By Tracy Neiman
This Story Won Second Prize in Our Contest
The sky is falling on live television. People raise their hands and dance in neon darkness. They kiss. They peel confetti from their hair and laugh. There are singers, entertainers, show girls, half-naked in the cold. There are fireworks, of course. There always are—in the sky, on our phones, in our chests—incandescent as they detonate.
Someone, many someones, are proposed to. Someone, many someones, wear new diamonds on their fingers, but they do not notice their weight. Only the sparkle.
In living rooms, we watch as though we’re there too, right beside the shimmering sky greeters. Someone, many someones, pop bottles open. We toast. We take glasses to our lips. We make lists. We make promises. We talk about all the things we will do, all the places we’ll go. We talk about the pounds we will lose, not the people. We do not speak of what the sky has already taken. We could name the names, but we don’t. We could wonder who it will claim next, but we don’t. We won’t.
As is tradition, some of us taste each other, and we taste unfamiliar, as though it’s the first time we’ve kissed. It isn’t. But this year, it is. We welcome the sky with strange wine on our tongues, strange lips on our lips.
We change the channel. We watch the Twilight Zone marathon. We watch “The Midnight Sun,” which is the same episode we see every skyfall. We see hungry people, thirsty people, hot people in an overheating world—a world orbiting too close to its star. We learn what’s happening isn’t actually happening. We learn Earth is drifting away from the sun, not towards it. It is freezing, not melting. In fever, people imagined the heat. They are good at that, the imagining. So are we. They wear layers of delirium to protect themselves from the elements. So do we.
We change the channel. We watch people dance beneath the Eiffel Tower. We watch people dance beside a Disney castle. We watch people dance through New Orleans, shimmying down Bourbon Street with colorful beads on their necks. We change the channel. By now, the sky has fallen again, just west of us. It will continue to fall all night, until it falls everywhere, touches everyone. We dance to give it permission, but, of course, it never asked.
We do not think about our friends and relatives, somewhere far away, somewhere the sky remains in its place for a few moments longer. We do not envy them in their final skyless minutes, eating their final skyless dinners, speaking their final skyless words. We do not wonder at what point west becomes east. We do not wonder how much skylessness can be salvaged if we go there, right there, right before those points converge. We must stay here, after all. We are the Welcoming Committee.
If we notice this year’s committee is smaller than last year’s, or that last year’s was smaller than the year before that one, we do not say. If we feel the ache of the missing, we do not let on. Even if the snap-crack-pop of the fireworks has begun to hollow our eardrums, we must pretend to like it. We must not acknowledge the black holes in our bodies. We know the rules. We must not anger the sky. We want the sky to be good to us.
We check our phones and respond to every message the same way, with exclamation points and smiley faces and kissy faces and champagne emojis and hearts. Everything glows: screens, skin, bodies. People are covered in glitter and paint. They are shiny. They do not look like victims. There is no use wondering how many of them will die before the sky falls again.
Eventually, we return to our beds and make love, screaming over the immortal roar. Merged, we hear only ourselves. We subsume each other, subsume sound, subsume thought. It is not enough.
We shout I love you I love you I fucking love you baby, not for the first time, but for the first time since skyfall. The words have a new shape in our mouths. The climax is higher, the descent faster, our voices louder. It is not enough.
It must be enough.
When we finish, thighs sticky with doomed life, the fireworks are still going, of course. They’ll be going for hours, until daybreak, incandescent as they detonate. We could sleep, but instead we climb onto the fire escape and watch, legs dangling over the edge. Below us, the glimmering people are just getting home, stumbling drunk and happy out of Ubers, singing songs of old acquaintances, not thinking thoughts of old acquaintances. Above us, colors still thunder and swirl. We think we might hear gunshots. It’s impossible to tell the difference on a night like this.
We are not wearing coats, only pajamas, but if it is freezing, we do not notice. Delirium warms us in the winter cold. Now the sun is rising. Has risen. The sky is falling. Has fallen. What else can we do? It is already here. It has not asked for permission to touch us, to take us, but it feels better to give it, so we do. We welcome the fallen sky with open arms.