Nora had always been the responsible one in their household—hers and Joe's—but her sense of duty took on a new dimension this Tuesday morning, an inflated desire to nurture and protect and upkeep. She rubbed her face and got out of bed. She made breakfast for Joe and bundled him off to work. She fed tuna to the cats, Sine and Cosine (Joe's idea, not hers) and unwound the vacuum cord for a quick go at the area rug in the living room. In the kitchen she heard the parakeets chuttering, and imagined Sine sitting below the cage, tail twitching. He knew better than to jump, didn't he?
She switched the vacuum on. A sense of empowerment thrummed through her. God's voice, not words, not even thoughts, but the rumble of something really, really big. She barely noticed the debris being swept up into her device. She put the vacuum away.
Her period was a couple days late, so she did a pregnancy test, peeing on the stick, waiting impatiently for the results. She spied mold on a section of tile grout just above the tub's rim. Scrub it later. She tapped her foot. Her watch ticked off the final seconds.
Negative. She didn't know what to think or feel. She and Joe weren't married yet and he wasn't pushing for a family, but she was broaching 30. How long should they wait?
She ran cold water at the pedestal sink. There was that voice again, vibrating deep down in her brainstem. She wanted so badly to understand it.
She knelt onto her knees and prayed as she had not since childhood. Get it right, Nora. How many times had her father said that? How many times had she heard it? The answers were not necessarily the same.
She finished, stood, stretched. In the mirror her eyes were bluer than she recalled, or maybe she'd never looked before. Her stomach was flat. Negative. Wasn't that how miracles worked?
She kept thinking of the vibrator tucked into the nightstand. It reminded her of the vacuum, of the faucet, of Joe. She went to the bedroom and stripped off her clothes. She lay on the bed and opened the nightstand drawer. Fingers trembling, she reached inside.
Later, it was God's name she cried out, God's pillow she clung to. But Joe's musky smell. Maybe that was a sign. Maybe that was what the voice had said, that she needed to awaken to the signs around her. That made sense, didn't it? She heard a plane flying low. This happened occasionally when the wind shifted from its prevailing direction, and the airport adjusted. The windowpane rattled.
In a flash it came to her. The world was about to end. What else could this morning mean? She rinsed the vibrator and put it away, then scrubbed the grout and ate lunch.
Afterward, she rounded up Sine and Cosine and packed them into the pet carrier. There wasn't much room, but enough for them to curl around each other. She thought of babies curled into her womb, yin and yang.
The parakeets were next. She took the cage from its hanger and set it beside the carrier. Sine rumbled low in his throat. Birds fluttered to the opposite side of their cage. Nora nodded. They would have to learn to coexist. No one said saving the world would be easy.
When Joe came home from work, Nora was washing the RV they had bought used the summer before. The plan had been to take a month off and travel, but the plan never materialized. Too many bills, too many obligations Nora could not release. Joe never complained. This ought to make him happy.
"Hi, Hon," he said, pecking her cheek. His blue mechanic's shirt was stained with oil and sweat.
"Get changed," she said. "We're taking a road trip."
"I have to work tomorrow."
"Where do you want to go? Did you see an ad on the TV or something?"
Nora dropped the sponge into the bucket of sudsy water. She wiped her brow. Joe's eyes fell to her wet t-shirt. That always made him hot.
A dog loped down the driveway, a clumsy Dalmatian with lolling tongue. The neighbor's dog off his leash. Again.
Nora opened the RV door and enticed him inside with a handful of cat treats. He slobbered on her hand, tail wagging. She closed the door and stepped down.
"You want me to take him home?" Joe said.
"No," Nora said. The dog yapped and scratched at the door. "We're taking him with us."
"What?" Now Joe looked more concerned than confused.
"I'll explain while I drive. Now, go get changed."
It took more cajoling, but he finally put on a tee shirt and clean jeans. He came outside, sipping from a beer can and looking more relaxed.
"Where are the cats?" he said.
"In there." She nodded at the sparkling vehicle. By now the dog had settled. The parakeets called out every once in a while, but the RV was mostly quiet.
"What gives?" Joe said. "You're never impulsive. This is more like something I would suggest. What happened?"
"The world's ending," she said. She walked around to the driver's side and got in. She inserted the key into the ignition. The engine coughed and started.
The dog came forward, panting. Would Joe join them? He would if he felt it as she did, that vibration deep down in the Earth's mantle. She had until midnight. It would be a full moon tonight. She'd looked it up on Google.
She put the RV into gear. The passenger door opened. Joe climbed onto the seat.
"I don't know what's going on here," he said, "but I'm not going to let you go off on your own."
"Good," she said, pressing the gas pedal. The vehicle lurched into motion. The dog stuttered forward and back.
"What about dinner?" Joe said.
"We'll eat on the road."
They stopped at a McDonald's near the Interstate. Joe ordered his usual meal. Nora got a salad.
A mangy mutt scrounged around the dumpsters out back. Its white fur was stained nearly black in places and one eye looked infected.
"Get it," she told Joe. "Use your burger."
"We need another dog."
"I don't understand."
She explained it to him, how they were saving the world. She needed pairs of animals. Singles were no good.
"That's... crazy, Nora."
She gazed into his eyes.
"What if it's another male?" he said.
"Get the dog," she said. She reached across and slipped her fingers into his. "Please?"
"This is ridiculous," he said, opening his door. A few minutes later the two dogs were sniffing and growling in the back, parakeet feathers settling all around.
They bought leashes at WalMart. Nora took the Eastbound entrance to the Interstate.
"Where are we going?" Joe said. The sun was beginning to set now, creating a reddish glow in the rearview.
"Mount Ararat," Nora said. "It's about five hours."
Nora found an ant crawling on the dashboard and urged it into her empty soda cup. A few miles later, she pulled into a rest stop. While Joe walked the dogs, she found another ant. It was larger and had different coloration, but it was the one she found. The first ant was curled around a droplet of soda in the bottom of the cup. It was not dead.
She trapped two flies in Joe's cup and pressed the lid on tight. The persistent buzzing they made inside reminded her of her inspiration, devotion, whatever it was.
They stopped for gas. Nora stood outside, the pump humming beside her.
"We need mice," she said. Insects, mice, cats, dogs. An ecosystem. She had Joe empty the toolbox he kept in the back of the RV and sent him into the tall grass of the lot beside the gas station.
He returned empty-handed.
"It's not your fault," she said. "It was the wrong place. It's not like I have an instruction book."
Joe shook his head. He smiled, then laughed.
"I did find something." He cracked open the toolbox enough to peek inside. Two crickets skittered. He closed the lid and took it into the RV.
Nora resumed her place in the driver's seat. For a moment, she let herself listen to the steady thumping of the crickets' efforts to escape, like tiny heartbeats competing for attention. If you knew what was coming, you would not want to escape, she thought. She pressed her left hand to her stomach. She inserted the key into the RV's ignition with her right. The engine came to life.
"How do you know?" Joe said. "Did you hear a voice? Read a book? See a television show?"
"I just know," Nora said. "I prayed." She reached across and patted his thigh. He took her fingers into his hand.
Outside, the sky blackened. Nora yawned. She was getting tired now, but she dared not stop. Joe turned on the radio, but it was mostly static.
"Did I ever tell you about the book I read in college?" he said. "About the bicameral... bicaramel... some sort of mind?"
"Well, it was by some researcher who claimed that our brains have evolved since the Greeks. He said the gods used to speak to them, a part of their brain that's been lost or changed or something."
"Interesting," Nora said.
"He said it was like hearing a voice talk inside your head, the right side, I think. No wonder they had so many gods."
Nora smiled appreciatively and listened to Joe explain in more detail. She could not help but think God had put that book into Joe's hands ten years ago to prepare him for this night. Without the book, would he have accepted her claim? Mysterious ways, she thought, and shifted to the passing lane to pass a beat up station wagon.
"Mice," she remembered. She pulled off the interstate. They found a pet store and bought two white mice. On a whim, though she understood there really were no whims on this night, she purchased a male and female hamster as well.
"Fish?" Joe said. He'd always wanted an aquarium.
Why not? Nora thought. She had kept the credit card paid down. There was plenty of room on it, and in the RV.
Joe bought two neons, two swordtails, and a couple of black mollies. When they hit the road, a ten gallon aquarium graced the floor between the front seats.
"Do you think it's enough?" he said. Nora glanced at the dashboard clock. 10:35.
"It will have to be," she said. She scanned the black horizon.
"What are you looking for?"
"High ground," she said, recalling Noah and his ark. She had no idea how God meant to end the world, but as Dr. Phil had drummed into her, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
"Knob Hill's off Exit 135," Joe said.
"Does it have another name? Something Indian maybe?"
"I imagine so," Joe said.
Nora took the exit. The road became bumpy, the animals became restless. Nora began to have second thoughts. What if she was wrong? What if she had dragged Joe away from his work for no reason? She'd charged up the credit card, for God's sake.
"No doubts," Joe said. "It's the same with my work. Sometimes I'll get a feeling what's wrong and I just have to trust it and do the work and hope I got it right." He laughed. "You know what?"
"I almost always do."
They started up an incline. Headlights burned twin slivers of clarity through the dark. Soon, the road was switching back upon itself and back again. Nora felt the altitude more than she could gauge it with her eyes. Trees blocked the valley below.
"It's not the highest mountain," Joe said, "but it's the highest around here."
"It will have to do," Nora said. They hit a bump. Water splashed from the aquarium. She heard a fish flapping. Joe bent down to retrieve it.
"There's a flashlight in the glove compartment," Nora said.
"Of course there is," Joe said. "And you wonder why I trust you."
The incline grew steeper. The RV strained to keep up momentum. Nora pressed the gas pedal to the floor.
"Come on, Darlin'" Joe said. "I should have tuned the engine before we left."
"There wasn't time," Nora said.
"How long do we have?"
"Fifteen minutes," Nora said.
"That's not very long."
"No, it's not."
The road began to level. Nora pulled into a parking area overlooking the valley. Lights littered the blackness below in patterns too large to interpret. She shut the engine off.
"We're here, I guess," she said. She pulled a blanket from beneath her seat and stepped onto asphalt. A burp rose from her stomach. She swallowed it back.
"What about the animals?" Joe said.
"Leave them. They'll be fine."
"Are you sure?"
"No," Nora said, "but I believe."
She spread the blanket beside the parking lot. They sat together, looking out over a sea of lights. The vibrations were muted now, damped by miles of stone between them and it, whatever it was.
Joe slipped his arm around her shoulder. "I'm glad I came."
"Me too," Nora said, leaning into him.
They watched the world below.