“Honey, can you come and listen to this?” Kate called out loudly to her husband, Harry.

“What?” Harry shouted. 

“Why can’t you keep that hearing aid plugged in always,” grumbled Kate as she heaved herself up from the lumpy couch with the help of her cane, colorful cushions tumbled down after her. She ambled to the study where her husband was peering into an old clock on a table strewn with nuts, screws and various tools. Kate touched his stooped shoulders with her gnarly hands, startling him. With an exasperated sigh, she freed the wire of the hearing aid, which had wedged between his sagging belly and the suspenders she had carefully tailored on to all his trousers. 

“Come and hear the news. They are speaking about some apocalypse and the end of the world.”

Harry winked and with a toothless grin slapped her ample behind.

“Oh yeah, is that so. I thought the end was near when I saw you at your wedding.”

Kate dragged him to the living room. 

The volume was turned up to the maximum, and the couple intently listened to their favorite chat show host talking animatedly about the impending doom of the world. Kate and Harry clutched their hands and stared at each other. 

“One hundred twenty days and that’s it. We have only 120 days to love?” Harry said with a throaty laugh.

“Oh, honey, we still have so much to do,” cried Kate in distress, “I want to travel with you, go to a safari go on a cruise.”

“And I want to learn breakdance, do parasailing maybe bungee jumping too.”

An annoyed Kate walked out to the lawn. Harry followed a few minutes later with two cups of her choicest brew. 

“Look here, I know we were busy living a life for the children, it was always the children first. And now when they are parents and living for their children, we are back to being newlyweds.” Harry tucked a stray hair behind her ears and continued, “This doomsday or apocalypse is nothing to be scared off. We will live our last 120 days to our hearts content and die.”

Kate was not the one to be sidetracked. “But we cannot merely wait for the sky to fall. Let’s go on a journey. We’ll not tell a soul, not even the children. Let’s just go.”

Always ready to please his wife, Harry agreed, “Ok, we can plan a trip, meet some old friends who are still alive, but don’t you want to see your grandkids?”

“As much as I love them, seeing them now, when I know they will not live long to see old age will make me sad. No, I want to go away happily,” Kate said adamantly.

 

The next day Kate and Harry hired their usual taxi service and went to the bank and reassessed their wealth. Satisfied that they had enough to get through to the rest of their months they worked out a plan after much deliberations.

 Life had not been cheerful always. Like any other people, they had had their highs and lows. 

Harry was friends with Kate’s brother Richard. He had seen her many times when he visited his friend but never gave a second thought until her wedding date was finalized. That’s when Harry realized his friend’s kid sister had metamorphosed into a beautiful young lady and was to get married and go away with a stranger. 

Kate would linger around when the friends chatted, she always had doubts in science, and Harry would patiently explain. He was not sure if Kate had any feelings for him. The idea of losing her to someone as he had become fond of having her around was troubling him. But the thought of betraying Richards trust worried him. The men had watched a movie with a storyline where the best friend elopes with the protagonist’s sister, and Richard sulked watching it. Harry did not wish to lose his friendship with Richard. So he suppressed all his feelings and lent his assistance to the family during the wedding preparations. His heart ached to see Kate as she radiantly walked to the aisle in white, holding her father’s arm. Harry watched her in pain, his face dark with sorrow.

 The pastor droned on, “if anyone can show just cause why they may not be lawfully joined together, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”

No one was more surprised than Harry himself when he found himself objecting. The old church acoustics boomed the conviction in his voice perfectly.

He walked up the aisle and boldly said, “I love Kate. I do not want to lose her.”

Richard immediately rushed to his sister’s side and glared at Harry.

The pastor gently looked at Kate, “Tell me, child, do you also love this young man?”

Harry felt that the church resounded his heartbeats.

Kate gazed at Harry and feebly uttered, “Yes, I love him too.” 

Decades passed by and although the couple grew more in love, their bonds strengthening, the rift between Richard and Harry could never be bridged.

Now coming back to the present, Kate and Harry chalked out a plan. They would begin with a vacation. They chose a destination as they played a childish game of roulette with the spinning globe. They also decided to enroll themselves in a music academy for violin classes. In a haste to do all the things, we humans kept for another day, thinking tomorrow will be kind enough to fulfil our desires, yet, tomorrow never comes.

 One evening over dinner Kate sighed. Harry looked up and asked, “What is bothering you, dear?”

“Umm, nothing, just wondering.”

“Tell me what are you wondering about?”

Kate hesitated before speaking, “Can we go make peace with my brother? Why die with hateful feelings?”

Harry was quiet for a moment, “Hmm, I do not hate him; it’s he who still holds the grudge after all these years.”

“Let us go meet him, he’ll accept us,” implored Kate.

Harry could not help the sardonic laugh. “How many times have we tried? And you think he’ll relent now, after all these years?” 

Kate’s face lost its usual animation, piercing Harry’s heart. He could not bear to see his wife upset or sad. He put his wrinkled hand on hers, “We will go see him, my darling. If not, now then when. This asteroid has brought home the fact that it is finally time to let bygones be bygones.”

The next week, harry and Kate booked themselves on a first-class flight to meet her brother.  

Kate’s eyes brimmed with tears as she walked into the courtyard of her childhood home. It seemed as if every brick, every nook and cranny had a tale to tell. Her brother sat in the long corridor and seeing the couple he folded his newspaper, adjusted the spectacles and stared. His wife came out hurriedly to avert a skirmish. For a few moments, no one spoke. Then Richard held out his arms with a hesitant smile.

Kate’s face lit up, and the tears broke free as she rushed to him. 

The next few weeks flew past in bliss. Richard and Harry spoke at length, acknowledging the mistake of putting their ego’s first. They rediscovered their friendship, and the years seemed to have made no difference to their bond. Kate and Harry reveled in the family time, apocalypse forgotten for the moment. The advanced age could be blamed for their not grasping the seriousness of the situation.

They also visited the church which had borne witness to their love for the first time.

Harry kissed Kate on the forehead “I still don’t know how I dared to stop your wedding.”

“I am so thankful for that courage,” Kate smiled at him

“Why didn’t you tell me you were in love with me even when your wedding was fixed?”

“Why didn’t you ask me?”

“I am glad the pastor asked you.” Harry winked.

Mockingly Harry folded his fists and thrust it to Kate’s face like a mike.

“People would like to know when exactly you fell in love with me.

Kate rolled her eyes and with a laugh said,” Precisely at 2.45 pm on my way home in a bus in the year 1976.”

With a merry laughter, they walked out to the fading light.

Richard spoke to Kate’s children over the phone and promises were made for a family reunion. Kate hopped around like a young girl energized by the love of her sibling.

 Over whiskey one evening, Harry confided to Richard “I always thought Kate was happy with me, but never realized she missed her family so much.”

“I missed her a lot too, missed having you to talk to, my dear friend. How silly of me to hold on to ego and societal norms. We missed out on all those years of happiness.”

“Kate suggested that we meet you before we all perish.”

“Please, let us not talk about death and doom; it creeps me out. Let’s enjoy this moment.” Richard clinked his whiskey glass with Harry.

After a heartwarming stay, the couple returned to their old life or what remained of it. The refreshed memories pushed them for many days, they enjoyed their walks in the park, their cooking time together, watched reruns of their cherished shows on the television. With failing eyesight, Kate used a magnifying lens in addition to her eyeglasses when she read the newspaper aloud to him. Harry fiddled with the old alarm clock, which had occupied his passion for many months now. It was the clock his son used during his high school days and Harry wanted to repair it for their grandson. Kates reasoning on the futility of the scenario fell on to deaf ears, literally. She left the old man to his meditations and engaged herself in knitting a red sweater for his birthday. 

The couple were surprised that none in the park or the restaurants or places they visited were bothered about the impending doom. They consoled themselves that the people have all resigned to fate and carried on with their lives as rational as they could.  

It was the night before Harry’s birthday, sleep eluded Kate, and she gazed at Harry’s face bathed in moonlight. She picked up a shawl, walked to the garden and sat under the jasmine gazebo. The fragrant blossoms from the large trellis danced in the breeze. With a shiver, she crinkled her eyes to the sky above, trying to infer the movements of the astronomical wonder. Harry’s hand on her shoulder broke her reverie.

“That is the Ursa major” Harry pointed at the bright stars.

“Hmnnn”

“Are you looking for the asteroid?”

“I am worried for us, for all the living beings. I can’t hide my panic anymore.”

“I know that you are scared. But these are beyond us. I have faith in science. They will find a way to avert this impact. Now you are going to catch a cold and fall sick and miss out the fun on doomsday. Let’s go inside.”

“Oh dear, what would I do without you, thank you for making my life light. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“We will talk to the children after some time, try not to panic them with your worries.”

Harry tucked her into bed and watched her gentle snores.

The next week Harry walked to the shop for cigarettes. He was perplexed by the commotion at the end of the street. Essential commodities were becoming scarce, the shop keeper announced with aplomb. “The world is coming to an end. No one can save us. It’s the people who have no morals bringing doom to us.” Harry walked home in a hurry to inform Kate about the shopkeeper’s rants and the panic that had begun to show around.

On the fateful day Kate stared at the mark on the calendar that she made on the day, she heard the dreadful news. It was the last day. With a heavy heart, they perused the newspaper. Confused at not finding any story about the doomsday they decided to enjoy their last day. 

“So Kate, we will go to the movie hall where we watched our first movie after we moved here.”

“Yes, I was sad to read in the newspaper that they were planning to bring down the multiplex.”

“Hmnn, now the world will be brought down along with it.”

“Don’t worry dear. We will never be separated. Till death do us apart.” She chuckled and fondly played with his drooping chin and the layers of flesh.

Harry took out the blue Vespa, and both of them strapped their helmets on and were ready to drive to the movies.

 A car rushed by, and a stray stone hit Harry’s helmet and bounced off, leaving him shaken momentarily.

Kate panicked and shrieked,

“Is it already happening?”

Harry laughed away her fear, “There’s still time. Come on. Let’s go.”

Kate wished to have lunch before the movie. After a sumptuous lunch, they awaited their turn to purchase the tickets. 

“What movie do you want to see sir?”

“Err, which one Kate?”

“Oh, I don’t know something new maybe.”

“You are both lucky, just now two tickets were returned by a lady. It’s the most awaited film of the century.”

“Which one is that?”

“COUNTDOWN. It’s about an asteroid impact on the earth; in 120 days everything will perish. Incredible special effects it has. A fortune was spent on making the film. “

Harry and Kate let out a loud laugh. “Just like the chicken little, we clucked around thinking the sky will fall.”

The man behind the counter with a scowl said,” These old geezers are crazy.”

With a large tub of popcorn, Harry and Kate watched the movie of the century. “COUNTDOWN”

Author’s Note: The inspiration for this story is from a comment made by our dear Sarita Khullar Ji on the countdown post thread. Thank you, Saritaji.  

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Photo By: Simon Godfrey

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This is an entry for #Countdown, a Beaks and Claws club exclusive event. Check out the event guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/room8/countdown/

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Find more from Sangeetha Vallat here: https://artoonsinn.com/author/sangeetha-vallat/

Thanks for reading.

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