For a few eerie minutes this morning, Llewie and I wondered if the world was ending. It’s an extremely disconcerting idea when you have just opened your eyes first thing, but as dawn broke, he lifted our bedroom shutters and we both squinted into a deep, bright red haze.
“What the hell is that?” he asked. “What’s happening?”
“Oh my god,” I said, fear in my heart. “What’s happening? What’s happening?”
I leapt from bed, grabbed a robe and dashed to the front of the apartment. Pushing back the curtains, I gasped. The entire street and beachfront was a deep orange, unnaturally aglow. Everything was ablaze with a thick red dust that obscured the ocean in its usual comforting and at once frightening totality. It looked apocalyptic. I ran back to the other end where Llew seemed to be in shock.
“Aren’t you coming to look?” I cried. “I expected you to come look.”
“I am, I am,” he said, dropping the shutter and swinging his feet to the floor.
Standing out in the courtyard, we turned around in slow, disbelieving circles. A couple walked by and said, “It’s the end of the world.”
“Sure looks like it,” we agreed.
I can’t fully describe the incongruity of seeing people taking their daily constitutional along the beachfront in the midst of this. They struck me as more than faintly absurd, all enacting their habitual brisk lap despite the obvious suspension of normality, and yet they were enormously reassuring, too. I gazed in wonder at people exercising and walking their dogs, as though I’d never seen such a thing before. As the strange red minutes ticked by, the signs of daily life on the beachfront became a very soothing sight.
Llew reached for his Blackberry and I for my laptop (speaking of absurdities. It’s pretty interesting seeing what you do when you think the end is nigh!), and we trawled our different technology for an explanation of what we had seen. Our phones started beeping as others woke up into this transformed world, our city no longer what it had been but some Mars-scape, something altogether otherworldly. Dust, the news media told us. Dust, only dust.
Waiting for the dust to settle, we watched the redness fade to a white dust much less confronting and a whole lot less interesting. It was the sun rising on the water that had turned our beachside suburb this unholy crimson, and as it pushed beyond the dust layer, everything was revealed as a dirty ashen grey. My phone buzzed again. It was my friend S.
What I want to know, her text began, is where they’re all getting their masks from…
It was true. I walked Llew down to the wharf, our mouths filling with dust funk with every step down the beach, because I wanted to check what the dust was doing harbourside (answer: a total whiteout from Man Town to the CBD), and as we stood waiting for coffees, a woman walked by wearing a white surgical mask.
“You keep one of those handy, do you?” I nudged Llew. “What, you just have a box of them lying around the house, just in case of an airborne toxic event?”
“I want to know why people have them on standby like that,” said Llew as we watched the woman marching purposefully down the wharf.
“Me too. By the way, have you got a filmy layer of dust coating your tongue?”
He nodded, making a face like cattle chewing cud.
“It’s all over everything,” he said. “It looked like the shower was clean right up until I turned on the water.”
“Damn funky dust,” I shook my head.
Llew got on a fast ferry. I waved him off and set into the wind for the walk home. Surfers were out, the strange yellowish glow of the sun occasionally breaking through the haze. The ocean lapped at the shore, indifferent, still in charge.
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