The world is going to end tomorrow, which is why Grace no longer has a trust fund, a summer holiday in the family’s caravan in the Lake District, or any homework for the rest of—well, forever. The first two went to charity, the homework remains in Grace’s bag, locked in the boot of the car to be forgotten. Her dad started going to church after the divorce and says it gave him a new outlook on life.
He says that out of the two siblings in the back seat of the car driving away from home, only one of them is going to Heaven. He has said that fifteen times since he started driving, but exactly who is going to Heaven and who is staying behind changes, depending on who complains the loudest at the time. What Grace wants is for him to announce he’s turning the car around and then nobody’s going to heaven, just so he can complete the cliché.
It has been a grey day. Grace and her brother Jon have spent their court-allotted visiting time handing out flyers outside Starbucks with dad’s weird new girlfriend, Maureen, who usually makes them hike across the countryside gathering ingredients for homemade tea. Her face is too young for it, but Maureen has hair like a greying shrub perched on the top of her head. Grace’s father met her at church, after the divorce but before he lost his job. They still insist they aren’t together, not as boyfriend and girlfriend, just a man and a woman who happen to be friends.
Last week, when dad’s church broke the news, Grace’s friend Jill mentioned how funny it would be to fill hundreds or thousands of sex dolls with helium and release them, floating into the sky like the Saved. This part, the flying part, struck both girls as the silliest part of a silly story, at the least. They talked about what would happen if the world really did come to an end—assuming both of them were going to be left behind, of course.
Grace asks her dad if they’re going to be late coming home. He hesitates for just a second, but smiles at her in the mirror and patiently tells her it doesn’t matter.
Mum’s making dinner at five, she tells him. It doesn’t matter, he insists. In the other seat, Jon is quiet. Jon is being a good boy. Grace’s father encourages questions, but often says only God knows the answers. Jon tries not to ask questions.
Normally, they see their dad after school on Tuesdays and Fridays. Today, Grace was called to the school reception due to a “family emergency” in the middle of Graphic Design, which is when the three of them drove to Leeds. None of the teachers asked any questions.
Neither Jill nor Grace really know the purpose of a sex doll, let alone where to buy them in bulk. Neither of them know about sex, really. Both sets of parents are separated and unwilling to have that conversation, afraid of what the other will say at changeover or in court. Jill’s parents still have parental locks on their computer, leaving them without a search engine to consult.
Grace wonders what might happen if Jill lost her virginity before she did. Would there be a divide, Jill spending more time with her boyfriend and leaving Grace abandoned and alone? Would Grace do the same thing, given the opportunity—however unlikely? Or is life nothing like it is in films? If the world ends, how can she get answers to her questions?
Something vibrates. WHERE RU?, says the text on her phone in the bag in the boot. PLS CALL. It’s her mother, and she has sent dozens of messages like this one, unashamedly distraught. If the world ended, they would never see each other again. Grace’s mum has no patience for religion, she says—not since the divorce—but often says she “has faith in humanity” after a Friday night glass of wine. If the world is about to end, she has less than a day to change her mind. To stay on the safe side, Grace whispers a prayer for her poor, lost mother.
Watching the clouds gather over the landscape like a beard on the looming face of the Almighty himself, Grace imagines thousands of sex dolls floating upwards to be gathered together in the sky.