The World about to End: An Excerpt from ‘Crudo

Fiction by Olivia Laing


I t was beginning to seem like the world might be about to end. Enjoy August she read on a site she’d only opened to read a book review: conspiracy theorists say it might be your last month on Earth. Beneath it, in a column titled Most Popular, was a headline in red: Woman live blogged her rape on Instagram. A New Yorker traveling in South Africa. She’d kissed the man and then shared a hot shower with him. It was almost an intuitive thing, she told Marie Claire. I was still in the bathroom — in the crime scene. I don’t even think I’d stood up. I just typed and typed. The hashtags on her Instagram pictures included two iterations of her own name, along with Africa, survivor, humanitarian, and victim-blaming. At one of Joseph’s birthday parties there’d been an almost-fight about how many times people had been raped. I’ve been raped three times Gerry said and someone replied sweetly well you know what they say, three times a lady. The first time Kathy met Gerry, and in fact the second and third, she believed Gerry was a drag queen and kept calling her he. It was right at the beginning of pronouns, and she was a little irritated when Joseph kept correcting her. Eventually the truth dawned, though truly Gerry was a priestess and beyond gender, the oldest and most glitzy club kid in town.

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What was more worrying was Trump and North Korea. People said nothing was going to happen, but since people by which she meant pundits had wholly and absolutely failed to predict any of the carnage of the past year, she doubted their reliability. She decided to look at his Twitter, to check it out. It was worse than she’d expected. He was retweeting Fox News about jets in Guam that could fight tonight, but he was also taking time out to trash talk the Failing New York Times. My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before . . . . . . Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world! When? When had he done that? She missed Obama. Everyone missed Obama. She missed the sense of time as something serious and diminishing, she didn’t like living in the permanent present of the id.

If the world was about to end was there anything she should be doing? She was getting married in nine days, she was doing a studio visit for an artist who made fruitful annihilating porcelain sculptures out of bodies that were morphing into flowers and flowers that were morphing into bodies. She loved them, they looked like charnel pits and also decorations for expensive cakes, like synchronized swimmers in the pit of the damned. She might as well do that as anything else, she might as well have chicken for Lauren’s birthday and file a review, she might as well continue with her small and cultivated life, pick the dahlias, stake the ones that had fallen down, she’d always known whatever it was wasn’t going to last for long.

Kathy wasn’t a conspiracy theorist, though Kathy was fairly paranoid she didn’t like subscribing to anything, but all the same she was fairly sure someone was moving pieces somewhere out of view. Someone was getting rich on all this, she knew they were. Food insecurity, water insecurity, the collapse of the state, sick desperate people, it was an excellent way to make a buck, to make what Gary Indiana once described as the Freudian faecal pile. Anxious, uneasy, with a small persistent pain in her left knee, Kathy began to itemize the things that were sitting on her table, a blanket box that had previously belonged, like the room itself, to her husband’s previous wife, a famous writer who had died the previous year. Flexitol heel balm, Comme des Garçons wallet, almost empty bottle of green mineral water from Sainsbury’s. Moth trap, sunglasses, Pantone 7461 mug of pens, ten stones, an unattractive ring she’d bought in a car boot sale several maybe even ten years before. There were no moths in the moth trap, just one small fly. Would they die? They would most certainly die.

There was also her phone, a prehistoric Nokia given to her by her friend Matt, and her diary, mustard-colored, given to her by her half-sister, Wendy, who was a comedy agent, soon to be a partner, extremely high-flying. Burns, shock waves, radiation, that was how it went, then obviously other more secondary things like associated violence, or lack of food or something quite random. Everything was so intricate, it was amazing how much of it sustained from day to day. The city panics, she writes. Bombers terrorists’re going to take over! She writes down the worst things she can imagine, she puts herself in a small room and lets herself be raped and beaten, it doesn’t lessen the anxiety, the world so blue, gone in a moment, up in smoke.

Maybe you’re dying and you don’t care anymore. You don’t have anything more to say. In the nothingness, the gray, islands almost disappear into the water. She’s writing down the plot of Key Largo, making it as depressing as she can, sketching out a landscape for the end of the world. Every piece of meat, every cunt. Is she getting repetitive? There were things you could do once that you can’t do anymore, short skirts but in sentences-form. The reason she liked tattoos was that she liked something getting under her skin and staying there, it was pretty much the only experience of permanence she had. Oh Kathy, nobody wanted you. Oh Kathy, now they do.

OLIVIA LAING is the author of the new novel CRUDO.
Reprinted from Crudo by Olivia Laing. Copyright © 2018 by Olivia Laing. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.