The end of the world was far less interesting than anyone had ever led me to believe. Watching it all unfold from behind my computer screen and from the safety of my bed, I felt cheated that the doomsday scenarios of fire and brimstone, promised in biblical verse, did not come to pass. And disappointed that I was neither obliged to ride across deserts looking for a drop of fresh water, nor sail the oceans looking for a fabled scrap of dry land as the epic 80’s and 90’s movies of my childhood had predicted. And positively irked that the lessons gleaned from years dedicated to reading post-apocalyptic and dystopian literary fantasies of nuclear, technological, ecological and supernatural catastrophe, came to nothing in the face of what was, essentially, little more than the common flu. There wasn’t a zombie in sight.
The first sign that anything out of the ordinary was happening was the mass abduction of toilet rolls from supermarkets and all other public establishments. After the initial panicked raids on supermarkets calmed down, people followed governments’ reasoned advice to maintain social distancing and work from home. Most were happy to wait it out. They started taking long walks on the beaches or in the woods since their usual leisure activity, congregating in shopping centres, was no longer possible. Parents found ingenious ways to minimise the time and attention they had to give the children, thanking the gods each night for on-demand, 12 hour marathons of Peppa Pig.
But as the weeks dragged on new curtailments on freedom of movement were added on an almost daily basis. School were closed, public gatherings outlawed, flights were grounded, borders closed, 12 hour curfews became 24 hour curfews, rations were imposed, marshal law declared, indefinite detention approved and a blind eye turned to extra-judicial executions for those caught with more than two rolls of toilet paper.
Meanwhile world leaders, all aging men with underlying health conditions, quickly began to succumb to respiratory failure following the emergency meetings they held behind closed doors, where it is suspected that they did not practice social distancing. Their successors, met the same fate and gradually the political class was wiped out, to be replaced by the heavily armed cartels who had been waiting in the wings while the politicians cannibalised themselves.
As economies crashed around our ears and local and global governance structures imploded, the humble Kleenex became the only currency accepted in exchange for food and medical supplies. Two squares could get you a cigarette and a whole roll might be worth a frozen pizza. The presence of tanks and mercenaries armed bazookas and M16’s on the street hardly went noticed as people scrambled around for scraps with which to wipe their arses. Neighbours raided each other’s houses, trespassers were shot on sight, bodies began to be dumped on the streets in the early mornings with the words ‘bogger’ etched across their naked chests. The cartels seized all remaining supplies of toilet paper and sold them in exchange for sexual and other favours.
And admist the chaos, no one stopped to ask why toilet paper had became the object of everyone’s fixation as the world collapsed? Why was everyone all of a sudden so concerned about the anal hygiene when all they should have done from the beginning was wash their hands?
Most people though, sealed themselves inside their own houses, painting red exes across the windows and waited to die as they had during the medieval plagues that swept across Europe. By the time they made it through Netflix’s back catalogue of Turkish telenovelas and the microwave pizzas had run out they came out of their cocoon only to realise that any semblance of economy had collapsed and the cartels were doing a steady trade in people, they put themselves to permanent sleep with the Valium they had swapped for three rolls of toilet paper.
I had always assumed that the human race would be wiped out in a blaze stupidity induced nuclear war (duck and cover) or environmental catastrophe (ice-caps melting). I never thought it would come down to supermarket squabbles over cushion soft, three ply. Though, in hindsight, this does seem like a fitting end to the planet’s most parasitic of species.
You may wonder who I am or where I am writing this from? These, dear reader, are trivial questions. Any fan of speculative fiction or dystopian fantasies will tell you that there are always survivors. Someone is always left behind to document, bare witness, give testimony. Perhaps I have left recorded tapes in a rusiting cabinet of my island hideaway to be found in the distant future when the remaining few have managed to rebuild some semblance of what they used to call civilisation? Perhaps these are notes scribbled in a diary, to be found in an attic, burst open by the remaining mobs as they scour the abandoned cities for scraps of food or still warm human flesh? Or perhaps I etched these words on to the wall of my cold-war era bunker with a the tip of a blunt penknife after the last tin of spam ran out, but before the delirium of starvation kicked in?
It hardly matters because they are written under the assumption that someone, somewhere beyond this place has also survived, and will find them, and will know how we got here, to the point of self-annihilation. They are written in vanity: one has to leave a mark, one’s experience has to count for something. And they are written in vain: knowing that the most likely outcome, if any future beings do manage to read them, is that they will know but will not understand and that sometime, somewhere, history will repeat itself and these words will be overwritten by the accounts of other survivors from another apocalypse, desperate to leave their mark: I waz ere.
Aisling Walsh is a writer and translator based between Ireland and Guatemala. She is currently working towards a PhD in feminist healing practices in Guatemala at the School of Sociology and Politics at the National University of Ireland, Galway and supported the Irish Research council. More on her website.