My Stepmother Nags the Apocalypse
July 27, 2012 § 17 Comments
My dear stepmother, Beatrice, married my father near the end of his life. She is in her early 80’s now, lively and sweet. Her blond hairstyle ends in a flip, and that flip designates a determined good cheer.
Little did I know that my stepmother has been quietly preparing for the end of the world.
When I visited Beatrice in Arkansas this week, she and her son, Peter, drove me out to the middle of the woods in a secret place, just off a dirt road that runs through a conspiring forest, where I met the other son, Justin, who was hard at work on a sustainable off-grid house – no running water yet, no bathrooms. No air conditioning. The floors and walls half complete.
“I just want to have a nice home in the country,” Justin tells me. “But my mother and brother are preppers.”
Preppers are people that believe one thing or another will soon tip civilization into imminent peril. (The list of culprits is long, and includes solar flares and Kardashians.) And they are getting out while the getting is non-apocalyptic.
I won’t argue whether they are right or wrong. I will simply admire the effort.
Peter the engineer, super smart and quiet, makes suggestions which Justin, the contractor, cheerfully ignores.
“You can’t have both a small, pie-shaped landing and a narrow catwalk,” Peter tells me resignedly, in some kind of engineer’s code that means a short, sharp scream in the middle of the night followed by an ominous bumping sound.
Apparently one wild man weekend, Justin went off-blueprint and constructed the perilous marriage of the catwalk and pie-shaped landing despite his brother’s warning.
In turn, Beatrice makes constant suggestions to Peter that he respectfully, lovingly, dutifully ignores.
“Keep your eyes on the road,” Beatrice tells Peter as he winds through the mountains.
“Yes, mother,” he answers, then turns around to make eye contact with me in the back seat as we discuss the stock value of gold and Coca-cola.
“Please bring me my suitcase,” she tells Peter after we arrive at the house and are sweltering on the second floor in 89 degree heat.
“Yes, mother,” he says. He remains in his chair. He’s an engineer. He knows a yes, even an insincere one, will bear the load of a request longer than a no.
And I love them. I love the fact they have a gate that a loose-jointed zombie can limbo under, but that gate has five locks. I love the fact that Beatrice wants a “happy” color for the walls. But more than anything, I love the fact that the apocalypse may undo civilization but it will not undo the way of mothers and sons.
Beatrice: Peter, paint the walls yellow.
Peter: Yes, mother. (He paints the walls black)
Beatrice: Peter, put out the fire. You’re attracting radioactive Kardashians.
Peter: Yes, mother. (He throws a log on the fire. A Kardashian dives out of nowhere. Privation has taken their famous body shape but not their ravenous need for light.)
Beatrice: Peter, don’t let the zombie in.
Peter: Yes, mother (He lets the zombie in, who makes it as far as the catwalk/landing before he loses his footing and plunges to his death.)
And now, a final scene. The three of them are fishing, the battle of Armageddon in the distance, a low pressure system moving in (one bad for fishing, one good.)
Peter: Justin, did you make the canoe out of cedar, like I told you?
Justin: Sure I did, Peter.
Peter: It looks a lot like Styrofoam.
Beatrice: Peter, move back. There’s too much weight toward the front.
Peter: Yes, mother. (he moves forward)
You’d think their Styrofoam boat would tip over, but it doesn’t. You’d think Armageddon would ruin their fishing, but it doesn’t. Maybe it doesn’t even come at all. What I’m saying is, some things are going to fall apart. And some things are going to hold together. Til the end, and the end of that, and the end of that too.