by Charles Etheridge-Nunn
“Do you love me?”
They kissed again and sat in each other’s arms on the picnic blanket, ignoring the cherry blossom trees as the petals fell around them.
“How much do you love me?”
“More than anything in the world,” they kissed and he meant it. Amongst the trees she was named after, the petals falling into their wine glasses, their hair, the gentle wind playing on their skin, making them hold each other tighter. It was perfect.
“More than the world itself,” he kissed her again. “Even after the end of the world. I would still love you until there was nothing left but us.”
And that was what Mark regretted saying to Sakura every moment after the meteors hit.
“I never get PDA’s,” Ben said.
“Public Displays of Affection. Like you and Sakura always do. I just couldn’t do that myself.”
“Oh. I thought it was something with computers.”
The pair sat in the lower section of the coffee shop, the missing upper floor left nothing but blue. Small round tables were still in place, bolted to the floor. Broken glass lay everywhere, glittering in the morning sky and pastries slowly decayed on the counter-top shelves.
Ben’s coffee craving had kicked in on the first day after the end of the world and his complaining swiftly became insufferable. Mark and Sakura had only survived because they were at Ben’s when the apocalypse happened, so they felt indebted to help him get his fix. Their respective flats had been destroyed along with most of their possessions. The North Laine was intact in places, with a couple of shops open by the fourth day.
The electricity had stopped, but the gas still worked in some buildings, like the coffee shop Ben and Mark had stopped in earlier in the morning. Between them, they lived out barista dreams behind the counter preparing extravagant concoctions with all of the flavouring they could find, chocolate on top and tons of coffee. One taste, they realised they didn’t know how to make fancy coffee and just prepared what they could.
Ben relaxed as he slowly drank his fourth coffee. Mark looked back through the café to the street. Sakura hadn’t returned yet. She and Jennie, Ben’s sister, were checking out the clothes shops on the street for anything which took their fancy. It had been three days since the end of the world and the first day had been spent at Ben’s shattered flat with candles, wine and Scrabble, a very domestic apocalypse. They were behind on their looting, but most people picked apart the mall and the supermarkets rather than the North Laine.
“I love this mirror.” Sakura tried to lift the mirror two times her size across the shop floor while Jennie played with the empty, broken till.
“We don’t have a place to live yet. What are you going to do with that?”
“Check out new clothes,” Sakura said, “then cover it up so people don’t take it when we go.”
“Okay.” Jennie was busy with the make-up now. She always flitted from thing to thing, like a tall magpie, her long, angular nose making the perfect beak. She was still finding it difficult not to be so jumpy inside buildings now that the aftershocks had subsided.
“We’re still finding a place to share, right? You and Ben and us.”
“I don’t know if I can live with him again. I was just visiting.”
“Oh, oh, we could, like, find a place with flats and all live in different ones next door to each other, it’ll be just like Friends!”
Jennie smiled, she admired Sakura’s youth but grew tired of her enthusiasm.
When she had met her brother’s friend Sakura, she’d expected a Japanese girl, not a tiny, pale English girl from Hampshire who wore almost exclusively pink and took exceptionally well to disaster. Jennie had had a panic attack when the building collapsed, but everyone else was fine. Ben loved disaster movies, Mark was a scout leader in training and Sakura was apparently completely unflappable. She loved everything.
“I’m just going to get a coffee.” Jennie said, excusing herself while pocketing the nail varnish she had been playing with.
“Cool,” Sakura said, admiring herself in the mirror. “Get Mark to come in here, he needs new clothes, too. Everything he has is covered in brick dust and blood.”
“Never give that girl caffeine,” Jennie told Mark as she entered the café.
“She doesn’t believe in it anyway,” he said.
“You guys all right in here?”
“Yeah. Just thinking about going to some second-hand book shops.”
Ben frowned at Mark, “Go to a new one. It’s not like you’ll pay.”
“Second-hand books are better. I like the feel of them.”
Jennie carefully trod over the broken glass, fearful some might get into her open-toe high-heeled shoes. “So what were you guys talking about?” she asked.
As Mark was just on the “N” of “Nothing”, Ben piped up “He wants to break up with Sakura.”
Mark fell back into his chair and slapped himself on the forehead, “Schtum!”
Jennie looked outside to see if Sakura had noticed. There was a distant singing from next door. “Sakura sakura, no-yama mo sato mo mi-watasu…”
“Hmm, understandable,” Jennie said quietly, she brushed away the glass on the counter with her sleeve, then leaned on it. “She does know she’s not Japanese, right?”
“It’s just a thing,” Mark said. “Her parents gave her a Japanese name and she’s made it who she is.”
“And you want to dump her because of that?”
“Not for that reason, I’m not that fickle.”
“Don’t encourage him,” Ben told Jennie.
“So why are you dumping her?”
Mark explained again, for the second time that day, that he had grown tired of Sakura. They had a great relationship a year ago, but he had been unable to work out how to break up with her. He wouldn’t cheat on her and didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so he had kept going with the relationship. He had been discussing these facts with Ben for the last three months. Ben always met this with incredulity. Sakura had been his friend in college and he had introduced her to Mark. Ben had reached ‘the friend zone’ with Sakura years ago despite his best efforts. He summarily gave up on seeing her as a woman, but as one of his best friends, who was dating his other best friend. This break up, even a potential one, hit Ben harder than any apocalypse.
As Mark was about to defend himself, Sakura bounced up to where a window had once been and looked in “Hey! Mr. Grumpy! Time for a makeover!”
Mark knew he’d been summoned. He could almost feel Sakura’s disposition making the sun brighter through what used to be the front of the shop.
He turned around and smiled at her illuminated form, “I’ll be out in a second.”
Mark got up, considered putting his coffee in a paper cup to take it outside, realised no one would stop him with the heavy mug and walked towards the entrance.
“Don’t say anything yet,” Jennie whispered, just loud enough for Mark and Ben to hear.
“Why not?” Mark asked.
“I’ll help you. Just, not right now. Your girlfriend’s calling.”
Ben looked quizzically at Jennie.
“I’m bored, and need something to do,” she replied.
Mark took a breath and stepped outside. The instant he did, he was back there, on their holiday in Japan, taking in the smell of her hair, the curve of her lower back against his hand, her lips against his, the cherry blossom hitting them like snow.
Outside was almost as scenic, rubble and broken glass in the midday sunlight, Sakura bathed in light, as she always was, and he was lost again.
Before he knew it, Sakura was posing Mark in front of the mirror after dressing him in her choice of clothes.
“I prefer green,” he said, futilely, looking at his new denim coat.
“But these go with your eyes.”
“My eyes are blue/green. Both would.”
“But this one makes you look cooler.”
“Okay,” his token response whenever she asked for anything.
Sakura folded Mark’s old jacket, “I wish this had happened a year ago.”
“Why? People died, tons of people.”
“I know, silly. It’s just, we would have been on vacation, in the Japanese countryside. I loved it there. It would be so pretty. I wonder if the trees are still there.”
After finding the clothes Sakura liked the most, Mark helped her cover up the giant mirror and they left with Ben and Jennie. Jennie pocketed more make-up and a bright pink lighter from the clothes shop before she went.
The group were looking for a place to stay. Ben’s video store was small enough to have missed the devastation, unlike the rest of the city which was now just ruins, but it was cramped and uncomfortable. The high buildings had suffered the worst, slowly falling apart even in the days after the last tremors, which was why Mark suggested they stay around the North Laine. Mark had become the de facto leader of the group because he worked for the Scouts and had been on all kinds of wilderness survival weekends. He taught them how to make fire, how best to prepare the food and all that was left was finding a better place to live, at least temporarily.
“Oh! A pub!” Sakura ran up to an intact pub. “We could run it, like in Cheers!”
She had been like this since leaving the clothes shop, trying to work out new lives for them all, even though Jennie was only supposed to be visiting. None of the ideas stuck, but at least they could find some alcohol for the evening.
Sakura looked for beer with Ben eagerly following. Jennie and Mark stayed behind, watching the pair.
“So you can help me?” Mark asked.
“I reckon I can. I’ve dumped a few people in my time.”
“Yeah, but not when we’re the only people left.”
“Don’t glorify it. There are people all over town. Just, not many living ones. It’s not like she’ll have a problem finding anyone, it’s more you.”
“Well trainee scout-master does give the impression you’re either an anorak or a serial killer.”
“From a thirty-four year old serial shoplifter.”
“It’s no fun when there aren’t retailers and money doesn’t mean anything. I miss money.”
“I don’t. Can we have a practice run?”
“Of the break-up?”
“While they’re inside.”
Jennie thought for a moment, then struck a bouncy posture and an enormous fake smile, “Go on.”
Mark cleared his throat “Umm, Sakura, I…”
“Yes, sweetie?” Jennie bounced her head childishly as she spoke.
“Okay, stop that. She’s not that bad.”
Jennie returned to her normal posture, “Go on.”
“Look, I um, I want us to…”
“You’ve not thought of what to say, have you?”
“I’m not good with words. I’ve been trying to think of something for three months now, but I can’t think of anything that won’t hurt her.”
“You’re dumping her.”
“I know, but I’m good with remaining friends. I just can’t be her boyfriend any more.”
“You’re supposed to be this big survivalist man, helping keep us together after a massive disaster and you can’t just grow a pair and dump her?”
“Survivalist and scout master aren’t quite the same.”
“Close enough. It’s got us alive, sheltered and well fed. I don’t get why you can’t just get it over with, you pansy.”
Ben walked through a former door and Sakura climbed over a small section of wall, hands full of beer cans.
“What’s the matter?” Sakura asked Mark. “Why the grumpy face?”
“He wants to break up with you.” Jennie said, flatly.
There was a moment of shock, Ben and Mark both stared at Jennie who was evidently proud with herself. Then at Sakura, whose shocked face turned into a smile and a laugh.
“Oh you,” she giggled. “Mark would never break up with me. We’re going to get a big house, and have lots of kids and…”
Sakura was busily listing the perfect life she had envisaged for them, ignoring the devastation around them or the relieved looks of Ben and Mark. Jennie rolled her eyes, defeated this time. She wasn’t going to press the issue.
The intact house the group broke into had enough beds for everyone and a pair of sofas. As the evening went on, they sat facing the dead television and drinking beer. Jennie and Ben lit candles in the lounge, the hallway and the bedrooms.
“I hope he gets it over with soon,” Jennie said once they were alone. “I’m going to try meeting my friend Tina tomorrow. She’s the only other person I know in town.”
“How do you know she’s not dead?”
“I don’t, but I’d like to see if she’s still around.”
“You’d better not wait until they’ve broken up, that could take forever, even with your coaching. I don’t get why you’re doing it? Do you fancy Mark?”
“No, I just don’t like her.”
“She’s too… happy. It bugs me,” Jennie clicked the pink lighter, igniting the last candle. “Even with all of this doom and gloom, she’s just as perky as ever. I’m a bloody wreck. I can’t go near any of the bigger buildings and even being indoors here is freaking me out.”
“You want to sleep in the garden?”
“No,” Jennie pocketed the lighter again. “I just want her to feel as bad as I do.”
“This is nice,” Sakura said, curled up next to Mark. “Warm and homely. Maybe we could stay here?”
In each others arms they regarded the neat lounge, then Sakura noticed something and got up. Mark quickly wrapped his arms around her stomach and pulled her back onto the sofa.
“No!” he shouted. “No rearranging anything!”
“But, but the tv would be great over in the corner!”
They fell about on the sofa, Sakura wriggling out of Mark’s grip and him trying to pin and tickle her. She giggled and fought back, she elbowed Mark in the ribs and ran to the television to move it.
“It doesn’t work.”
“For when the electricity’s back on.”
“I don’t know if it will be.”
“You worry too much.”
There was silence for a moment, a rare occurrence when Sakura was in the room. Mark decided he would take this moment to break up with her.
“You know I love you, right? Well I do, but I’m not sure if I’m ready for us for ever, you know. I think I want a break, just for a while to get my head together. If you want, I’ll leave, but it would be wrong to keep stringing you along like this if we’re not both in it a hundred percent.”
That was what Mark wanted to say. What came out was, “You know I love you…”
“Even after the end of the world,” Sakura interrupted. “And it did.”
“Yes, erm,” Mark stumbled, rapidly falling away from his momentary bravado.
She threw herself down next to him and Mark put his arm around Sakura. Outside the large windows, the first drops of rain were hitting the dusty ruins of the city. Inside was lit only by candles and the light of the setting sun. Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow I can break up with her.