To make weapons, to calculate the gravitational weight of a drop of water on Mars, or predict the end of the world. Not everyone becomes so famous as Dr Aracena,’ Raul declared. ‘I will be honoured to meet such a man who was so brave.’
‘He knew he would be mocked. But he thought he was right.’ Raul shrugged. ‘Mathematicians can only be right or wrong. There’s no in-between.’
Nadia didn’t know about that. All she remembered was a man who had been utterly humiliated, who never spoke, who often howled in anguish from the room at the top of the house, rarely took a shower unless he was forced to. He was the reason she had fled to University in Scotland (that and her mother of course).
When she had returned Grandfather Alphonse had mellowed a little. Could even smile from time to time, but he was never quite normal. She often wondered if that was why her father had sought relief from someone else and finally abandoned his father to them all.
‘We should get off,’ Nadia declared, standing. The bus was suddenly oppressive. She needed air. It didn’t matter if they got wet; there were warm towels to dry by. She wanted off the bus.
‘We must get wine,’ Raul remembered as they zipped up their coats at the bus stop.
‘My mother won’t allow alcohol in the house.’
Raul looked pained. ‘No? Really?’
Nadia hurried him across the busy road towards Lower Richmond Road.
‘This will be a disaster, Raul. You shouldn’t have agreed to come.’
‘You invited me.’ He protested.
‘I was just being polite. You should have refused.’
Raul blinked, then laughed, shaking the rain out of his face. He thought she was joking. ‘Meeting the family is important,’ he said. ‘Next month my father visits. You will meet him. Don’t let him pinch your bottom. He thinks every women wants him. You think your family is embarrassing? Mine is far worse.’
Nadia took his arm. She had no intention of meeting his father. Parents judged you. She loathed being judged. She had seriously considered only dating orphans. She had no idea how you would do that. It was not exactly something people usually listed on their Facebook page.
All she knew was that fathers and especially mothers would look at her and decide her hair was too dark, his skin too sallow, her eyes too brown to end up married to such a blue-eyed specimen as Raul. He was one of those blonde Brazilians. She had no idea where they came from but it certainly wasn’t the Conquistadors. And as soon as they knew about Grandfather Alphonse Aracena they’d add ‘crazy’ to their list of objections.
She thought about cousin Lalia who was living with them now. Married for one year. Her husband had had second thoughts about her and thrown her out. Nadia had thought him a poor choice of husband at the wedding in Salé in Morocco. All those tribal relatives had sour faces. They had decided that Lalia was not a good catch and started on the groom almost immediately. Lalia didn’t stand a chance against a family determined to wreck a marriage.
‘It’s not far,’ Nadia told him, hurrying now as the rain began to fall harder.
Raul was fussing with the flowers, all drenched now. Nadia knew her mother would shriek when she saw them and put them in the bin. The evening would go downhill from there – no doubt.
‘Oh he’s so tall.’ Was her mother’s reaction as she fussed over them, making them shake the water off their outerwear on the porch, desperately trying to hide her horror at the sight of chrysanthemums in her house. She wouldn’t even look at them. They didn’t exist; she quickly carried them into the kitchen and flung them out of the back door, slamming the door hard as if to keep out the bad omens.
She came back all smiles, as if it never happened. Raul had seen it all but aside from a raised eyebrow to Nadia, he ignored it. After all he had been warned.
She opened a door. ‘Now go into the comedor, Raul. Lalia will entertain you whilst Nadia and I get the food ready.’
Nadia was about to object. Lalia was not renown for being social; and what with Raul’s natural shyness and her studied diffidence, it would be an awkward twenty minutes in that dining room.
‘He’s so tall,’ her mother repeated in the kitchen. The newly expanded kitchen her mother practically lived in now she’d had a conservatory built out into the garden. The food was all prepared of course, just as Nadia knew it would be. Paella simmered in the huge pot on the range and her mother’s special crispy Tortillitas de Camarones (shrimps in pancake batter) were cooling in a dish.
‘You don’t need me here, Mama. Let me go to him. He’s shy, he’s…’
‘Lalia will take care of him. You need to know that your grandfather wants to come to the table.’
Nadia groaned. ‘Why now?’ He never came to the table anymore. ‘Did you make him shower? Is he wearing a clean shirt? Oh God, Mama. He will embarrass us.’
‘He wants to meet him. You never bring a man home. This is serious, Nadia.’
‘Serious?’ Nadia’s blood suddenly ran hot. ‘I only brought him because you nagged me so much to bring a man home. He’s just a date. I could have brought any man off the street to shut you up. It’s just a boy I met, that’s all. It does not require Grandfather’s approval.’
Her mother just gave her that ‘look’ she gave when she wanted to silence her. Nadia realised she’d been almost shouting.
‘His father is the deputy finance director in the Brazilian Treasury. An important man, Nadia.’
Nadia felt her forehead twitch, as it generally did when talking to her mother.
‘I’m not dating his father. And who gave you permission to look him up?’
Her mother waved her hands in dismissal. ‘You don’t think I wouldn’t look him up? The boy who is dating my daughter? It’s all there on Google. I should not look up and see if he is…?’
‘What? Rich? Raul’s father is rich, Mama. Raul is poor. He’s not a playboy. He doesn’t even own a car here. He cares nothing for money.’
‘I don’t care about cars. I just want to know he’s from a good family. You think I don’t worry about you? You’re twenty-three. Unmarried. This is not healthy. You think we women get prettier as we get older?’
Nadia threw her hands up in horror. Now her mother thought she was an old maid. She knew exactly why Grandfather Alphonse sometimes took to the sofa and curled up like a child, covering his ears when her mother was like this. He was lucky, had an excuse, he was crazy, but Nadia just wanted to scream at her mother. She made everything so difficult.
‘Where are the flowers, Mama?’
Her mother narrowed her eyes. ‘You think he doesn’t know they are for the dead? Do they not have customs in Brazil? Did his mother not educate him? To bring the flowers of the dead into this house. It’s shocking, Nadia. Shocking. So disrespectful.’
‘They aren’t the flowers of the dead in England, Mama. You’ve been living in London twenty-five years or more. No one dies from getting flowers. No one.’
‘It is disrespectful, Nadia. We will not talk of flowers.’
Nadia poured fruit cordial into the crystal glasses. Of course they were using the crystal. Nothing but the best for Raul. God she needed something stronger than this.
When she entered the dining room Lalia was laughing, seemingly entranced by Raul’s wit. She was going that thing she always did with fingers on her neck when flirting, she knew it drove men crazy. Worse, Raul looked entranced. Lalia was prettier than Nadia, she knew that. The flashing brown eyes, the petite frame that never put on weight. Nadia realized that she had a rival and she reminded herself that Lalia was newly single again and dangerous. Raul was a ‘catch’. Nadia had a passing paranoid thought that her mother had set this up to get Lalia off her hands. Let her steal Nadia’s boyfriend, because obviously Nadia was never going to land such a rich boy.
‘It’s a fruit cordial,’ Nadia told them, making a face. ‘Sorry.’
Lalia laughed, that special naughty little girl laugh she saved for men’s ears only. ‘I’ve got vodka upstairs. She won’t be able to smell it.’
Raul grinned, happy to be brought into the conspiracy. Nadia saw his eyes lustfully follow Lalia’s pert little bottom out of the room.
‘She’s twenty-eight now,’ Nadia remarked casually, letting that sink in. Four whole years older than Raul.
‘She still looks like a teenager,’ Raul replied, wistfully looking at the space that Lalia had left behind.
Nadia pursed her lips. It was disappointingly true. Lalia did look impossibly young. But then again she had no cares. Zafri, her ex-husband had wanted a quick divorce (no doubt he too had found some cute night club dancer to distract him and provided an alternative plain wife to placate his Moroccan family.) He’d offered a quarter of a million to Lalia in final settlement and she’d grabbed it. She knew he was worth much more, but getting it out of him would have been a lifetime’s work. She’d easily find another man with that kind of dowry.
Lalia returned with the vodka concealed in a perfume bottle and topped up their drinks.
‘And I don’t get vodka too?’
Nadia spun around. Grandfather Alphonse was seated at the end of the dining table, half hidden in the dark. She hadn’t realized he was already here.
Lalia blushed at being found out, but Grandfather held up his glass.
‘Fill it before the grand inquisitor returns to strangle any joy in the occasion’.
Nadia allowed a flicker of a smile. He always called his daughter-in-law the grand inquisitor when he was lucid. Better yet, this meant he was temporarily sane. She felt relief.
‘It’s an honour to meet you, Dr Aracena,’ Raul announced, raising his glass.
Lalia tipped a dash of vodka into the old man’s glass, but he held her hand there for longer, making sure he got at least two shots.
‘I wish that were true,’ Dr Aracena replied, lifting his glass again and toasting them all before knocking it back in one huge glug. He set the glass down and stared at Nadia a moment.
‘Best hang on to this one, Nadia or Lalia will steal him from under your nose.’
Raul laughed. Nadia and Lalia glared at each other. They both knew it was true.
‘I’m sure he’s not at all interested in older women, Doctor,’ Lalia purred, winking at Raul, who nervously drained the remains of his vodka cocktail.
Dr Aracena merely smiled. He knew what was happening here, even if Nadia didn’t.
‘You come to gloat at the man who missed Doomsday by a million years,’ Dr Aracena pointedly asked Raul. ‘I’m here. You can tell me I’m a fool to my face.’
Raul took up the challenge, glad to have been forewarned by Nadia.
‘I have read your paper, sir. A white dwarf asteroid, up to 30 kilometers wide on an elliptical orbit between two galaxies. Invisible until it suddenly appears behind the shadow of the moon. I like it. Something like that must have struck Chicxulub on the Yucatan Peninsular 65 millions years ago. Yours would make a crater twice the size of the Gulf of Mexico. It could knock earth off its orbit.’
‘The dust and debris thrown up into the atmosphere from the Yucatan asteroid wiped out fauna and flora and half the species on the planet.’ Dr Aracena acknowledged. ‘The big lizards starved to death. The resulting earthquakes and tsunamis must have overwhelmed most of the planet. I doubt some places saw the sun again for decades.’
Raul seemed genuinely interested in this discussion Nadia was surprised to discover.
‘And where the dinosaurs went, we will follow,’ Raul stated. ‘Seven billion of us falling….’
‘Off a cliff,’ Nadia chipped in. ‘But not before dinner I hope.’
Lalia shook her hair. Both men stared; the effect of her tossing her mane was as devastating as any asteroid appearing in the sky and had them transfixed.
‘The world will go on, with us or without us,’ she declared. ‘Won’t it, Doctor. Who cares if the world ends? The rats and the ants will rule.’
Dr Aracena shrugged. ‘Perhaps not the rats, but the ants are pretty resilient.’
Nadia’s mother came in with the crispy Tortillitas and sizzling hot Gambas. ‘Time to eat. Sit, eat, Nadia fetch the paella. Papa Doc, no gloom at the table. You promised faithfully.’
Raul glanced over at Nadia, but Nadia was leaving to fetch the rest of the food and missed his gaze. Suddenly Lalia was at his side and putting him in the chair next to her. He noticed her hand held on to his just a fraction too long and she gave him a sly smile as she relinquished it.
Nadia was in the kitchen lifting the huge pot of paella off the hob. Was Raul just pretending to be interested in her grandfather to be polite? Certainly Lalia was trying her hardest to be the focus of attention. She wasn’t sure how she felt about this at all. Did it matter if she stole the boy away from her? She wasn’t in love with him. She didn’t want to fight for this one. But then again, why make it easy for her?
She decided to go back to the dining room wearing a smile. Raul always said he was first attracted to her by her smile.
Raul was eating gambas when she got back. He was concentrating on his seafood and hardly noticed when she placed the paella on the table. He barely cognisant of Lalia flicking her hair either. Nadia locked eyes with her grandfather a moment and he nodded and made a face. He knew she didn’t love Raul. Grandfather Alphonse could read her like a book.
‘Can I discuss the numbers with you after dinner, Dr Aracena?’ Raul suddenly asked. ‘My professor, Dr Lingaard was particularly interested in your work, y’know.’
‘You were studying in San Francisco?’
‘He came to Rio in my final year. He was my supervisor. He said he was the only one left who still believed in you.’
Dr Aracena stared at Raul with surprise, then nodded, going back to his food. ‘He was very generous. Very generous man.’
Nadia ate nervously, watching Lalia flirt and her mother twitch and Raul just eat. He had no small talk and was a hungry boy. She began to sense she wasn’t there at all. She ate in silence, not even attempting to make any conversation. It was all too weird.
The incident occurred after the meal. Whilst Nadia and Lalia cleared the table and made coffee.
At first Nadia thought it was her Grandfather howling again and was about to die of embarrassment, but as she went to investigate she realised it might be laughter coming from Grandfather’s room. That in itself was surprising, but then she heard raised voices and realised they were arguing. This was bad. Very bad.
She pushed on the door and it swung open to reveal Raul and her grandfather pointing at a chart on the wall and jabbing at some numbers. She opened wider and the former living room was unrecognisable. Every inch of the walls was covered in sheets of paper – each covered by calculations and angry black drawings. This truly was the work of madness. Clearly her grandfather had not given up his quest for answers. He stood arms crossed in a defensive posture as Raul was pointing at some equation on the wall.
‘Are you all right, Grandfather,’ Nadia asked softly. He didn’t acknowledge her presence. He was too focused on Raul.
‘Density,’ Raul was saying. ‘You didn’t allow for density.’
‘Density is y2,’ Dr Aracena replied, jabbing at the equation. ‘It is an unknown quantity multiplied by the expected velocity.’
Raul was excited. ‘But all of this is unknown… You are making assumptions that it drops out of its ellipsis and…’
‘No, you misunderstand everything. It is absolutely following the same elliptical orbit, but is Earth that has shifted.’
‘Yes, even infinitesimally it makes a huge difference.’
‘And it only comes into our galaxy orbit once every 3000 years.’
‘Again no. You take me for a fool? The first known recording was in Memphis, Egypt 2998. It shows a comet or asteroid appearing from behind the moon and passing earth so close people thought it was Horus himself coming among them.
‘I found another account of it’s passing in 300 BC in scrolls at the Jordanian Institute. And again, an account by Chinese scholars in 915 AD. It’s a White Dwarf, Raul.’
Raul was sceptical. ‘An elliptical orbit once every two hundred and forty years is too strange. Where does it go? How can it pass from one galaxy to another without falling into orbit around one sun or another? It shouldn’t be possible.’
‘I calculated it was due twelve years ago. I admit I was spectacularly wrong. I know that. I paid for that. I was ruined. But I know it is out there.’
Raul shrugged. ‘I like the mystery. I think that these are real sightings, but they are not of the same asteroid. No description is ever alike.’
Dr Aracena stepped back, disappointed.
‘The Egyptian description is very detailed.’
Raul shook his head.. ‘The description fits a comet.’
‘But no comet was due at that time. We know all of the times of comets. They describe this as the five days of the shadow moon. The white dwarf passing so close to the moon it seemed to them that the moon had a halo.’
Nadia decided to intervene. ‘You shouldn’t tease grandfather.’
‘I am genuinely interested, Nadia. I like a mystery.’
‘But, this fool of an old man got the date wrong.’ Her grandfather reminded them.
Raul nodded. ‘Date yes, but … Two hundred and forty or fifty years ago someone must have seen it, recorded it.’
‘I was hoping Mikhael Lomonosov might have recorded something,’ Dr Aracena said quietly. ‘He discovered the atmosphere on Venus and led the expedition to observe the transit of Venus in 1761. William Herschel most definitely observed something that September in Halifax, but believed it was an atmospheric aberration. No one was looking for it and it vanished without note for another two hundred and forty-odd years.
Raul smiled. ‘And as you say, it is overdue.’
Nadia was annoyed with Raul for getting her grandfather so excited. He’d be depressed after all this. It was all best left in the past.
‘Still,’ Raul added, crossing the room to join Nadia. ‘If you had been right I would not have met Nadia, or the lovely Lalia.’ He placed a little possessive kiss on Nadia’s forehead.
Dr Aracena bowed. He noted the word ‘lovely’ when it came to Lalia, but not his darling Nadia. He wondered if Nadia had noticed the same.
Nadia left them too it. She had no interest in the end of the world. She’d dreamt about it, who hadn’t, but the craziness attached to her grandfather had kept her firmly rooted to the ground. Her dreams were quite prosaic really.
Raul left at ten-thirty. He thanked everyone, insisted he’d had an eventful evening, refused Nadia’s offer of walking him to the bus stop and was, by eleven forgotten. Lalia had already gone to bed, shirking her clearing up as ever.
Nadia patiently cleaned the kitchen as her mother fussed over Grandfather Alphonse. When Nadia finally got to bed she slept surprisingly well, letting the days anxiety slip away. She’d brought a boy home. Please God, let her mother be content with that for another year at least.
The funeral for Grandfather Alphonse was a small affair. He’d died just one day after Raul’s visit for dinner. No reason. He’d had a nap in the afternoon and didn’t wake up, that was all. His time apparently.
A journalist from Madrid called out of curiosity, but neither Raul nor Lalia attended the funeral.
It rained. There was a sense of relief. Nadia didn’t feel sorry for him. He’d stuck to his theory to the very end and the burden died with him. Not a bang but a whimper. He would have smiled sardonically at that remark and nodded his head in agreement. ‘It is better that I am wrong, Nadia. It means you have a life ahead of you. I never intended to steal your future.’
She’d expected her father to come, be the dutiful son, but his new wife was due any moment and he couldn’t possibly leave her, not even for his father’s funeral.
Her mother had wanted to burn all her grandfather’s papers and even his books. Nadia was horrified. She didn’t know why exactly, but she spent an entire weekend packing it all up and placed neatly into Xerox boxes, which she carted up into the roof space. Perhaps because one day someone would care enough to want to look, should he be ever vindicated. The only irony being that if he ever was vindicated his glory would be very short lived.
Lalia announced her engagement to Raul at the Sunday lunch the following week. They’d apparently been seeing each other since the first night Nadia had brought him home. Her mother seemed pleased, not at all upset on Nadia’s behalf, all the proof Nadia need as to whom she favoured most in this family. She should have protested more but she had never wanted to live in Brazil anyway.
She tried to be bitter and upset by the betrayal, but her heart wasn’t in it. Raul deserved Lalia. She most likely had not yet revealed her temper. Or her inclination to spend days on end in her housecoat watching bad TV. All his to discover.
* * * *
It was the Wednesday of the engagement party she had not attended. She had worked late to make sure she couldn’t possibly go. Lalia’s betrayal had helped her in many unexpected ways. She’d made a decision. She would leave home. Move to North London where most of her work colleagues lived. No more mother or cousins in her life. She’d be a new Nadia, much like the one that used to laugh and had friends, the one she’d left behind in Scotland.
She’d forgotten about the strike. Tube and busses this time. At nine she began to make the walk home, deciding to follow the river as far as she could before it turned away towards World’s End.
She was passing Battersea Bridge. Saw people gathered in knots, well wrapped against the unusually cold September wind. Everyone was staring up at the sky. The moon was rising. A full, blood-red moon, perfectly clear in the clear sky.
But they weren’t looking at the moon, but at the shadow that had appeared behind it. A distant bright object, easily visible to the naked eye. Some were listening to chatter on their iPhones about the phenomena, but Nadia only saw how beautiful it was, and how exquisitely deadly. To be seen so clearly it would have to be a very large object indeed.
Raul phoned. Not at all annoyed she’d not come to his engagement party. He was excited at the news. He’d immediately sent everyone home. He was already on his way to the airport with Lalia. He wanted to die in Lalia’s arms in Rio, he told Nadia, oblivious to any insult he may have given her. Nadia almost considered it sweet. She didn’t care what Lalia thought. She wished him well.
Nadia didn’t go home. She knew the phone would be ringing wildly and her mother would be going mad as everyone would want to know about Dr Aracena. They’d be so disappointed he was already dead.
She caught a cab to Kings Cross. Not everyone was talking about this moon shadow yet. Not everyone knew its significance. She took £300 out of a cash point, all it would allow.
She got a berth on the night train to Edinburgh. £150 pounds one way. She called her old friends and told them to meet her for breakfast at the Mount street café they always loved. They had no idea of the significance of her visit but she wasn’t going to tell them on the phone.
Her late grandfather’s picture was on all the on-line news sites on her phone by midnight. She felt almost proud that he hadn’t been forgotten. The Aracena Shadow they were calling it. She slept peacefully, almost happy for the first time in years. She felt only slightly guilty for not going home to be with her mother, but resolute in her decision to finally break free.
The ‘White Dwarf Asteroid Dooms Earth to Oblivion’ headline that greeted her at Waverly Station at seven in the morning was a downer, but her friends were waiting for her and they hugged and wept. They all got terribly rowdy at breakfast and she’d eaten and drunk more than she ever needed. Didn’t care about the midday hangover, she was with her friends and they cared about her, missed her.
The clouds obscured the moon that night. Everyone was discussing Dr Aracena’s theories and how, because the moon was (relatively speaking) infinitesimally further away from Earth since the last time the asteroid was here, it could quite possibly make fatal impact. It was hurtling towards earth at a frightening speed. Talk about blowing it up was just that, nothing was prepared, no one but Dr Aracena had predicted it and he’d been wrong by twelve whole years.
Nadia helped her friends barricade the doors of the apartment. The screaming and shouting outside was truly blood curdling. Fires broke out all over the city and no one was going to douse the flames…
‘When will we die, Nadia?’ her friends asked, as if she knew and as if she’d tell them.
‘In our sleep,’ she reassured them.
‘Then we must not sleep ever again,’ was their answer.
But they slept.
And so did everyone else.
© Sam Hawksmoor 2020
author of The Repercussions of Tomas D and J&K 4Ever - Love & Devotion in a post-apocalypse
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