He found Jill still studying at the breakfast table in the kitchen. She didn’t have many books but the ones that she did have lay open before her as she sat taking notes from them. She looked tired but otherwise fine.
“Still up?” He asked as he went over to the refrigerator to grab a bottle of water.
“Yeah.” The girl answered without looking up.
“How are you feeling?”
When he’d driven both the women home from the mall Myrah had warned her about refusing medical treatment. “You’re in shock.” She’d said. “You need to be put under observation so that they can make sure that you don’t go into a coma when you go to sleep tonight.”
The builder could see her sitting in the backseat with her dust covered backpack balanced on her knees. “I have a test to study for.” She replied. “I’m not going to be sleeping anyway.”
“Suit yourself.” His wife shot back. “I’m just glad that Clara stayed there on the floor where I had you put her. She’s smart enough to know when to get help.”
In reality, Clara had been treated and release on the scene. Markoff was called back to get her just a few hours after they’d arrived home. He hadn’t wanted to go out again but everyone knew that Dan couldn’t pick her up. Even if he did leave the house anymore he probably would have been pulled over by a cop thinking he was too young to drive.
The builder took a drink. “Still shook up?” He asked.
“I really haven’t had time to think about it.” She answered. “I have no idea what I’m supposed to be learning here.”
“Stars?” He asked.
“I thought it’d be stars.” She said as she leaned back and ran her fingers through her hair. “Instead it’s just a bunch of numbers.”
Markoff nodded. “Did you hear about the asteroid?”
“How could I not have heard about it?” She sighed. “That’s all that everyone’s been talking about since last summer.”
“There’s a new one.” He said.
Jill shrugged. “There’s a new one every week. They’re disrupting the orbit of the earth”
“Not them.” The builder replied. “There’s a new one coming.”
Reaching across the countertop he grabbed the remote control and turned the wall mounted television on behind her. It came to life showing an infomercial.
“They were talking about it upstairs.” He continued as he flipped through the channels looking for coverage. “They’re apparently running around NASA right now with machine guns.”
The girl snorted. “Jesus!” She said throwing her pen across the papers that were spread out before her. “Do they plan to shoot it out of the sky?”
“I’m thinking that they can’t.” He said squinting at the images as they flashed across the screen before him. “They were talking about shooting the president up the space station or something.”
“I didn’t mean that literally.” The girl corrected him. Then more seriously she added. “I’m guessing it’s the end.”
“Who knows.” Markoff shrugged. “I would think that if it were the apocalypse someone would be talking about it.”
Giving up on finding anything he tossed the remote down on the counter choosing to leave the television on the 24 hour news channel in the hopes that news of it would eventually come on. Right now they were talking about a virus that had shut down computer networks across the globe. It had started in Europe and was now spreading rapidly through Asia. The story made him think of Biggs.
“You know who would be the one to talk to about the end of the world?” He asked rhetorically. “Biggs would eat this up.”
Jill leaned forward and closed her books.
“I always use to get annoyed when he’d come over here talking about the asteroid.” The builder continued. “Now I sort of miss him. I want him to come knocking on my door about it just so that I can tell him to shut the hell up. I didn’t realize it until just now but, in a way that always made me feel better.”
“Are you scared?” She asked.
Markoff took a swig of water and thought about that. Oddly, he didn’t really have any fear over the matter. He’d gotten so use to news about the impacts overseas that he’d begun to think of them as something that happened somewhere else. The change in the weather, the dust in the air; these things weren’t the end of the world. They were just a warm coat and a pretty sunset.
“I guess that I don’t want it to happen before I’ve had a chance to finish stuff.” He answered with a nod of his head.
Jill looked at her papers. “I don’t even know why I’m doing this.” She said sadly. “I thought, just because I like looking at the stars that I might like to know more about them. They’re so pretty through the telescope. Some are red, some are white but most of them are blue.”
“Red, white and blue.” The builder added. The words sounded dumb as soon as they’d come out of his mouth.
“The thing is.” She continued. “The more that I learn about this stuff the less that everything seems beautiful and mysterious to me. Stars are just clumps of hot gas. They’re all dying. It’s sad and the most awful thing is that I can’t even see them anymore without thinking of the fact that one day they’ll be gone.”
Markoff paused thoughtfully. “What would you think about the mall if I made it look like a rainforest?” He asked.
Jill blinked a few times. “I guess it would be interesting.”
Encouraged, the builder lit into a description of what he wanted to do. He told her about the waterfalls and the fabricated trees. He told her about the flooring that looked like bark and leaves. He drew the vines hanging from the ceiling in wide arches with his hands.
“Wait a minute.” She said pausing. “Isn’t this the same thing that you’re doing with the safe room?”
Markoff thought about that for a second. He’d been slowly constructing the safe room at the center of his house to look like it was carved out of the jungle. He had fake stones embedded into the walls, plastic foliage draped from the ceiling and mortar columns molded into the shape of tree trunks.
The room had taken him many months to work out the design and layout. He’d taken on most of the burden of selecting and purchasing the right materials. He’d used it as a kind of test kitchen to work on an idea that he’d had over the summer after a trip to Surf Side Cowboy with his wife and the kids. Now he was almost finished and he was proud to say that he’d bested the work that had inspired it with shear authenticity.
“I guess it is.” He answered with a satisfied nod.
The girl frowned. “Well then, I don’t like that.”
“Why not?” He shot back defensively.
Jill picked up her pen and started playing with it. “It just feels fake.” She answered.
“It is fake.” Markoff spat. “Everyone knows that these places that I build aren’t real. It’s the feeling that they get when they’re walking around them that draws people to them. They know that they’re not really skiing down an actual mountain at the Bavarian Village but still, it’s pretty damn close for what they’d get while shopping for sweaters on the Gulf Coast.”
“I don’t know.” The girl said shaking her head. “I guess I feel like it’s like these books and the stars. It’s a neat idea but when you get up close to that kind of thing and see the wiring and the plumbing it come off as cheap and temporary. It’s a bunch of hot air and gas.”