Everything closed at nine or ten, even the hundred year old diner that was open for twenty-four hours back when Teddy Roosevelt was president. We didn’t like that much but we made the best of it, hunkering down on a concrete ledge behind a strip mall. We set our coffee and books down followed by our cigarettes after we lessened the burden borne by the four flimsy cardboard walls surrounding them. We shared a matchbook between the two of us and kept our guns hidden inside backpacks.
Our faces washed out in a thin orange haze floating down from the lights above the shipping and receiving doors along the walls with the dust and dirt that never seemed to leave the air. We almost looked sick with jaundice. Western Civilization Volume 3: Fourth Edition looked no different than it did in a stale classroom.
Studying wore its welcome out as cups of coffee drained and became lukewarm, then cold. Lighted cigarettes were boxcars in the train of moments moving by us, moving through us, unbound by time. Cramming this way had become something of a tradition on nights before exams.
“Hey Chuck, what are you gonna do when this is over and done with?” I asked, breaking our waning concentration.
Chuck lit a match and held it to another cigarette. “I don’t know, I was thinking about maybe getting a masters in linguistics, moving to Russia or Israel…something like that.”
I leaned back against the wall, blinked a few times. Smoke stings my eyes.
“Yeah? For the end of days?” I asked.
“I’ll need to get outta here by then.”
“If you’re still alive.” I laughed and Chuck laughed too.
“If any of us are still alive by then.”
“Yeah.” I agreed almost inaudibly, deep down not wanting to agree but cornered and betrayed by my own bad habit of not thinking before speaking. Chuck heard, and started flipping through his textbook. He stopped at the map of America right in the center of the book, the one that took up two whole pages.
“How long do you think we can pull this off? Keep things going the way they are?”
Chuck pressed the burning end of his cigarette against the page, right on Los Angeles. “I have no idea.” He answered, exhausted.
“Me neither.” I said, flicking my dead cigarette away.
“I mean, as long as we don’t get careless…or sloppy-“
“We might be alright.” I finished for him.
“But man, I can’t keep this up for much longer.” He confessed.
“Yeah, I know.”
Chuck closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall. I struck another match.
He let the page burn.
— Born and raised in small town Minnesota, eric tolzmann unintentionally relocated to Los Angeles at the age of 18 where he has spent 17 years living almost entirely without internet at home.