The Road to the End of the World
The road to the end of the world looks like this. It’s paved with asphalt, sharp black, eaten into by white lines. It’s four lanes with a thin median, the grass mowed so neatly, so so neatly. And once every 500 feet or so is a palm tree. The orange lights illuminate the road overhead, making ephemeral day in the darkest night. Curb cuts lead to Publix and Lowes bursting with lights and closed closed closed. Homes on either side, hiding behind gates, many more trees and grass. The wind bites here because the window of your car is cracked open. It’s that time when it’s too hot to leave it closed, but still.
As you drive, you imagine ahead of you a wave cresting, red as blood—it is blood. You drive through the wave and through another and another until you are covered in it, with not even enough oxygen to fill your lungs.
Think now, think as you near the driveway. Think before you pull in. You can keep driving and at the next break in the median turn around go back, back up Palmetto Drive, the road that leads to the end of the world. You can make the right turn past the 7-11 and up the on-ramp into the welcoming arms of I-95. You can take it to Indian River, you can keep taking it up, past Jacksonville, and Rocky Mount all the way to the tip of Maine where the water is cold and it swallows you. Cleans you of the blood. You can do it still, if only you don’t pull in. Think think think.
But you pull in, through more and more waves of blood. And here comes the dialogue, because you do not know what to do, but it looks like you need to buy a ticket so you will, but you have to talk to the woman sitting on the dull silver chair, in a garage that smells too strong of sawdust. And you can see she is soaked from top to bottom. You don’t know, has she been in Maine, has she swum in the ocean? You don’t know.
So how does it work, you ask.
“How many do you want. One for you and your wife?”
“Girlfriend. Do we need one each, can we do it together.”
She frowns now, you have said something wrong. It is the girlfriend, or the together, or maybe both.
“You better buy one each. 36 dollars.”
You hand her the money, looking away, afraid of what you might see. You look back. She is still there, handing you two yellow tickets.
“Over there,” she points toward the chickens crowded together. “Take it to him.”
You take it to him and he wordlessly hands you a chicken.
“One for her, too,” you tell him.
“You gonna do it for her?”
“Can’t she just do it herself?”
He sighs then and looks around, the chickens still in his hand.
“Moe, can you do it for her?”
“I can just do it for her myself,” you say, but you aren’t really sure.
“Let him, he’s a professional,” he smiles.
“What do I do,” you say. Your hand darts out for one of the chickens in his hand as he puts his out to hand off to Moe. The kid, he must be younger than you, in the blue jacket and the black hat, whose hands are stained with dirt and has just enough stubble but no beard.
He hands you a sheet of paper instead.
“It’s all right there.”
And then he gives you the chicken and lets you grip it by its feet.
You can’t read the paper, though. Your eyes have fallen to the ground, blurred and caked in blood, grass and shit.
The road to the end of the world looks like this. It starts close to your eyes with criss-crossing metal bars. They are thin and you feel you can grab them with your mouth and open them, but that might not help. Beyond the wire is the air. The clean clean clean night air, half lit up by a floodlight, with a million specks of hair floating through it. The air presses upon itself pushing outwards with a weight. Pushing pushing pushing until you reach a jamb for a large door. A garage door. Inside the garage door it is yet brighter. The air there chokes itself on sawdust. Sitting in the middle of the air is a woman on a metal chair, grey, with a thin cushion. She has a table in front of her and tickets that she tears off, every so often, perforated with jagged edges sharp as scimitars, ready to slice her and whoever receives the ticket.
And then the road to the end of the world is no more, sprinkled into the air. And now it is replaced by a white button-down shirt. And now it is a horde of other chickens. Flapping as if this were truly the end of the world, as if truly you were being led to slaughter, as if the waves of ice you feel splashing over you were real. Oh God let them be real.
He is holding you now, upside down. By your feet, and you can tell you don’t like it but you aren’t sure why. The blood rushes to your head as you squawk and flap and his sweaty hand, oh God now, is starting to lose grip of your legs. He’s mumbling into a paper now, sometimes slower and sometimes speeding up and the words are coming faster because the faster they come the faster the knife comes and the fact is all you ever wanted to do was love. And love this and love that, but as he reads he is mumbling and he is mumbling to you and you know this is the end of the world and now what is he saying?
It’s sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry, he doesn’t want to do this but he’s holding you, and shaking you and saying sorry sorry he doesn’t know why he has to believe this, he has to believe this, like chickens led to slaughter it’s for God, but it’s all for you it’s all for you, he says it’s for him, it’s for them, it’s for their life, it’s for what they lost in the gas chamber. He’s swinging you now, swinging harder and faster and you are losing it. Here is the end of the world flying by, in circles, revolutions. You can hardly see anymore, and your legs are tired so tired from kicking him. And then
One leg is free, and the swinging stops. And he says
This is it, he says and he’s so sorry. He’s so damn sorry but he won’t let you go, because if he was going to let you go, he wouldn’t be sorry, he couldn’t be. It would be the road that kept going, and didn’t end by the man with the knife and the sawdust. He’s done reading from the paper now. The swinging is over, and now he’s carrying you toward the sawdust and the blood blood blood. Sleep.
The road to the end of the world looks like this. There is a man standing near you, no, probably more of a boy, can’t be more than 20, maybe 22. And he’s holding the chicken for you, holding it over your head. He’s not wearing any gloves—God, does the Health Department know about this—about this mass ritual slaughter happening at 2 a.m. in somebody’s backyard somewhere in suburban Florida?
Why did I even come here, you think to yourself as the man begins swinging the chicken and repeating the same words over and over again. Hebrew—you don’t understand it, and you don’t quite understand the ritual, but you stand there anyway. That’s the way it’s been and that’s the way it will be.
You are here because of the inevitability of things. You are here because you are with him, though you’re not sure you want to be. You are here because you moved—or were you dragged? You can hardly remember—from your friends or family so you could be here tonight.
It’s an experience, he told you in the car during the long ride down. But you ignored him mostly. The argument about whether to open the window, which you wanted, or to run the air conditioning, which he wanted, once again gave way to silence.
There is so much sawdust on the floor, so much stuff that used to be something else, that was ground to nothing, and he leads you now to the man with the knife.
You remember now, you were dragged, but you didn’t protest. It would be like fighting the ocean. And now the man slits the bird’s throat and turns him upside down. The blood drips onto the floor, slowly slowly slowly and now he tells you to take some sawdust and throw it on the blood. You do. You don’t know why but you do.
You walk back to the car now—and she is there, standing, watching as three boys, can’t be older than 10, chase down a half-slaughtered chicken. You want to stay and watch but it’s already 3 a.m. and you have work in the morning. Cops beat. Murder. You hope somebody fell off his bike and was run over, maybe a kid will be killed, something easy that writes itself.
You back out of the driveway now and turn north on Palmetto. You’re headed to Maine, but you need to make some stops first. The northern waters are so cold, God, they are so cold that you stop feeling and just sink in. Did you know, God? Did you have any idea? Your blood freezes and stops moving, God, the alleyways of your arteries jam, and the road becomes a parking lot. Did you know it could work, God? Did you have any idea? Any idea, God? Did you even stop to think?
You don’t roll down the window now. You turn on the air instead, just a little bit. She can stew. What does it matter now? You don’t have to think anymore. You are forgiven.
Cleveland-native Joshua Davidovich is deputy editor of The Times of Israel and has worked as a journalist in Israel and the US for over a decade. Fiction is his way of being a fabulist without getting in trouble. He lives near Jerusalem with his ace wife and three razzle-dazzle kids.