Everything Feels Like the End of the World by Else Fitzgerald

Article | Issue: Jul 2022

ELSE FITZGERALD is a Melbourne-based writer whose writing has appeared in various publications including Meanjin and The GuardianEverything Feels Like the End of the World is her debut short story collection exploring possible futures from an Australia not so different from our present day to one thousands of years into an unrecognisable future.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Everything feels like the end of the worldEverything Feels Like the End of the World is a collection of short speculative fiction exploring possible futures from an Australia not so different from our present day to one thousands of years into an unrecognisable future.

At the heart of each story is the anchor of what it means to be human: grief, loss, pain and love. A young woman is faced with a terrible choice about her pregnancy in a community ravaged by doubt. An engineer working on a solar shield protecting the Earth shares memories of their lover with an AI companion. Two archivists must decide what is worth saving when the world is flooded by rising sea levels. In a heavily policed state that preferences the human and punishes the different, a mother gives herself up to save her transgenic child.

These transformative stories are both epic and granular, and forever astonishing in their imaginative detail, sense of revelation and emotional connection. They herald the arrival of a stunning new voice.

Extract

MAKING IT WORK

Bessie likes the pigs best, the big folds of their ears, their bright, intelligent eyes. The goats are stupid but she likes them too, especially the way they butt their dumb heads against her chest, their hair wiry under her hands. The happy nickering when she scratches behind their stubby little horns.

The milking is weird and harder than she’d thought, trying to get the thin stream zizzing into the plastic bucket. But Zac is patient and teaches her, ’cause there’s no more supermarkets they can go to for milk and things like they did before. Zac says everyone here has a job to do and hers is to milk the goats twice a day. Maggie takes the milk and uses it to make the soft cheese. In the evenings, after everyone is finished with their jobs, they all come together in the paved area between the house and the caravans and sit together to eat. Some of the food is strange, but it’s much better than what they had to eat on the way here. Zac says Jorris is the leader and that he and Bessie need to be respectful of how things are, to pitch in and do their bit, because they are lucky that they have been allowed to stay. And she does like the pigs.

She wasn’t allowed to get dirty at her old house, but here it feels good to be dirty – like it’s work dirt and that’s the good kind.

Avery is the builder. Bessie thinks his job is the best because he gets to build the tree house. Sometimes he lets her help; she’s too little to carry the planks, but Avery has taught her the names of the tools. In the afternoons, she’s allowed to sit up on the platform and pass him what he needs. From up there, she can see the river winking in the sunlight, and the grass of the fields waving in the breeze like a green sea. There’s still mud, and other stuff, but mostly it looks okay now that the water has gone down.

At the moment, the tree house is just a big platform way up high off the ground, but Avery is putting up the roof soon, and after that they’ll start on another house in the big tree nearby. When that’s finished, Avery plans to make a bridge between them so that when the water comes back they’ll be able to travel between houses. Avery explains things like load bearing and weight distribution, and she likes how he talks to her as if she’s a grown-up.

There are no other kids here. Maggie had a little girl, but she didn’t make it to the farm. Bessie’s mum and Cameron didn’t either, though Zac says that she’s not allowed to talk about them because people get upset. But sometimes at night Bessie hears Maggie crying in her bunk anyway, and she climbs into the bed with her and lets her hug her and smell her hair. And it’s nice because she misses her mum, and Cameron too.

There’s not enough clean water for washing and at first she thought everyone smelt bad, but now she doesn’t mind it so much. She wasn’t allowed to get dirty at her old house, but here it feels good to be dirty – like it’s work dirt and that’s the good kind. Jorris says that in the summer the old orchard, which survived the flood, might give them pears and apples and plums, and Bessie is glad because she likes those fruits. This isn’t really Jorris’s farm, but he knows lots about what to do, and Zac says that those things, like who owns what, don’t matter anymore. It’s about trying to make it work with what they have.

The big bike with the cart on the front is really fun: Bessie and Maggie can sit in there, and Jorris can pedal with his strong legs and push them up the road to look for things they can salvage. The best nights are when Nicolás gets out his mandolin and sings along while he picks at the strings. Bessie doesn’t know the words he’s singing, but the music is beautiful, and sometimes they all dance – even Maggie. The firelight makes everyone look like spirits. Nicolás says he couldn’t bear to leave his mandolin, which he says is stupid after people lost everything, but Bessie is glad. When she dances, she flings out her arms and spins and spins, and it’s easy to forget all the things that have happened and might still. When she’s dancing, she feels like she’s made of air.

Author: Else Fitzgerald

Category: Fiction: special features, Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781761065699

RRP: $29.99

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