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from the May 2020 issue

The Last Judgment

A woman wanders through an apocalyptic dream in this short story by Fátima Bettencourt.

A dream: From the window of my room, I watched the great massacre that I believed was the Last Judgment. Everything around me was being destroyed. Works of art emerged from the ruins. I took one, but it ended up falling and shattering into pieces.

From my window, protected by the glass, I looked on, astounded, as the greatest massacre this planet had ever seen took place. Without any further information, I was overcome by the unshakeable conviction that it was the end of the world.

Unable to understand the reason for such a catastrophe, I was left to hazard and deduce conclusions on the sole basis of knowledge previously acquired who-knew-how, probably from my scant reading of science fiction, a genre to which I was naturally averse.

Could it have been a meteorite, those incandescent “iron stones” that populate space? The quotation marks are practically required since, before, I was ignorant of the existence of such things in outer space or in the depths of the abyss, and, if they do exist, they should be called by a name that is more consistent with their origin, structure, or composition.

I don’t need anyone to tell me the purpose of those flying monsters; it seems clear that their objective is to destroy defenseless planets that are blindly obedient to all the rules—or at least some of them—and still lack the ability to detect these monsters that, from space, conspire against their existence. It’s obvious that detection would not be enough, of course. You'd still need to know how to steer them off their crazed path.

Of course, I should clarify that my insistence on the soaring rocks is due to the extent of the destruction that I glimpsed through my window, which could easily be explained by the phenomenon of a meteorite strike. It’s not valid to think that this was all the result of chance, because it is widely accepted that this world, including the stars, planets, and galaxies, is led by an unerring cosmic force. But there’s no proof of this, either, just the pretentious conclusions of astronauts drunk on their personal success, scientists and researchers allied with lunatic astronomers and mad or fundamentalist prophets.

I can’t allow myself to stray down a muddier and more precarious path. I should rather limit myself to what I saw from my window, well-hidden and protected behind the glass as I watched this devastation of city and earth from which only I was saved. Uninterrupted Dantean scenes danced across my window pane along with pieces of the most unusual objects mixed with the remains of the destruction of the planet, all in such a dizzying procession that I had difficulty following.

Suddenly, a Venus emerged from the depths with two perfect arms, just like the artist gave her when he finished his work. Delighted, I contemplated the piece’s beauty, momentarily removed from the terrible disgrace befalling the earth. I then began to ponder what the Holy Scriptures said about the apocalypse and remembered that the most horrific thing was the return of the dead—solely the just, if memory served, since the sinners must remain in the depths of hell. It was at this point that I realized works of art were never mentioned, but from what I could gather, they had the right to recover their original beauty in this planetary resurrection, just like the beautiful Venus I now saw emerging from the depths, so similar to the amber-curled goddess that Botticelli painted.

At this point, I noticed that a young man was holding on to Venus to keep her from falling into the abyss. A closer look revealed that it was, to my great shock, Vasco, my high school boyfriend, who had died in an accident more than fifty years before. It was him! As young as when he left this life. What’s more, he recognized me and began to wave at me enthusiastically. Straightaway, I climbed through the window and went out to the street to meet this boy, hugging him as if we had only been apart for a short holiday. The two of us grasped Venus, who was precious to us both, and quickly left the hecatomb for a more pleasurable purpose: taking up our life together, interrupted so precipitously all those years before. We continued down the street, happier than anything, holding on to our precious statue, me by the head, he by the feet, in search of some house that had not been affected by the destruction. We were so happy that we dispensed with questions and recriminations, and anyway, any notion of before and after seemed completely lost and senseless.  There was merely a serene space of peace and harmony where we imbibed the certainty that the past had never existed and that we would never grow old or die.

We continued to carry our Venus until we grew tired, since in the midst of such desolation, only a miracle could offer us shelter. We stopped to regain our strength, looking around in the hopes of discovering water to quench the implacable thirst we lacked the courage to confess. It was then that Vasco looked at me, wrinkled his brow, showing that he did not recognize me, and began speaking to himself, saying that when he left me I was less than twenty years old and he could not understand how I’d become so hunched over, all wrinkles and white hair. My disappointment was considerable, since I had assumed that such details had been obliterated by the immense joy of our reunion and the miracle of resurrection. Unfortunately, it was not so; there was no miracle that would remove from my shoulders those years that had elapsed. I released the Venus brusquely and tried to move away. The sound of the statue breaking woke me and I confirmed that the banging was the window of the apartment above mine. Not Venus, not Vasco, not the Last Judgment. I was still here no matter what, to write one more story or, who knows, to dream another, less sinister dream.

© Fátima Bettencourt. Translation © 2020 by Anna Kushner. All rights reserved.

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