Listen to an audio recording of Irene Cantizano Bescós reading “After the End.”
We had expected a scorching sun, but for 25 years it rained. While the cities drowned and the waters filled with ghosts, we endured. For your first birthday we lit our last match, and you cried when the flame burnt your fingers. You had never learned to be afraid.
When the water rose, we drove, and when the roads became flooded, we rowed, and then we walked and climbed and stumbled, searching for high ground. Our mountain became an island, and at night we sat on the shore and watched the last ships go dark until there was nothing but sky and a thousand million stars.
The years went by, and the unthinkable became routine. The movies got it wrong; there was nothing exciting about the end of the world. We had water, we had rabbits, and we had you, baby girl, growing up. White silt and black currents in a world now made of mud. And from the mud, life again: cattails and irises, sweetgrass to braid you a crown; all the things we had to name anew. Nothing was taken for granted; every day we fought to survive. The fire wouldn’t take, the dams wouldn’t hold, the garden wouldn’t yield. The rain would pour on. And still, it was a good life. And still, it went by too fast. You chasing after the sparrows, your joy in spite of everything. The world claimed you every day, and you answered its call. Headfirst, unafraid, hungry for more. You fell and tried again. You would run away and come back beaming, your arms full of treasures from a past you never knew. A broken comb, a pair of glasses. And every time the waves washed away our names you would write them again. Your laughter in the dark. How you would fall asleep in your father’s arms after running all day and playing with the cats. A perfect summer day. At night, as we huddled in for warmth and told each other stories, I would breathe in your hair. We were safe, we were safe, we were safe.
I had a phone and a dynamo. Every Christmas I would charge the phone and turn it on, just to remember what it felt like to have every answer on the tips of your fingers, and everyone just a phone call away. The glow of the screen felt like magic. We would look together at the photos of the ones we loved and say their names aloud so they could be with you. Each year, I was sure the phone wouldn’t turn on, but it always did.
And the days continued to pile up until the day when blood trickled between your legs. It didn’t seem possible, to have kept you alive long enough for your body to demand a future.
Then your father died and reminded us that being alive had always been the anomaly. We laid him down on his raft, and I reached out to brush his hair out of his eyes. I couldn’t bear it. We pushed his raft into the current and surrendered him to the water. That night, there were no stories.
Gradually, your silence became anger. Anger about the world you hadn’t seen and the life you hadn’t lived. Anger at your father and me, for not risking it all so you could be free. You wanted answers, you wanted hope, and I had neither.
I gave you food, I gave you a boat, and then I tore my heart from my chest and gave you back to the world. This little life we built was never going to be enough for your yearning. So you left to search for others, while I stayed and remembered. But in my loneliness, I found myself talking to ghosts. It was not the unbroken world that I ached for. I closed my eyes and conjured your baby fingers, your hand like a tiny starfish, your mouth tugging at my breast during a time when I was still everything you could ever need. The weight of your body in the nook of my arm. My joy. All that was left of me was this love.
Gradually, the days blended together. I tended the garden and allowed the past to wash over me. In the mornings, I walked to our old birch tree. He, too, survived the long rain. My pace had slowed over the years, and this was now my farthest distance. I listened to the rustling of the leaves and watched the dappled sunlight on my wrinkled hands. And I felt alright.
December again. Time for rituals. I turned on the phone and stared at the screen. For a moment I almost believed that if I willed it, it would ring, and your voice would be at the other end. After a while, I turned it off. I walked to the sea and threw the phone as far as I could, like a skipping stone. I already carried the dead with me. But then, in the distance, the impossible. A ship, just beyond the horizon. Warm, inviting lights flickered in the darkness. The sound was unreachable, and yet I imagined voices and laughter traveling over the water. And maybe, yours was among them, calling me home.