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1 story
by Alexandra Wuest

Alexandra Wuest is a writer based in New York. She is currently working on her first novel.

The Asteroid

          The newspaper headline today says, Scientists warn of asteroid emergency. It’s been all over the news lately. It’s even begun appearing in my crystal ball. Without a doubt, says the genie trapped inside when I ask him yes-or-no questions about interstellar doom. I tap on the glass. Aren’t you supposed to grant wishes? I ask. My sources say no, he replies. I shake his little enclosure like a snow globe and confetti rains down on his head.

          I don’t read every article about the asteroid. Instead I read an article about women who are the same age as me but who also own their own businesses. According to the article, their businesses are thriving. Apparently, the success of the women who are the same age as me has inspired the women who are even younger than me to start their own businesses as well, and now the businesses of the women who are even younger than me are thriving too, the paper says.

          I put on red lipstick and do a sun salutation. I tie my hair up in French braids and put leftover meatballs and mayonnaise on a bed of romaine lettuce. I tap on the genie’s glass and say, I’m eating a Caesar salad, in between mouthfuls of greens and meatball. Very doubtful, the genie says with his nose in the air. I drape a silk handkerchief over the top of the crystal ball.

 

*

 

          The next morning, the front page of the newspaper reads, Earth’s days are numbered. The newspaper has published a rendering of what the planet might look like after the asteroid makes impact, based on satellite images and data from the world’s leading scientists. The rendering appears to be done in crayon. It depicts the earth as a blazing ball of fire. Little stick figures are running away from the orange and red flames with their mouths hanging open as though screaming.

          Everything will be OK, right? I ask the genie inside his crystal ball.

          Outlook not so good, he says, but his voice comes out muffled from under the handkerchief.

          I make tea that promises to lubricate my intestines and align my chakras. I breathe into my ankles and imagine them one size smaller. I look at lotions and creams and serums all claiming to offer eternal youth, and then I charge them all to my credit card for my future eternally young self to pay for.

 

*

 

          The next day I read more headlines about the asteroid. UN warns that the world is adapting too slowly to asteroid crisis, one journalist says. Are female scientists the key to solving asteroid crisis? another asks. New campaign empowers moms with asteroid science! a third proclaims.

          I put away the newspaper and stare at my reflection in the mirror. I decide I would like my legs to be two inches longer, and my torso to be one inch shorter. I would like my breasts to be slightly higher and my hips slightly wider. I would like a different shape of clavicle. Narrower nail beds and longer thumbs. I would like my toes to be so elegant that an artist recruits me to be their muse and hears piano music whenever I walk across the room.

          I take the handkerchief off of the crystal ball.

          You’re a genie, right? I ask the genie inside.

          Signs point to yes.

          Well then, I wish my eyes were one millimeter further apart from each other. Can you do that?

          My reply is no, he says.

          I put the crystal ball in the sock drawer and walk out of the room.

 

*

 

          The next day the front page of the newspaper says, Massive-scale mobilization necessary for addressing asteroid crisis, and I read an article about ten easy ways to declutter my life. The article recommends ordering dozens of special boxes and baskets to help simplify one’s home. I buy them all, and then I take the crystal ball out of the sock drawer and place it on the kitchen counter.

          Are you going to grant any of my wishes today? I ask.

          Don’t count on it, he says.

          I place the crystal ball on the center of the lazy Susan and put an upside-down colander on top. I spin the lazy Susan and the genie’s home glows through the colander’s holes like a disco ball.

          You’re never any fun! I yell at the genie. I spin him round and round and dance in the light he throws around the room.

 

*

 

          In the morning, the headlines say, Top scientists warn of mass extinction, and I decide to go see a psychic.

          I wait in a long line outside of the psychic’s office. When I finally reach the front of the line, I am ushered into a small dark room, where the psychic sits on the other side of a round table.

          Are you here to contact the dead? the psychic asks.

          No, I say.

          Are you here to learn about your past lives?

          No, I say.

          Are you here to ask about the future?

          No, I say. I have a crystal ball at home for that. Actually, I think he might be broken. But I’m here to ask you a question.

          The psychic leans in closer. Her glasses are enormous, and she holds her mouth as though it’s stuffed full of marbles.

          Do you think I should move to LA? I ask. Or New York? Or maybe Paris? What are your thoughts on Berlin?

          The psychic stands up and rifles through a nearby stack of papers. She slides a pamphlet across the table. The cover of the pamphlet reads, The end is near.

          The outcome will be the same no matter what path you take, the psychic says.

          I go home and run in circles around the block until my face turns red. I get in bed and watch a true crime TV show on my laptop in which it turns out the handsome grieving husband was the murderer all along, while in another tab, despite having no romantic prospects, I browse pages and pages of wedding dresses. Eventually I fall asleep in front of the laptop, a total of thirty-six wedding dresses in my shopping cart.

 

*

 

          The next day I wake up to a news alert: Scientists warn end may be only weeks away. I make coffee and read an article in the newspaper about a woman I went to high school with who has finished renovating her home upstate. In the article, the woman details her daily routine down to the minute, explaining her morning rituals of lemon water, meditation, and breathwork. I attempt to follow her routine myself, sitting cross legged on the floor with my eyes closed, but after less than a minute, I open one eye and pick up my phone. I attempt to order the special meditation candles the woman recommends in the article, but find they are backordered. The website warns they may take several months to restock, arriving long after the asteroid is predicted to strike earth, but I enter my credit card information anyways. As the woman in the article says: you can’t put a price on self-care.

          In another section of the newspaper, I find an ad for an astrologer with a phone number listed. I type the numbers into my phone and press a series of buttons to indicate that I am willing to pay per minute.

          Hello, the astrologer says. What questions do you have for me today?

          Is my Saturn in return? I ask.

          No, the astrologer says.

          Is my Venus in transit? I ask.

          No, the astrologer says.

          Is Mercury in retrograde? I ask.

          No, the astrologer says.

          Then why have I been feeling so off? I ask.

          There is an asteroid about to hit the earth, the astrologer says.

          I hang up the phone and lift the colander off the top of the crystal ball.

          Do you think she was trying to tell me I should find a new job? I ask the genie.

          Ask again later, the genie says, and I begin filling out job applications. The applications are all hundreds and hundreds of pages long. They ask questions like If you were a shade of purple, what shade of purple would you be? and Were you jealous of your best friend in middle school or were you just secretly in love with her? I try to answer as honestly as possible, but there are so many questions my pen runs out of ink.

 

*

 

          The next day, the front page of the newspaper reads, Asteroid science looks bad, but stock market looks good! and I order kettlebells online while watching a video of a personal trainer explaining his special method for helping his clients lose weight.

          I’m a little unconventional, the personal trainer says, because I believe that in order to transform your body, we need to start with a blank canvas. How do you start with a blank canvas? he asks. Easy. You’re going to do as much cardio as you can. You’re not going to stop moving. You’re going to do so much cardio that your body begins to disappear. It will begin slowly at the edges, and then one day, you’ll look down and find your body is no longer there. This is the blank canvas. Now we are ready to start.

          I get up and look in the mirror. My body has not disappeared yet, not even a little. I order vitamins on the internet that the personal trainer claims will expedite the process, and pick up the crystal ball.

          Should I get a bob? I ask the genie.

          Reply hazy, try again, he says.

          Should I get bangs? I ask.

          Better not tell you now.

          I put the crystal ball away in a kitchen cabinet.

 

*

 

          Asteroid could arrive any day now, the headlines say, and I decide it’s now or never. I am going to lose three pounds; redecorate this apartment; get a head start on my taxes. I save pictures of mushroom-shaped lamps and colorful rugs to a folder on my computer in between sit-ups down on my yoga mat. I organize my receipts and chug a green juice and do one hundred jumping jacks. I rearrange the furniture and write off the apartment as a work expense. I order new dish towels and a stationary bike and then I paint the kitchen walls a shade of hot pink that has been scientifically proven to suppress one’s appetite.

          I can hear the genie tapping on the glass of the crystal ball from inside of the kitchen cabinet, but I ignore him. I run in place while watching a video on my phone in which a stranger explains everything she eats in a single day. For breakfast she eats a French omelet, but when she slices into the omelet, she reveals the meal to be an exact replica made out of cake. For lunch she eats an asparagus salad, which she also reveals to be cake. In the afternoon, she eats a handful of almonds, also cake, and for dinner an entire roast lamb with green beans and mashed potatoes, all revealed to be made out of cake when she runs her knife through each item on her plate. For the amount of cake she claims to eat every day, the stranger is remarkably thin.

          I get into bed, but I don’t stop moving; I do crunches under the covers until I fall asleep, and when I dream, I dream the asteroid has already hit and the entire world has been plunged underwater. I walk around an underwater mall and try on low-rise jeans in the underwater fitting room. The sales are astonishing. In the dream I can breathe underwater and the jeans are not unflattering.

 

*

 

          The next morning the headlines read, Asteroid collision imminent, but I don’t slow down long enough to read the articles. The stationary bike and treadmill and hamster wheel I ordered have all arrived in the mail and the living room walls are covered with splotches of paint samples in varying shades of sky blue. Somewhere in the maze of boxes arriving every hour sits the CPA I hired to help me with my taxes.

          You can write this all off, you know! he yells over the sound of the treadmill, but there are so many boxes in the room that I cannot see him.

          I stop the treadmill and begin doing lunges in the direction of the CPA’s voice. On my way I take the crystal ball out of the kitchen cabinet and place it on top of one of the many stacks of boxes. The genie looks down from his new perch with a disapproving expression on his face. The doorbell rings and it is more packages being delivered.

          You’re so responsible for getting your taxes done early this year! the CPA yells and I do a squat and then jump into the air. I repeat this fifteen times and then I turn the volume up on the TV where I’m playing the personal trainer’s latest instructional video.

          With my method you’re guaranteed to see results! the personal trainer says, and the CPA puts his laptop down and joins me in front of the television set. I hand him a jump rope and we both mirror the personal trainer’s movements on the screen side by side. The CPA is good at jumping rope. He can do tricks like the criss-cross and the double bounce without tripping.

          I’m thinking about applying to grad school! I yell. The CPA nods his head but doesn’t stop moving.

          I’m thinking about moving to London! I yell. The CPA spins around in a circle but doesn’t miss a single step.

          I’m thinking about going with Bank Holiday Blue for the living room walls! I yell, and this time I attempt a trick of my own, but I’m not as good as the CPA is, and as I try to keep my feet from getting tangled in the rope, I crash into the stack of boxes where I’ve placed the crystal ball, sending the whole pile tumbling down to the floor.

          The CPA and I both pause our reps and stare at the shattered crystal ball. A luminescent liquid leaks out onto the carpet.

          You are the only one in control of your destiny! the personal trainer yells from the television set, and a blinding light fills the room. The ceiling shakes and little bits of drywall fall to the ground.

          When the room stops trembling, the genie is standing in front of us, no longer inside of his little crystal ball, no longer little himself. The CPA begins filling out paperwork so that I’ll be able to claim the genie as a dependent on my tax return.

          Am I going to disappear? I ask the genie now standing in front of me.

          It is certain, the genie says.

          Outside there is something big and dark blocking the sun. The world has gone black and I can hear shouting. The breeze coming in through the open window smells of ash and soot. I close the window and turn the volume up on the TV.

          I hand one end of my jump rope to the CPA and he does the same to me with his own jump rope.

          We stand across from each other and turn the ropes in opposite directions and the genie jumps into the center of the ropes for a game of double Dutch. The genie does a backflip, and then a handstand; the CPA and I continue to turn the ropes.

          Whatever you do, just don’t stop moving, the personal trainer on the TV screen says, and that’s exactly what we do.