‘Wives at the End of the World’, Avra Margariti

Illustrations © 2021 Joyce Chng

 [ Wives, © 2021 Joyce Chng. Picture, penciled and traced with black archival ink. A dreamcatcher is suspended in the middle of the picture. It looks like the frame is made with twisted plastic or wire while the ‘web’ is a criss-cross of copper wire and ribbony string. Plastic feathers and more ribbony strings hang at both sides. Within the dreamcatcher are either dots or stars. At each corner of the picture, there is an object or items. Three butterflies at the upper left hand side, a top hat and musical notes at the upper right hand side, two curled fiddle heads and a tea cup with LOVE written on it at the lower left hand side, two sticks of cotton candy/floss at the lower right hand side. ] I shake you awake up in the middle of the night to tell you, “The apocalypse is a side character.”

You giggle, startled, drowsy. “What?”

“Or even better: an unnamed, numbered extra.”

You shift against me, burrowing closer. “You can’t mean that.”

Thick slabs of moonlight stream through the broken windows of our attic squat. Silver and blue. Someone screams outside, equally fractured.

“It’s you and I,” I say. “We move the plot.”

You drift off again. I want to weave you a dreamcatcher to capture the ash and blood of our new world before it seeps behind your closed eyelids.

I want to weave us a new-old world.

We’re out of supplies again so we go scavenging. I hold a baseball bat in one hand and your fingers in the other.

“Look!” you call, tugging at our point of connection. “A corner store.”

The shattered windows are boarded up. I help you through the rotting wood planks, careful of rust and protruding nails.

We open a box of Fruit Loops and eat them by the handfuls where we stand. I give you the yellow and purple ones, which are your favorites, even though they all taste the same in their powdery, sugary hearts.

The soot-stained streets are deserted. We walk hand in hand, and I think about corner stores and cornerstones and all that remains.

In an amusement park by the promenade, the neon lights burned out, the rides unblinking, unmoving, I say, “I want to take you on a tour of our greatest hits.”

You stare at the dark water in the distance but offer me a sidelong smile. “Okay.”

At least now we have a purpose. We’re no longer wandering aimlessly through a wasteland. We’re on a mission, two wives revisiting all that brought us here, together.

You pull me toward the giant teacups, and we sit inside the tackiest, pinkest one. Our first date was in an amusement park. I threw up after one of the wildest rides, and you stroked my hair the whole time. I check the perimeter first and surreptitiously kick any bloody body parts under the overgrown ferns before you see them. Inside the teacup splashed with squalid rainwater from last night’s storm, we drink canned peach syrup to soothe our parched throats.

I stop humming the Adventure Time theme long enough to lick a dollop of syrup from your lips.

I don’t count the few remaining stars in the mottled brown of the sky. Instead I focus on the freckles of your back, shoulders, and chest, tracing the path of red-gold breadcrumbs with my lips. You make sounds against me. A whimper, not a wail.

Later we pass a school which might as well have been our old high school. The bleachers make for the perfect kissing spot. I think I hear jeers and slurs but, of course, there’s no one here but the stinging arias of the wind. We weren’t our best selves in high school. Slinking and battered and afraid.

On our way back, you notice a mural of rainbow butterflies. “The kids,” you sob. “The kids.”

You’re quiet, later at night. Sitting by the window and watching the debris-strewn street. It’s dangerous, but I don’t have the heart to tell you to step away from the foggy glass.

“I wish I could crawl inside you,” you tell me. “Don’t you wish we could crawl inside each other and be safe?”

I know that’s your depression talking. You had it, even before the whole apocalypse business. I thought it would be hard keeping you here with me, but your survival instincts are stronger than I ever gave them credit for.

This is a game we sometimes play: we recite poetry, and when our memory fails us, we turn to children’s books.

I look around the shithole I’ve found for us to hide in. “It was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort,” I say in my best reading voice.

Your sigh turns into a laugh midway as you leave the window to snuggle up against my side.

While I was running from a gang last night, I twisted my ankle blue and throbbing. You mustn’t know, or you might put a stop to our tour. I hotwire a car like my ex girlfriend once taught me. You ride shotgun as I play whack-a-mole with the bodies sprawled across the half-molten tarmac.

“Don’t look,” I warn, and you dutifully close your eyes, lashes fluttering like spiderling legs against your cheeks.

When you open your eyes again, you spot an antique shop and say, “Stop. Right here.”

We stroll inside. At least I know nobody has bothered to pillage this shrine of dust motes and old lace. We were theater kids once, getting away from our parents long enough to be ourselves. We lived and breathed musty old costumes and wood varnish.

You shimmy into an old flapper dress laden with sequins and tassels. I go full drag, complete with a black dapper suit, top hat, and even a walking cane, which I can hopefully pass off as a mere prop.

I offer you a rose—an origami one, the only kind left—and you clap in delight.

“You—for me?”

I tuck the paper flower in your matted curls.


We play jazz from an old gramophone and slow-dance around the cramped shop, bumping against furniture and display cases, wringing groans out of the old floorboards. I hiss when I put too much pressure on my sprained ankle, and you guide me on a velvet loveseat, a furrow between your brows.

Do you know? Please don’t stop. Please don’t make me stop.

A bottle of wine peeks out between the loveseat cushions. It looks vintage, something expensive and miraculously intact. We drink straight from the bottle, long, breathless chugs into the drunken night.

“Am I bad?” you slur. “Did the world stop because of me?”

“No, no, no,” I chant. Wine sloshes down my arm as I gesture to encompass the whole antique shop. “Look, the world didn’t stop. It’s still spinning.”

Ruined and ravaged and beautiful, it spins.

“I didn’t appreciate it enough,” you hiccup. “Before.”

“You did the best you could.”

“If you weren’t here…”


You’re crying. My salty-eyed, grief-wrecked girl. And I, your stoic counterpart, concealing all the hairline fissures of my resolve.

“If you weren’t here.”

You don’t finish your phrase, but I know. If we didn’t have each other and our tour, our mission, I’m not so sure that either of us would be anywhere at all.

You haven’t left the bed all week. I say bed, but it’s only a moldy blanket spread out on the packed-dirt floor. Another cellar reeking of woodsy rot. Another hobbit hole I’d protect with my life.

As you twist in restless sleep, I whisper, “The world is good. Even like this. It’s good and you love it and I love it too.”

I’m already thinking of the next stop of our greatest hits tour. It should be a chapel, somewhere, anywhere. We traded our wedding rings early on for provisions, but I have two plastic rings in my pocket pilfered from a toy store not far from here. I’m already drafting in my head our new vows. ‘Til death, and undeath, and whatever the hell comes next.

I slip one of the rings on your fourth digit. The plastic band sits as pink and glittery as a promise against the blood and grime embedded in your knuckles.

© 2021 Avra Margariti

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