Dandelions were only the _first_ thing to disappear...
A short story
It all happened suddenly enough.
There, on the morning news, barely audible above the chomping in my ears of the cereal in my mouth, it is said:
All the dandelions are gone.
I listen more closely, shifting my attention over to the TV. Dandelions, did they say? Surely I had misheard them above the munching of my shredded wheat. I stop chewing.
They recap the details… All of them, around the world, gone with the sunrise. The minute the sun came up, no matter where, no matter what the time zone it came up in, that was all she wrote: gone. No more dandelions.
Scientists are flummoxed. The most plausible hypotheses being bandied about have something to do with sunspots, solar rays, something of that sort – I don’t totally understand this part. But one development has them all completely and utterly baffled: the fact that it is only the dandelions that have been affected. Nothing more, nothing less. Only the dandelions.
Of course, they have to prove it first, they say, they have to confirm it. Surely, it is necessary to do a thorough worldwide search to determine if any other species have been affected by this phenomenon. Why just the dandelions, after all? Why should they be any more significant than all the other species? How could they be?
They were just dandelions, after all. This is what I infer from this.
Oh well. I shrug. As puzzling as it all sounds, this sort of thing doesn’t bother me any. If anything, it’d make my summer routine a little bit easier this year. The old lady hated it every time she’d see a dandelion sprouting up in the yard, and she’d cajole me with a religious zeal to uproot it whenever one did. I, being a good and dutiful husband, have always obliged her of course. It’s the little things that make a marriage happy, I’ve found.
Looking out at my now-perfect lawn (well, almost perfect, I muse – we still have some crabgrass), the morning’s news sticks with me, as insignificant as it seems. I am no scientist, that's for sure, but this certainly was peculiar, that much I can tell. I can’t make either hide or hair of it, nor from the sound of the borderline-desperate analysts on the television, can anyone else. Taking it in stride, though, I pursue my usual daily post-retirement summer routine these days, regardless of the morning’s anomaly: I set out for the golf course.
Down the walkway I go, towards my trusty maroon Oldsmobile. I am clad in the usual gear: plaid khakis, a paisley cobalt shirt, and knee-high argyle socks, all of this stylishly topped off with a white visor that reads “Pfizer.” I sit down in the driver’s seat, put the car into gear, and off I go out onto the road.
The missing dandelions are the talk of the country club, needless to say. While the television prognosticators had been conservative and cautious in their predications of what had caused the disappearance, my fellow country-clubbers are full of wild and inventive ideas. Harold, the ardent sci-fi fan, naturally blames aliens. Stan, ever the environmentalist, cites all the pesticides and lawn chemicals people use. See what happens, he says, when it seeps into the ground water? You mark my words: this is just the beginning! Then there is Bill, the bawdy one, who says it's all due to a runaway herd of bulimic sheep on a globe-trotting eating binge. If you think this is bad, he says, wait ‘til you see them purge.
I myself really have no preconceived ideas about what caused this. A faint, disquieting voice in the back of my mind keeps whispering about the Book of Revelation. Could it be that this is some kind of sign from above?
These are exactly my thoughts as I stare out vacantly from the first tee. Bill, however, interrupts my daydreaming by heckling, “Hey Frank, I have to die in a few years, ya know. Speed it up!”
Embarrassed, I give him a goofy smile and mutter a good-natured apology. I take another practice swing, pull the club back, and away the ball goes.
Right into a sandtrap.
I pump my fist angrily, club still in hand. This is going to be a long day, I can tell.
And with that, my thoughts of Revelation flutter away.
The rest of the day is uneventful. I come in last in the golf game, my portent of a bad day no doubt coming to fruition in my score. I return home, play the dutiful househusband, and make dinner. The old lady tells me she’s retired now, too: retired from cooking. She always jokes that since for years she had already been tired of cooking, it’d be only proper that she now be retired of it, right?
I didn’t marry her for her sense of humor.
We make the obligatory small talk over dinner, she about her bridge club, me about my golf game. It works out well: we spend time with our friends all morning and afternoon, and then spend quiet evenings home alone together. As much as I joke about her sometimes with the guys, I’m still as crazy about her now as back when we first met. She’s a great girl; I wouldn’t know what I’d do without her.
Yeah, retirement’s nice.
The next morning, I wake up to more shredded wheat. It keeps me regular. As always, the TV is on in the background, informing me of the day’s events, both upcoming and passed. The old lady, again, has already gone, bright and early. She’s got her routine, too: walks two miles every morning, picks up a bagel from the local deli, comes home to shower, then it’s off to bridge she goes. Retirement: who knew that all this “free time” would end up being so… structured?
In between munches of cereal, I listen more closely than usual to the TV, to see if they have anything more about the dandelions. Except that today, there’s more than just dandelions. Today, there are…
Yes, it’s true, they say. All traces of the walrus have vanished from the planet. In the wild, in the zoos, it doesn’t matter where: they’re all gone. Same pattern as yesterday, they say. The sun came up, and wherever and whenever it appeared, the walruses instantly disappeared. Still no rhyme or reason whatsoever. The prognosticators are utterly discombobulated.
I finish off my cereal, and again head for the country club. In the car, I turn off the radio to give me some peace, to consider all of this. Thoughts of Revelation reenter my head. The Four Horsemen, the apocalypse, the separation of the wheat from the chaff. I know, it’s all the old lady’s fault: if she didn’t keep making me go to church every week, I wouldn’t be thinking this way.
I pull into the lot of the country club. Bill is standing there, with two cigars positioned vertically down from each corner of his mouth. Here I am, he says, the last living walrus – and only twenty dollars apiece to get a good look at me. He holds out his hand for the fare.
I tell him it’d be appropriate for fruits and nuts to start vanishing next, since he won’t even need props to imitate them. He puts down his hand. Funny guy, he growls. We meet up with Harold and Stan and walk over to the first hole.
That night, the old lady is distressed. Signs of Revelation, she tells me as we watch the news, and I realize once again that it’s true: if you spend enough time with someone, you do begin to think alike.
As always, I play Devil’s Advocate to her claim. It’s gotten us this far, after all. So, I say to her, if this is the work of God Almighty, then why on earth is He just focusing His attention upon dandelions and walruses? I then muse aloud if the latter should actually be pronounced “walri.” She doesn’t find me funny.
You remember the story of the Ark, is what she says to me. Of course, I do, I answer, but this isn’t two of every animal, this is every of two animals. I then chuckle at my clever wordplay. The mind’s still sharp in my old age, I think. Again, she doesn’t laugh, her face instead forming its familiar worried frown.
So we agree to disagree, then. It’s worked for us so many times before. We return to more familiar subjects, like bridge and golf. These make sense to us. They’re there everyday. And it makes me wonder:
What will be gone tomorrow?
The old lady and I are awakened at sunrise the next morning, startled to consciousness by a horrible screaming from all over the neighborhood. We stare at each other first in confusion, and then in terror, for we know something else has apparently vanished, something far more significant than dandelions or walruses. We run to the TV.
The anchorwoman is screaming, bawling, tears literally streaming down her face. She can’t help herself. She is incoherent at first, but soon slowly, as she calms her voice down to a recognizable pitch, I am finally able to make out her words. The children, is what she says.
For a moment, I am confused: the children? I turn to the old lady, and seeing the expression on her face, and the color that has left it, I now understand.
As if to echo my thoughts, the anchorwoman begins screaming again. She repeats the same mantra, over and over again at the camera: the children, all of the children… gone!
It’s too difficult to believe, and likely through some instinctive gesture of emotional self-defense, I unthinkingly turn off the TV. But as Maggie and I gape first at the blank screen and then at one another, we know that we both can’t be having the same dream at the same time. No, this is real.
The children have vanished.
An eerie calm settles in at this moment, the calm of those who are simply too overwhelmed to be otherwise. Almost predictably, next, the phone rings. We already know who it will be. I answer the phone and do my best to comfort my frenzied, dazed, and babbling daughter, Barbara. I can’t understand her through her miserable cries of lament, but I know I don’t need to: both of her sons and both of her daughters are gone now. That’s all that matters, a single mom left with no one to care for.
Maggie takes the phone from me, and tells Barbara that she’ll be right over. And she leaves.
As if on cue, the phone rings again. It, obviously, will be my son, Frank, Jr. I already know what he will say – his newborn infant son: gone. His wife will be in hysterics in the background. I will tell him I’m on my way.
It’s true, every child on the face of the planet, all under the age of eighteen. Gone. They’ve all disappeared, not a trace of them to be found. All of them vanishing instantly with the sun’s first light. There one minute and gone the next. It is incomprehensible.
Our family, what is left of it, gathers in our house the same evening, sobbing – sometimes loudly, sometimes quietly, but always sobbing. The President tries to address the nation, but then breaks down in mid-address, his own ten year-old daughter taken from him that very morning. This is beyond mourning, beyond grieving.
This is insanity.
None of us sleeps through the night, even though we retreat to our bedrooms, to attempt to grasp some semblance of routine again, of normalcy. The digital clock on the windowsill advances far too rapidly for us, for everyone on the planet.
Everyone around the globe knows the exact time of his own locale’s sunrise by this point. Some are glued to the TV to see what will happen next. Others, what Maggie and I are doing: waiting quietly, patiently, accepting whatever it is that will be their – whatever will be our – fate.
Sunrise in five minutes now… We open the Bible again, to the Book of Revelation. Together, we read, sometimes aloud, sometimes to ourselves. Two minutes pass. Three minutes. Four. The clock changes to five fifty-three a.m., and we look out the window. A beam of light appears on the horizon.
I turn to Maggie, horrified, wary of whatever is going to happen next.
She is gone.
That was a week ago: all adult females, vanished from the face of the earth. Our species is now destined for extinction, no matter what the scientists say, no matter how many test-tube experiments they desperately attempt to perform. It doesn’t matter. It’s obvious.
Anyway, for what it’s worth, for anyone keeping track of these things, several more species have vanished since that day, the day that I lost Maggie, the day that we all lost our women. Dogs, cats, palm trees, horses, bears, dolphins… gone. Yesterday, it was geraniums. True, there are still plenty of species remaining here on the planet, but as far as humans, for some reason, it’s only the men that remain. We seem to be the only species that disappeared partially, incompletely.
And I don’t know why.
Also, the worse that things have gotten here, I’ve noticed, the more that people seem to have turned to religion to explain the unexplainable. I suppose that’s predictable – it’s what it’s there for, I guess. Many an (obviously male) person in the streets and on TV has taken to labeling those of us who remain here on earth as “the damned,” as those who God has left behind. They see our wives and children as being taken away to Paradise. We have been separated, they say, and apparently it is the men who are the chaff. And, I muse aloud, can I really argue with this kind of thinking? After all, wars, slavery, violence, destruction: all decidedly male undertakings, one might say. It’s difficult to protest.
I listen to these people, these prophets of doom, and I wonder if it’s true: are our women and children really the chosen ones, could they truly be the wheat? For Maggie’s sake, for my daughter’s sake, for all of our children’s sake, I hope it is. But I can’t help but ponder the logically ensuing thought that follows this belief, its necessary corollary: what’s to become of me?
Now more than ever, I find, I need my friends, my obviously male friends. It goes without saying that we haven’t golfed at all for the past week, but we have been sitting in constant vigil with one another to try to ease the always-present suffering. Male bonding has never been so necessary as it is now. Despite it all, Bill still has retained his morbid sense of humor, at least, although it’s understandably even blacker than usual. In fact, he said to me just this morning that it looks like the feminists were right, after all: it appears that women are indeed better than men, since they’ve all gone off to Heaven with the children while we’re all still stuck here back on earth, or worse.
But at least, he said, without the faintest trace of irony: we don’t have to hear them gloat about it.