There are some hours in which the world seems utterly empty, silence echoing, and there is not even the whisper of distant tires against asphalt to suggest a population larger than myself. It’s times like this when I can really imagine a cataclysm. Like it’s right there, tangible if only I could squirm past some threshold of reality.
I can see the shades of a former civilization. My whole neighborhood, pristine McMansions, long plundered and left to wild and decay, some still half-finished, abandoned by builders, not a soul in my house or any of the others. The foxes and birds from the woods across the street would have become bold, and all the dogs and cats gone half-feral, hanging around houses, yet neither trained nor tolerant. They would still approach me, beg for scraps, but they’d also fight one another and wander, half starved and mean. And I could explore any of the other houses any time I wanted, but I wouldn’t, because what’s the point, when everything useful is gone, and there’s no one inside anyway?
It wouldn’t just be my neighborhood, either. It would be everywhere. So few people anywhere that you could walk for miles in the bright afternoon on paved roads, and never encounter anyone. Only the pavement would be cracked and ill-maintained with dandelions poking up in the spaces, the same way roofs of houses would be caving in and cars would be rusting in desolate garages. And if you did encounter someone, it would be such a rare occasion that you would do it cautiously, wary of strangers, watchful and slow with a healthy distance and long periods of silence before anyone dared speak.
I suppose this is the charm I see in post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s not the zombies or the haphazard totalitarian regimes or the gun-hoarding or the aliens. Just the emptiness. Growing used to the quiet, to being so very alone, and being okay. It’s the vines creeping up vinyl siding, new houses half broken, empty shells of former lives. It’s remembering all of it, but so distantly that the history hardly matters. There’s not a disaster or radiation or hordes of undead. The world is just very empty.
I’m not writing anything post-apocalyptic. I’m not trying to advertise a new project or talk up yet another novel I’m unlikely to finish. This is just something that occurs to me. It happened today, when I left my house in the evening to drive to night class. I also feel it in the hazy summer, and even more with the onset of spring, in the dewy late morning when everyone is busy but me. I’m not sure what it says about me that I imagine quiet apocalypses, and that when I do I am always solitary but never lonely, but I think if there were a cataclysm I would survive it and be more or less okay with sweeping up the broken pieces and setting them aside.