the last of the stir-fry
Illustrated by MUSTAFA PETRUS
I met Jason when I was in college, in the supermarket, in the cliché aisle with all of the different brands of ramen noodles. He waltzed over with his fingers locked into a large box of Red Bull, resting on his shoulder like it was some sort of animal sidekick, and asked me if I was having a hard time deciding what kind of flavored worms I wanted. Confused with a grumbling stomach, I didn't get the joke he was already chuckling at. He skimmed his finger over the expiry dates on the boxes, all conveniently faded in comparison to the bright orange sale sticker. All of a sudden, the twenty boxes of ramen I could have bought with the last crumpled ten dollars I had in my pocket didn't seem to attractive. I might have still been pouting when I caught his smirk, to which he politely ushered me over to the other aisles.
He grabbed a bag of white rice, convinced me it was a good idea to get a family sized package of hot dogs, and helped me pick out the last few of the good vegetables in the discount section. I didn't usually take to strangers too easily, especially when hungry, but Jason had his way of just getting by. A bag of rice, two green peppers, a small bag of baby carrots, one whole stalk of broccoli, and the hot dogs rang in at nine dollars and ninety-nine cents. He promised I'd be able to make an easy stir-fry at home with the little instructions he gave me, but I was only concerned with how long the food would last as I trudged home in the snow, ignoring the passing buses I didn't have the money to pay for.
When I saw him again at the end of the week, I was full. I'd eaten twice every day for six days, with large cups of cheap, bitter green tea to keep me full in between meals. I ran over to him with a smile plastered on my face and hugged him, almost knocking the signature energy drink out of his hand. I gave him my number.
Jason and I were sort of a low-key power couple. I majored in languages in hopes of returning to my old school to teach French, Jason in video game development. He gave me new recipes and manga; I gave him my Wi-Fi password and taught him everything I learned in my elective Japanese class. For three years, we were happy. I can't even begin to think of how many hours we spent in that tiny off campus apartment, cramped so tightly that even in January we had to leave the window open a crack because it was just so hot.
Then things started changing. Jason applied for an internship way out of his league, and got it. He took every chance he could to inspire me to do the same, and was utterly disappointed when he found out that I played it safe and gave my application to my old high school's language department. Without them even having to confirm it, I had it in the bag; the French teacher who'd been there for years was on the brink of retirement and needed to be replaced. Where I found safe spaces for myself, in the small nooks of society that needed to be filled, Jason saw entrapment. But he loved me, and I loved him, so we put up with each other. I stayed in New York and took the train to my old high school every morning, and he took off for Japan to be a part of a growing video game empire.
Three years stuck together suddenly dissolved into the time difference. My good morning was his goodnight, and eventually we started seeing each other that way too. He was there for seven weeks before he told me about his female coworker, the one he'd spent hours with configuring a new top-secret project in a hotel room in the middle of Tokyo. I refused all of his calls and ignored all 362 of his text messages. I sent him a long and bitter email in the middle of a thunderstorm. His reply came in days later as an invitation to a video chat on Skype. We talked for hours, working out insecurities and underlying feelings; it felt like we were getting somewhere. Then the Internet cut out.
From the window, it looked like a shooting star. Radio reports from Siberia were the only honest ones, their scanners picked up something coming into the atmosphere at a high speed that landed in the Pacific. By the time they sent boats out to investigate, nothing was visible. Hearing the announcement while I was correcting the small quizzes I'd given out to my class, I slowly looked up to meet the Cloverfield poster on my wall and over to the radio, sitting on my bookshelf next to a prototype of the next generation of “defenderbots” Jason’s company was working on for a new movie. I just knew that if someone did have the bright idea to build them in real life, the bots would serve about as much as the shiny plastic one Jason sent carefully wrapped to me; simply stopping my books from toppling over.
It turned out to be worse than any monster. No government could find a way to save us. The guards around the North Korean border disappeared, but their automatic weapons remained on guard. Subway tunnels in Russia were dug deeper as bunkers. There was a mass exodus of Australia to the coasts of South Africa. Canada began talks for drilling holes into the sides of the mountains for shelter. The Americans tried to blow up one the size of Wyoming and simply broke it up into more pieces.
The asteroids were coming, and there was no way to stop them.
NASA advised prayer. Anarchy rose in the streets and few people made it into the bunkers. The supermarkets were stripped almost bare, but my rice, vegetables, and hot dogs were still there. The homeless man downstairs and I had nowhere to go, but he was always glad to accompany me on the little trips. We seemed to be the only ones who realized what was going to happen; we weren't going to be here for much longer.
The asteroids were destroying the world bit by bit. The only thing that seemed to be able to veer out of their path were the satellites. Every now and then an announcer would gravely depict the situation outside, but I just hoped the Internet didn’t cut out. Sitting behind my computer screen, I watched Jason sleep alone in his small apartment, cut off from everyone but me. We took turns watching each other through the limited Skype features, trying not to bring up any past transgressions. All laughs and giggles separated by a few thousand miles, in our underwear as the world came to an end.
The Internet cut out. We spoke for a few moments, and it cut out again. The announcer shrieked that a satellite had been knocked down. High waves were quickly approaching the Philippines, and before he could give more information about the tsunami, he paused and confirmed that it’d been washed over completely. An hour of frantic panic later I was able to get a hold of Jason. His smile was gone, he knew what was coming. He got up to close the blinds behind his windows when I noticed the smoke in the background. Sitting back down in front of the computer, he raised his small bowl of stir-fry to the screen and tapped it against it, noting that this is not what he expected his little college survival meal to turn into. My tearful laugh echoed back to me as the program cut out once again.
Back online, I heard the sirens. Piercing sirens, a mix of the ones declaring an incoming tsunami wave and an incoming air attack. Blinking back tears, Jason still managed to give me the same tiny smirk I fell in love with.
I can’t be sure if he heard me say, “I love you” as his microphone picked up the noise seconds after the flash coming through the drawn blinds in the background, but it’s only the positive thought I can die w-.