The warning was short-‐-‐said almost in passing.
"The cadavers were herded and destroyed." The radio hosts then made a few jokes, and that was the end of it. It took me a moment to process what the newswoman had said through the speakers of my Suburban: Finally. A scientist in Zurich had finally succeeded in creating something that-‐-‐until then-‐-‐had only been fictional. For years, against every code of ethics known to science, Elias Klein had tried and failed to reanimate a corpse. Once a leader amid the most intelligent in the world, he was now a laughing stock. But on that day, he would have been a criminal, if he weren't already dead.
At the time, I was watching my girls arguing in the backseat through the rearview mirror, and the two words that should have changed everything barely registered. Two words, had I not been reminding Halle to give her field trip permission slip to her teacher, would have made me drive away from the curb with my foot grinding the gas pedal to the floorboard.
Instead, I was focused on saying for the third time that the girls' father, Andrew, would be picking them up from school that day. They would then drive an hour away to Anderson, the town we used to call home, and listen to Governor Bellmon speak to Andrew's fellow firefighters while the local paper took pictures. Andrew thought it would be fun for the girls, and I agreed with him-‐-‐maybe for the first time since we divorced.
Although most times Andrew lacked sensitivity, he was a man of duty. He took our daughters, Jenna, who was just barely thirteen and far too beautiful (but equally dorky) for her own good, and Halle, who was seven, bowling, out to dinner, and the occasional movie, but it was only because he felt he should. To Andrew, spending time with his children was part of a job, but not one he enjoyed.
As Halle grabbed my head and jerked my face around to force sweet kisses on my cheeks, I pushed up her thick, black-‐rimmed glasses. Not savoring the moment, not realizing that so many things happening that day would create the perfect storm for separating us. Halle half jogged, half skipped down the walkway to the school entrance, singing loudly. She was the only human I knew who could be intolerably obnoxious and endearing at the same time.
A few speckles of water spattered on the windshield, and I leaned forward to get a better look at the cloud cover overhead. I should have sent Halle with an umbrella. Her light jacket wouldn't stand up to the early spring rain.
The next stop was the middle school. Jenna was absently discussing a reading
assignment while texting the most recent boy of interest. I reminded her again as we pulled into the drop-‐off line that her father would pick her up at the regular spot, right after he picked up Halle.
"I heard you the first ten times," Jenna said, her voice slightly deeper than average for a girl her age. She looked at me with hollow brown eyes. She was present in body, but rarely in mind. Jenna had a wild imagination that was oh-‐so-‐random in the most wonderful way, but lately I couldn't get her to pay attention to anything other than her cell phone. I brought her into this world at just twenty. We practically grew up together, and I worried about her, if I'd done everything-‐-‐or anything-‐-‐right; but somehow she was turning out better than anyone could have imagined anyway.
"That was only the fourth time. Since you heard me, what did I say?"
Jenna sighed, peering down at her phone, expressionless. "Dad is picking us up. Regular spot."
"And be nice to the girlfriend. He said you were rude last time."
Jenna looked up at me. "That was the old girlfriend. I haven't been rude to the new one."
I frowned. "He just told me that a couple of weeks ago."
Jenna made a face. We didn't always have to say aloud what we were thinking, and I knew she was thinking the same thing I wanted to say, but wouldn't.
Andrew was a slut.
I sighed and turned to face forward, gripping the steering wheel so tightly my knuckles turned white. It somehow helped me to keep my mouth shut. I had made a promise to my children, silently, when I signed the divorce papers two years before: I would never bad-‐mouth Andrew to them. Even if he deserved it... and he often did.
"Love you," I said, watching Jenna push open the door with her shoulder. "See you Sunday evening."
"Yep," Jenna said.
"And don’t slam the..." A loud bang shook the Suburban as Jenna shoved the door closed. "...door." I sighed, and pulled away from the curb.
I took Maine Street to the hospital where I worked, still gripping the steering wheel tight and trying not to curse Andrew with every thought. Did he have to introduce every woman he slept with more than once to our daughters? I'd asked him, begged him, yelled at him not to, but that would be inconvenient, not letting his girl-‐of-‐the-‐ week share weekends with his children. Never mind he had Monday through Friday with whoever. The kicker was that if the woman had children to distract Jenna and Halle, Andrew would use that opportunity to "talk" with her in the bedroom.
My blood boiled. Dutiful or not, he was an asshole when I was married to him, and an even bigger asshole now.
I whipped the Suburban into the last decent parking spot in the employee parking lot, hearing sirens as an ambulance pulled into the emergency drive and parked in the ambulance bay.
The rain began to pour. A groan escaped my lips, watching coworkers run inside, their scrubs soaked from just a short dash across the street to the side entrance. I was half a block away.
TGIF. TGIF. TGIF.
Just before I turned off the ignition, another report came over the radio, something about an epidemic in Europe. Looking back, everyone knew then what was going on, but it had been a running joke for so long that no one wanted to believe it was really happening. With all the television shows, comics, books, and movies about the undead, it shouldn't have been a surprise that somebody was finally both smart and crazy enough to try and make it a reality.
I know the world ended on a Friday. It was the last day I saw my children.