Disclaimer: Major geekery to ensue in this chapter. To the scholarly-phobic, proceed at your own caution. You've been warned.

Chapter Six: When the world ends

Eliot was perched on my desk, cross-legged, adding the finishing touches to my Gingerbread counterpart. I told her I wish she'd stopped, but she doesn't listen. Once, I threatened to sand it off; she reminded me she was sitting on marble.

"I could always just break it, you know."

"My drawings aren't that bad, are they?"

I laughed. "To be perfectly honest, you really can't draw for shit."

She added earrings onto me. I told her I wasn't afraid of punching a woman.

"Have you ever?"

"Shut up and help me already."

Incidentally, we happened to be covering "The Hollow Men" in class. To be honest, that poem is one hugely unnecessary head-ache. More specifically, it's 98 lines of pure headache material.

"Why stop at 98?" I wondered.

She shrugged. And as she opened her mouth to answer, I interrupted.

"Wait. Just now, you were about to be really goddamn annoying and philosophical by asking 'Why not stop at 98?' Am I right or am I right?" Her smirk was answer enough.

I sighed. "I'm just saying, all this T.S. Eliot guy had to do was add in two mores line to make it 100. Maybe he's just a lazy mother fucker."

"A—he's dead, so the correct way to phrase that would be 'he was just a lazy mother fucker.' And B—I don't know. Ever consider the fact that maybe it was intentional? I mean, you could look at it percentage wise and reach the obvious conclusion that 100 signifies completion. In which case, 98 would suggest incompleteness. Perhaps poetry, and life in general, is a chain of voices and thoughts that can never truly attain completion. Looking at the title, the word 'hollow' indicates barrenness, or even death. Maybe the poem, which aims to reveal some kind of inherent human truth, fails in the simple fact that nothing can be known until death."

I blinked. "Serious?"

"No, I'm completely shitting you. Anyone who wrote in their paper that would get 'PRETENTIOUS' and 'OVERANALYTICAL' stamped in all caps across their forehead. All I'm getting at is that most, if not all, elements of poetry are intentional."

"I'm not following."

"Well, how about this. You ever heard of Emily Dickinson?"

"Emily what?"

She squished the tip of my nose. "How old are we?"

"Just saying…Last week it was Moby Dick, and now…"

Shaking her head, she continued. "It's a little thing called Google—just Google her name, and you'll only get like a billion results. Anyways, Emily…Emily's a really famous poet. And it's kind of this urban myth that the way she wrote all her poems was by making a list of every possible word she could use, then circling the best one, for every single word."

"Why?"

"Well, it's a lot harder to tell a story in poem form because you don't have as many words. You have to make them count."

Things went on this way for a good few hours, until we finally reached the last bit of the poem:

This is the way the world ends.

Not with a bang but a whimper.

"Um…"

"It's okay," she reassured me. "Think: the poem is about hollow people; people filled with straw."

"Like…scarecrows?"

To my surprise, she nodded. "Exactly. Lifeless, but terrifying. So if the poem's about a time when people are empty and lifeless, what do you think the last lines mean? The last lines are especially important."

I groaned; "You said every line was important!"

"I know; they are. But the last ones especially. Ask anyone!"

"Yeah, right" I scoffed. "Like I have anyone to geek it out with but you." She shot me a dirty look, so I said, "Fuck, I don't know. I guess…maybe, well obviously it's talking about the end of the world. And people are always making a big deal about it. The Mayans, 2012, even that stupid Rapture bullshit. But maybe the end of the world isn't going to be this big event. If the world ends in a whimper, maybe no one will be able to hear it. No one will know; it could have even already happened, for all we know." I turned to look at her for signs of approval.

Her pupils were dilated.

I laughed. "I don't believe this, are you…are you actually turned on? By poetry?"

"Well, it's far from perfect, but that's a pretty sophisticated analysis you've got there."

"So am I right?"

"You should know by now that literature has no answer; only good ideas, and really shitty ones. I'd say yours is leaning more on the good side."

I crossed my arms. "So you don't agree."

She pushed herself off the desk, leaning against my chair so she could look over the paper with me. "Well, I think you're on the right track, but you're thinking in too-narrow terms. Literally, it's talking about the end of the world, but I think the poem could extend to include human existence in general. People like to measure their existence on a grand scale, adding and subtracting in tragedies or failures. Marriage; divorce. Wealth; poverty. You'll see that the text alludes to war, and we all know that war is made up of small, scattered battles. So maybe our experiences, which are kind of like a big war being made up of smaller battles, affect us in ways we don't always see. The little things are what shape us; maybe if we paid more attention to them, instead of buying into all the dramatics, we wouldn't feel so lost and empty."

After pausing to catch her breath, she came back to earth by blinking away the dreaminess in her eyes. Then she looked and me and snorted. "You look like a five-year-old, with your arms crossed and cheeks all puffed up like that."

"I don't care. Thanks for making me feel like an idiot."

"Oh, look. It's your maturity returning."

"Whatever," I muttered. "In any case, I'll prove to you that I understand."

She leaned away from the chair to look at me, her eyebrows lifted to her hairline. "Well, alright then. Let's see it."

I wheeled the chair around until I was facing her, scooted closer, and pulled her close enough to kiss.

And then kissed her.

"Not with a bang, but a whimper."

Sometime after that, I forget exactly when, we found our way to the bed.