Convinced they were the only people alive in their shit California town, Opal and Matt sat together in a coffin in the basement of the funeral home Matt’s family owned. They planned to get as drunk as possible on the top shelf whiskey they’d looted the week before. “Give me the chips. I’m starving,” Opal said. When Matt handed them to her, she caressed his fingertips. He stared at her and scratched his nose.
First came the droughts and then the fires. The air had crisped up. All that was nothing compared to what happened to the water, which in the beginning was hard to find. Eventually, even what got shipped in tasted greasy. Polluted. Chemically poisoned. They watched their moms and dads and sisters die. Their classmates. Opal’s dog. But for some reason, even though the water made their pee orange, they survived it.
Opal scooted across the coffin’s satin lining. She acted more wasted than she felt and blinked at him through half-closed eyes. Through the smell of liquor and sweat, the apple-y tang of the fabric softener on his shirt came through. She wondered if his mom had washed it last, or if she got too sick in the end and he did it himself. Opal put her head on his shoulder and let her breath go slow and deep.
She’d been in love with him since third grade when they got stuck together during a project on the gold rush. They bought aluminum pie tins, poked holes in them, and convinced their dads to drive them out to a muddy old creek. Despite the fact they got a C, they were inseparable after that class.
He usually dated girls with giant boobs, and even though Opal ran the fastest mile in school, she was desperately and relentlessly flat-chested. His taste in the opposite sex was tacky and shallow, but she liked him anyway. As they lounged in the coffin, with probably every large-breasted teenager in town dead and death coming for them soon too, her opportunity arrived.
She sat up and ate the chips. Some salt fell on her neck and glistened there. She heard a rumble outside and mistakenly thought it was an earthquake. Her throat was dry. They needed to go out and find more water soon.
Matt knew Opal wanted him to kiss her. He wanted it too, because he’d seen Gina Thomas barf blood a month ago, and he always cared more about Opal than any other girl anyways. Besides, stuff like will we still be friends after didn’t mean much anymore. There wasn’t going to be an after, and if there was, they wouldn’t have anyone but each other.
He stroked her hair, leaned his cheek against the top of her head, and breathed. Her curls were warm and dry against his face. They smelled like the ocean, which was weird, because neither of them had been bathing much.
As kids, they’d played dolls. He controlled the He-Men. She orchestrated the Barbies. Sometimes, if left alone for long enough, they made the figures bump and grind, smooth tan plastic parts clacking together. His favorite had always been Skeletor, and it never seemed strange then to see that yellow skull of a face under Skipper as she thrashed up and down, side to side.
Opal pulled away from him in a coughing fit. He grabbed her elbow to steady her, put a bottle of Gatorade in her hand. She took a swig, smiled. “Much better,” she said.
He grinned back, rubbed her shoulder, and looked into her eyes. His groin twitched.
As he moved his hand to the back of her head and his face toward hers, he didn’t notice the ground around them vibrating.
Outside, one of two things was happening. The first: a cavalcade of army green Humvees pulled into the funeral home parking lot filled with antibiotics, high-tech water purifiers, and rescuers (most of them young and nubile women, more beautiful than Opal and also immune). The second: a dust storm, rolling grey and brown dirt, charged toward them to destroy any remaining drop of fresh water, to bury the door of this building, trapping Opal and Matt inside. Either way, their lips, their mouths, their tongues touched.
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower