It was early afternoon in the summertime, and Twyla sat alone at a dusty table. She was running her wet finger along the rim of her wine glass, trying to make it sing. Racks of expensive bottles lined the café walls, many of which would likely never be opened. From among them she had selected a merlot, because her mother drank merlot; it was a 2022 vintage. There were hardly any fires that year, and she could only imagine what this bottle might have cost. Drinking slowly, she savored each sip like her memories of the summer it represented. She toasted to her mom.
Zeke had yet to arrive, and Twyla helped herself to a heaping second glass from the bottle. So what if I’m tipsy when he shows up? she thought as she poured. As far as I know, I’m the only option he’s got. But soon after, that little voice whispered: Maybe you’re just destined to be alone forever. She tried to be amused, to find the irony, and to approach her first encounter with this man with the levity that came naturally to her in response to adversity—if he ever showed up, that was. Maybe you’re really alone now.
She waited, looking out onto the sea crashing into the rocks below the empty little café where she sat. Nothing but time now. She knew this beautiful, sunny patio ought to be bustling with wide-eyed tourists, scrambling busboys, disgruntled businessmen on vacation and their wives wearing fashionable hats that cost too much money—but on some perverse level, she did not entirely mind having the place to herself. Maybe I could actually get some writing done now, she mused reflexively, and then, surprising herself, she laughed out loud. She said a mental apology to the business owners and returned to her wine glass.
“What’s so funny?” said a voice from a few feet behind her. Twyla breathed an audible sigh of relief and turned to observe him. Not exactly my type, she first thought, but I do like the sound of his voice. It was the first voice she had heard in days.
Zeke had the build of a gym rat, which made his skittish air seem all the more offbeat. On first glance, she liked the look of his tattoos, but further inspection revealed them to be the apparent brainchildren of a man who had desperately wanted to manifest toughness in the December of his adolescence. You’re too picky, she scolded herself. Again, somehow, she laughed. But one glance at Zeke’s face told Twyla that he did not want to hear laughter.
Embarrassed, she handed him the bottle, sans glass.
“I’m sorry. Currently, somehow, everything.” She lifted her glass to him, feeling suddenly nauseous.
Mercifully, Zeke raised the bottle, took a swig, pulled out the chair across the table from her and took a seat. I like his dimples, Twyla smiled with some effort. “I’m glad you made it.”
“It wasn’t easy,” Zeke surveyed the empty tables that surrounded them. He looked as though he might cry.
Twyla stood up, walked to the bartop that abutted the dining area, and returned to the table having procured another wine glass. She filled it for him. Just because he’s not exactly my type, doesn’t mean he isn’t cute. And then, Thank God he’s cute.
Zeke massaged the back of his neck absentmindedly. “Cars are just stacked up on every road. Even the little side streets. I’m sure you’ve seen it. There are drivers in a few that…” He trailed off. “But my house was pretty nearby, and...well, I couldn’t stay there after last week actually, and I went to a friend’s place and it was–is—close too, and that’s where…” He inhaled. He looked helpless. He was nervous. Scared. They both were.
A few moments passed between them in relative silence, save the sounds of the ocean meeting the rocks and the screeches of the gulls in the sky above the two strangers.
“I’m so sorry about Wyatt,” Zeke said. He looked as though he wanted to say more, but instead he clenched his jaw and rubbed at his ink-laden bicep. Twyla looked at him intensely, then looked away.
“Thanks,” she said simply. She coughed, sniffed. “I’m glad you picked up his phone.” Zeke looked up at her. Her curly hair was frizzing into a halo that framed her gray-green eyes flecked with gold around the pupils. She looked as though she might have been born for solitude, like a woman who had been laughing alone into wine glasses since before she could buy cigarettes. Not exactly my type, he thought, but no one could say she’s not beautiful. And then, Thank God she’s beautiful. He sipped his wine. Do I ask about her siblings? Where she’s from? His mind was buzzing like he was a teenager again, flailing in search of the right thing to say to a pretty girl. Without realizing what he was doing at all, he drained his wine glass and rested his head in his hands, elbows propped on the table between them.
“I was a server,” Twyla offered. “I worked at a steakhouse in a ski town.” Zeke looked at her again, jolted into place by the realness of her. It was so strange, to have found another person. His face softened. “That’s where I met Wyatt, actually. Sometimes it was dull, but honestly it was never a nightmare, and it was frequently bliss. We’d sleep in or ski or climb all morning, then run around the dining room flirting with anyone and everyone, drinking wine and eating filets. Good life.” Finally, Twyla smiled with something resembling ease. “What about you?”
She felt him relax, just a little. “Pilot, actually. Air Force. I fly helicopters.” He seemed suddenly proud, confident. She could see why.
“Well, that’s certainly useful.” They found each other’s gaze. Maybe it was the wine, or the humidity of the sea, but the air around their table felt suddenly steamy. Get your head on straight, Twyla. “Maybe you could take me to Rome. I’ve always wanted to go.” Zeke looked intently into her bloodshot eyes.
She drained her glass. “What do you think? Should we see each other again?”
Zeke, too, chuckled softly. It felt so strange, and good, to laugh. He glanced down the coast, at the wreckage of the highway, at the cars that had days ago ceased to move.
“Maybe...if you were the last person on Earth.”
Twyla exhaled, nodded her head, raised her glass again, and began to cry. Zeke put his arm around her.
The two survivors toasted to life and looked out over the enduring ocean as the sun began its descent to the horizon. For just a moment, the empty restaurant seemed to sparkle with the ghosts of patrons past, a glimmer of life in a deserted cafe, in a deserted town on a deserted planet. The gulls quieted, and the moon began to rise.
* * *