Fireworks at the End of Time
Claudia Ann Seaman Award
Vancouver, British Columbia
Crofton House School
Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. Robert Frost said both, actually, in your favourite poem. Yesterday night, as we climbed to the roof to look at the sky, its stars like pinpricks in the fabric of space-time, you asked me the same question. Your hand was over mine, warm, and the roof shingles were gritty. The earth pressed into me from above and below, and in between I was your Atlas. The stars smiled, so beautifully far away. I watched the cotton of your dress wrinkle in my direction. The lights of the city caught at your lips and sent my eyes a gossamer haze, but I was compelled to listen.
Will the world end in fire or ice?
Why should it matter? I murmured, smiling so you could see that I wasn’t scared.
Oh, but I was. You know so little; to me that is commendable. Many times I have confessed to you my fears of the end of the universe, of matter, of Time herself. Do you remember the afternoon we painted en plein air, ------? I did an unintentional masterstudy of La Promenade. You made a lovely Camille; I was a clumsy Claude. The wind caressed your form in the same way: white frock, laundry on the clothesline, a bride’s veil, an angel’s wing, God’s surrender. Frisch weht der Wind, you noted. Your smile was sweet, Lambrusco wine; we drank to each other. You wished us good fortune. I wished well for the universe, which like our toast and tongues long after, tasted like drunken raspberries, like summer in the fields and clafoutis and your lips and the sunset. When the universe dips and bends, does it taste itself? Does the universe know of the end? Fingertips, stained with raspberry pink, traced my jawline.
You kissed me. I grasped the hem of your dress. My fingers were knives, bleeding an angel’s wing raspberry-red for us, flowing like diluted paint in the basin back in the fieldhouse: pigments and tap-water, turpentine. I stared empty at the drain sucking the paint down, gurgling, choking on the remnants of what never became La Promenade. Colours pulled apart: lapis lazuli at an event horizon, cadmium submitted to singularity, all ordered to rend by the flow of water, the flow of time.
I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
But you had your arms at my waist and I (forgive me) had my arms at the side of the sink, gazing, at the black hole, bullet wound marring the flesh of the universe, the ceramic basin like the place where stars go to die, and I (forgive me) did not kiss you back.
------, the universe does not end with a bang or an exaltation of Time herself, but slowly, carefully, cold, like the dripping of treacle, honey, molasses, lapped up by the unwilling tongue of fate. When I say ‘slow’, you think of how long it takes me to roll out of bed in the morning after you trace your fingers down my sternum and kiss my forehead; you think of our Saturday afternoons. I say ‘slow’ in the most terrible way. Time would laugh at you, dear. When She blinks her hazy eyes again you and I will be long gone, swallowed by the sun as it bloats like a dead whale. So in a way, you are right, we will end in fire, incinerated, ashes to ashes and dust to dust. But our end is not the end. That would be selfish. We are nothing.
All the stars die. The sky is a horrible place, dotted with carrion at which we look up and marvel. Dead stars. The ones we met under died at a time no one can remember, and their corpses will continue to drift apart. The North Star will be lost, the Big Dipper will stretch and warp, stars thousands of times bigger than the Sun—which we thought immortal—will give up their lives in a brilliant supernova and claw against the fabric of space-time. Their death throes will send ripples through space. The core of our Sun, once bloated and burning, will wither, curdle, compact to a white dwarf.
Space has no noise; you told me that one night before bed: No one can hear you scream in space. Your cries will die inside you, swallowed by the frigid silence. It would be a silent death, a lonely death. And yet you smiled at me, leaning against the headboard as you thumbed through a copy of some Lovecraftian horror. I think I laughed, unsure of where you were going. Dying alone: I suppose it is different for the stars. They burn out and watch everything fall away. When the last one dies, alone, that mortal firework will be the last light, a serene death, like turning off a bedside lamp to sleep for a long time. A commendable death, sure, but the dying of the stars is just the beginning—the exodus of light is insignificant. After, epochs upon eons of the exsanguination of warmth: a slow extinction, but a sure one. It shall be cold, it shall end in ice.
-------, matter cannot be created or destroyed. Only transformed. When Lavoisier proposed this, did he think of the subsistence of you and me, somewhere, beyond the beginning of time? Ah, I grow selfish for you, -------. His conjecture means one thing to me: we will be together forever, truly until the end of time. Even if we are on opposite ends of the universe, we shall exist on the same plane, and I will never have to think of a world without you. To be fair, I shall not have to think at all after a while. Given that, it is exquisite that I met you while sentient.
The universe gave our lives a pocket between lonely darkness and volatile inferno. The Earth was rich, fertile, Mesopotamia of the solar system. We reaped, did not sow, and the Earth now grows desolate. A percentage taken from the birth of the universe to its eventual end indicates that all life as we know it will only exist for 1x10-81% of the universe’s life. Within that are 3.5 billion years of life, but somehow this sliver of opportunity is comforting to me.
-------, I know you are not scared of everything ending. You would hold Death at the tongue for me. I am scared of everything ending. -------, if you hold Death by the tongue you will get bitten. But there is nothing to be scared of, nor is there need to proclaim its absence. -------,, I write this because I now know:
It is nothing short of a miracle that we even met, let alone fell in love. We are a miracle, ------- something beautiful in the vastness of it all.
Note: This piece was previously published in The Aurora Journal in 2020.
I fell in love with this piece as soon as I read it, as I’m sure you just have. With precise details and allusions to science, art, and everything in between, this story about the death of the universe is filled with life. Gently apocalyptic and bright with wonder, “Fireworks at the End of Time” beautifully discusses the improbability and serendipity of existing at the same time as someone else.
Editorial Praise from Crystal Hana Kim, Fiction Judge:
“Fireworks at the End of Time” is an innovative, elegiac story full of references to a greater communion of poetry, art, and science. Deftly using the second-person perspective to speak to a beloved ‘you,’ the writer questions the end of time and basks in the wonder of finding love in our vast world. Evocative of Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell, “Fireworks at the End of Time” is poetic and full of verve.
Caitlin Mah is a grade 12 student in Vancouver, BC. When not writing, she enjoys competitive debate, baking, and a good cup of iced coffee. She has carpal tunnel from playing too much Minecraft and can be found at @caitlin_mah on twitter.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR