She stands beside him on the sandy hillside, he in an old wooden chair, looking up at the starless sky. For a time they are silent, his breath frosting in the air, drinking in the blues and golds of the high clouds before, slowly and silently, they drain away.
“You know,” he says, “That means the sun just set six hundred miles away.”
She says, yes.
“Isn’t that something? That we can sit here and see what’s happening so far away?”
She looks at him. Yes, she says, that is something.
He smiles at the snaggle-toothed horizon, a line of pale blue where the great dark dome of the sky meets the land, punctuated by the black skeletons of old skyscrapers. In the dark, with all sense of scale stripped away, they could be standing stones thrown up by ancient men to ward off the terrors of the primeval night.
“Good of you to come.” he says when the clouds have closed in and the last light is finally gone.
She says, it is my duty.
“Took your time about it, though.”
She doesn’t reply.
“I did wonder, you know,” he says, “Sometimes.”
“There was a song when I was young,” he says, “You have to cross a lonesome desert, you have to walk it all alone…” he pushes his toes into the sand. “I… wondered.”
“There was a city there once.” he says after a while, for something to say.
She says, yes.
“Millions of people.”
“Lights and food and everything you could ever dream of, from all over the world. All in one place.”
“It was beautiful.”
“You should have seen it.”
He sighs. “I suppose we should have seen it coming.”
She says, it would not have helped.
Now he pulls himself around, with an effort, and stares at her.
“Not have helped? What the hell are you talking about?” he gestures at the vast dead emptiness. “We did this!”
She says, such things happen.
“Such things happen? Yes! But not if we avoid them! Not if we’d been—”
She says, there is at this moment a rock speeding through the great dark. In two hundred years it will streak down through the atmosphere and impact near the place that was Moscow. It will turn the air to ash and annihilate everything larger than a dog.
“Well I wouldn’t have minded another two hundred years!”
She says, all things end.
“That’s easy for you to say!” he says, staring at the horizon again so that she can’t see his face. “I watched my family die. A little longer would have been just fine with me.”
She gives him a sad smile.
“Well,” he harrumphs and straightens in his chair as best he can. The pain in his chest is getting worse. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d just as soon get this over with.”
She says, no last words?
“I would have liked to see the stars.”
She looks at the sky, black with clouds after the second sunset. She says, under the circumstances, a little more time will not hurt.
“The last thing I want is more time, madam.” he replies. “Have you any idea what it’s like to be this alone?”
She smiles at him.
She looks into his eyes.
She says, yes.
He closes his eyes. After a moment she kisses him tenderly on the forehead and his body slumps.
She leaves him in his chair, on the bare hill by the dead city under the freezing sky, the horizon lightening behind him.
She walks away.