The Means of Keeping

The Great Absence
2032

THE MONARCH BUTTERFLY

Thirty-four years after Tereza Allard and David Luca became the best of friends, Tereza found herself preparing at the cliffs, their sanctuary. From her perch a hundred feet above, she watched storm waves pound the rocks below, unleashing their rage and grief, only to recede into the far depths to begin the cycle again. She would not be one of them anymore.

Methodically, Tereza disrobed, shedding her running shoes, sodden sweatpants, bloodstained t-shirt, and sports bra. She carefully folded each article of clothing, placing them in a neat pile beside her shoes and marking the spot with a stone. She glanced back at her electric SUV, where she had stashed the failed knife, the photograph, and the golden sculpture. What good had the SUV done? From the damp, almost frozen earth, she collected enough mud to paint her face.

A step closer to the edge, she caressed the diamond pendant gifted to her by her children on her forty-fifth birthday and, from the salty ocean mist, conjured their images: Robert, her eldest at eighteen, plunging off the diving board and cannonballing into the backyard pool; Elsa, at sixteen, blushing crimson when caught behind the front yard bushes making out with the boy next door; and Mary, at twelve, surrounded by a gaggle of young girls at her birthday party, gazing up at Tereza with admiring eyes no parent could count on forever. In a six-year whirlwind, all three had come into an uncertain world and recast Tereza for the better.

Twisting her wedding band on her finger, she rotated it to the right and left, its diamonds radiating a new significance. The ring felt looser than it had when she and Luke had wed twenty-three years prior. Not long ago, the latter half of their marriage still brimmed with potential. They would finish raising their children. They would protect all they’d built and offer aid to those less fortunate. They would grow old together. They were the lucky ones, living in Maine far enough north to have escaped the worst ravages of the climate crisis, at least temporarily. With diligence and a smattering of luck, they would weather the heat, the storms, and the floods. They would emerge even stronger and more united. They weren’t like all those propelled by inertia and convention, or denial and the whisper-whisper of more. Similar to the monarch butterfly, humanity was endangered, but the Allards would find a way to survive, even flourish.

Then, eighteen months ago, the microburst came and took her family.
In the center of a U-shaped clump of boulders below, an eddy formed. It felt like a portal to before, a time machine, a reprieve. David, sweet David, the only one left who would understand her decision, the only one who’d seen her clearly for decades––though not as much since the microburst. Still, he would find and act on the signposts she’d left for him. He would know how much she loved him despite the last eighteen months. He would know what to do.