Eight Minutes

The sun just exploded. By the time you know it will already be too late.

You have eight minutes and some change, if you’re lucky, before everything you are, everything you know, everything that is…is gone. At least in this little corner of the galaxy. The universe won’t take much notice. It rarely does with such minor events.

Eight minutes and you’re stuck in traffic, cursing out the silver Prius that just cut you off. Hurry up and wait. You’re running behind this morning and there isn’t enough coffee in the world to help you catch up.

Seven and a half minutes left and your neighbor just opened his front door, bending down to retrieve the morning’s paper. As he straightens up, his back catches, pain flares. Fuck. He exhales sharply. Inhales. Exhales, then stands. A loud crack and relief at last. One day, he knows, he’s going to get stuck like that. But not today. Today he got lucky.

Six minutes remain. Half a country away your mother is just about to put a cake in the oven when the phone rings. Surprised, she almost drops the pan. But she recovers, gets the cake in place, and grabs the phone at the last second. It’s a courtesy call from her credit card company, offering new, new super low rates if she’ll just– She slams the headset down harder than necessary. “No-call list my ass,” she mutters and heads to the basement to move the clothes to the dryer. Too early in the damn morning to be annoyed.

Four and a half minutes. A dog races out into the street. Your cousin slams on the brakes, stopping just in time. The car rocks back, forward, back, stills. One heartbeat, two. She starts breathing again.

Four minutes to go. Traffic crawls steadily on, slow but moving. It beats the alternative. Your favorite song comes on the radio, and you turn up the volume, drumming your fingers on the steering wheel. Suddenly things seem brighter. Maybe today won’t be so bad after all.

Two minutes.

Your neighbor sits down with his coffee, opens the paper to the sports page.

Your mother starts climbing back up the stairs. One day she’ll have the washer and dryer moved upstairs. Maybe after next year’s tax refund.

Your cousin arrives home. Night shifts are going to be the death of her. If the money weren’t so good, she’d go back on days. Another few months and her student loan will be paid off. Then she’ll ask about working normal hours instead. Just a few months.

Thirty seconds. Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight.

You pull off at your exit.

Your neighbor turns the page.

Your mother tries to decide if she wants coffee or tea.

Your cousin grabs a beer from her fridge and shotguns it.

Ten seconds.

Red light. You stop.

Your neighbor frowns at the race results.

Your mother chooses tea.

Your cousin belches and two-points the can in the recycling.

One.

A bright flash. Then nothing.

Time ticks on.