The Last Time You’ll See Me. The First Time We’ll Meet.
by Stephen S. Power
Mt. Bethel, Pennsylvania didn’t much care about the asteroid. Church attendance increased a bit. So did DUI stops. And warnings given to drunk drivers. A few people left for places they’d always wanted to see. Miller’s crew went home to Guatemala, so he would have to replace Gayle Foster’s roof by himself.
“See a job through,” his father would say. “No matter what.”
What Miller wanted to see through was the roof itself. He’d loved Gayle since seventh grade, but he’d never told her. Never found the right moment.
The morning he started, Gayle was wearing her prettiest outfit: faded jeans that had learned to fit her, flannel shirt, workboots, ballcap. “Still game?”
She smiled and left him to it.
Between cascades of pried-off shingles, Miller heard her cleaning. She hauled dozens of boxes and bloated Hefty bags to the curb, waving to him as she walked back to the cottage.
Around noon she asked, “How’s it going?”
“Shouldn’t take more than a couple days.”
The asteroid would hit in 58 hours. It was 63 miles wide.
Miller worked till dark, replacing the drip edge, ice protector and underlayment, then returned at dawn.
Gayle greeted him with coffee. She was wearing her prettiest outfit: leggings, tanktop, hoodie. Barefoot. Hair bunned. Yoga day.
The garbage men hadn’t come.
“Done cleaning?” Miller said.
“‘You’re never done,’ Mom would say.” She left him to it.
He put on the flashing, then began shingling. Between hammer blows he heard Gayle’s music. Motown, funk, reggae. The good stuff. Nothing slow. Nothing sad.
She didn’t turn on the TV or radio.
At two Miller finished half the roof and ate lunch. Venison sausage. His own. It was a shame that so much more would go to waste.
Gayle raced out. She looked beneath the eaves, then up at Miller, relieved. “I was so used to the hammering, I got worried when I realized it’d stopped.”
“Is it bothering you?”
“No. Keeping me company.”
Miller wouldn’t let himself smile. Instead he said, “Cookie?” and held one up. “From Middle Village. They’re giving them away. Made tons.”
Gayle cupped her hands.
He tossed it. Nice catch.
They watched each other nibble, savoring each crumb, then Gayle went in.
By dusk Miller had finished half the other side. He left Gayle dancing to “Thriller.”
At dawn her house was dark. Miller didn’t knock. Didn’t want to wake her. Or discover she couldn’t be woken. He’d heard gunshots all night long. Seen cops at the bakery. And his church. 16 hours left. Mt. Bethel had started to care.
Miller hammered quietly. Between shingles he checked the road. Gayle didn’t come home. The garbage men hadn’t come either.
Near midday, near the ridge, Miller heard the shower. He thanked the cloudless, incomparable sky.
As Miller finished installing the ridge cap, the back door squeaked. Gayle came out, hair bouncing. She was wearing her prettiest outfit: navy dress with white polka dots, white cardigan, pristine Keds. She carried a plate piled with bacon and a pitcher of lemonade.
Christ, she was perfect.
“All done?” Gayle said.
“Yep. Except for the mess. My father’d say—”
“‘Job’s not over till you’ve cleaned up.'”
“It’ll only take a moment.”
“It’ll wait. Hungry?”
Miller swallowed, testing whether he could hold down food while eating with her, and said, “I’ll be down in—”
“No, I’ll come up.”
She was sitting beside him on the ridge before he could protest. She smelled like Florida: bright water, brighter light, brilliant flowers.
“I’ve never been on the roof before,” Gayle said. “It’s weird being up here.”
“I’ve spent so much time on roofs, I find it weird to be under one sometimes.”
“You want to sit on the patio?”
They nibbled bacon. Her lips glistened. His dried.
Gayle drank straight from the pitcher and said, “Here.”
He opened his mouth. She poured. So tart. So sweet. So much vodka.
“We should pace ourselves,” he said.
Gayle snorted, he laughed and they guffawed.
The sun fell. Plate and pitcher emptied. The oven dinged.
Miller sniffed. “Apple pie?”
“Not a party without pie.” Gayle went down. Carefully.
Miller collected the day’s waste and his remaining supplies, heaved them into his dump trailer and went inside to wash up.
Everything gleamed. Everything was in its place. His mother used to clean like that before vacations. Wanted to come home to a “fresh start.”
Gayle put on a CD. “So What.” They didn’t wait for the pie to cool. Ate it standing up and straight from the tin, slowly with spoons.
“Flamenco Sketches” ended, and Gayle turned off the CD before the alternate take. Then she wiped the counter and filled the dishwasher. Miller took out the garbage.
They returned to the roof and stretched out, the ridge cap their pillow. The sky turned red, gray, black. An extra star blazed beneath Venus.
“You did a nice job,” Gayle said.
“Thanks. Tough to do alone.”
“Most things are.”
“But you manage.”
“Still,” Gayle said, “better to have help.”
The extra star grew larger. The air, brisk. Miller shivered. Gayle slid against him.
Silence suited them. And the moment. So Miller didn’t tell her how he felt. Didn’t ask if she’d planned on him joining her on the roof. He didn’t care. He simply enjoyed living happily ever af—