The Last Woman on Earth
The Last Woman on Earth lives in Los Angeles. She’s single and in her thirties, five foot seven, 145 pounds, a Virgo. She is the world’s most famous celebrity. Her talk show has the largest viewership of any TV program, with higher ratings than the Super Bowl and reruns of old Miss Universe pageants. The Last Woman on Earth is not particularly talented or charismatic. She blinks a lot and garbles her own script from the teleprompter. Prior to the annihilation of every other woman on Earth, the Last Woman lived in Ohio and taught preschool. She didn’t ask to be the Last Woman on Earth, but she’s doing the best she can.
The Last Woman on Earth’s talk show is called Afternoon Programming with the Woman. She models the show after Oprah. In the first season, men come on and sit in leather chairs and reminisce about women they used to know. Some men talk about their wives and girlfriends, but most talk about their mothers. It’s like therapy, but The Last Woman On Earth isn’t a therapist, so she just sits there and nods and utters vague, affirmative phrases like “wow” and “really?” and “that sounds tough.” The men always cry. The Last Woman On Earth gets tired of hearing about mothers and in the second season changes the focus of her show to baking.
In the second season of her show, The Last Woman On Earth bakes pie after pie in the studio kitchen. She ties her hair in a kerchief and wears a white apron printed with cherries. She invites experts in various fields to come talk to her while she bakes. For forty-five minutes the expert lectures to her sweatered back while she rolls out store-bought dough, mixes fruit with cornstarch, and brushes her lattice crusts with egg wash. A split screen shows a close-up of the pie in progress alongside the face of the expert as he drones on about urban planning or carpentry or neuroscience or poetry. At the end of each episode, The Last Woman on Earth presents the finished pie to the expert. She serves him a piece and waits for him to tell her it’s the best pie he’s ever had, hands down, bar none, etc.
Thousands of men apply to come on the show. Everyone wants to taste pie made by a woman. When the expert has had his fill of pie the Last Woman thanks him and retires to a dimly lit lounge, where she drinks cocktails with a female friend who is played by a mop. The Last Woman on Earth recounts to her friend all the interesting information she learned from the day’s expert. Sometimes a production assistant crawls onto the set and gives the mop handle a shake so it looks like the friend is listening. The episode ends whenever the Last Woman on Earth begins weeping.
The Last Woman On Earth appears on the cover of every issue of Us Weekly. Countless articles discuss her dating life, speculating on why she won’t settle down with one of the hundreds of millions of age-appropriate heterosexual men left in the world. In reality the only men who want to date the Last Woman on Earth are perverts and fame-seekers. It’s too much pressure, dating the only woman who exists. Normal men would rather just date each other.
In her spare time, the Last Woman on Earth enjoys hiking Runyon Canyon in clumsy male drag and making paintings that depict extinct species: the West African black rhinoceros, the Pyrenean Ibex, the Caribbean Monk Seal. But the Last Woman on Earth has less and less free time as her empire continues to grow. Her schedule is packed with meetings, with her agent, her personal trainer, foreign heads of state, and her ghostwriter, Phillip, who’s hard at work on her memoir, tentatively titled The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die. The Last Woman’s website receives thousands of inquiries a day. Men turn to her whenever they want a female perspective. Typically they are struggling to interpret the actions of a woman from their past. They turn to the Last Woman on Earth for closure. A team of interns handles this correspondence, typically by sending a form response that emphasizes staying in the present moment by practicing mindfulness.
But as years pass, men are less and less interested in what the Last Woman on Earth thinks. Thought pieces are published on Slate and Medium with titles like, “The Increasing Irrelevance of the Woman.” The Last Woman On Earth reads comments on these articles, and on YouTube clips of her show, and on gossip blogs that dissect her nonexistent love life. Many men wish the last woman on Earth was better. She’s so average, they say. Why couldn’t we be left with Rihanna or Megan Fox? Or, if not a physical beauty, we could at least get a Last Woman who’s a genius, or who knows lots of jokes. Men comment that her pies probably aren’t that good. She uses recipes from the old Martha Stewart website, and doesn’t even make her own dough. One commenter points out that there are thousands of talented male bakers in the world, but none of them gets his own show. Everything the Last Woman does would be done better by one of the Earth’s numerous men. The Last Woman on Earth agrees with this assessment. She is often sad.
In the third season of her talk show, The Last Woman on Earth goes back to the Oprah format. This time, she invites negative commenters onto the show and allows them to insult her to her face. Most of them are ashamed and say they’re sorry, which irritates her because it does not make for good TV. Once in awhile she’ll get a real fighter who tells her exactly what he thinks of her. The Last Woman feels truly alive in these moments. She instructs her cameramen to zoom in on her as the man spews his vitriol, capturing the subtle pain that flickers across her stoic face. But the audience hates these episodes. We only have one Woman, her supporters point out. We need to treat her right. All the men who criticize the Last Woman on camera are murdered sooner or later. On her show, The Last Woman on Earth goes back to baking pies.
When The Last Woman On Earth dies, days shy of her fortieth birthday, the 405 is shut down for a ten-mile funeral procession that is simulcast worldwide. No one goes to work that day. Everyone watches the funeral of The Last Woman On Earth on TV, in bars and recreation centers and women’s restrooms that have been repurposed as shrines commemorating the former existence of women. The men of Earth try to outdo each other in performing their grief. They dress up as the Last Woman on Earth, wearing wigs and lipstick and aprons over vintage circle skirts. Privately, they are relieved that the Last Woman on Earth is gone. They can finally do and say whatever they want. The English language is restored to its former simplicity. Everyone speaks freely about the fate of mankind.
It is a golden era for men, these fifty-six years it takes for the human species to die out. The Last Man on Earth is ninety-four years old when he moves to Los Angeles. He broadcasts subversive, thought-provoking and hilarious skits from the studio where the Last Woman on Earth had once taped her show. He wishes there was someone left to see his show, which is much better than hers was. He should have had his own talk show sixty years ago. Instead, the Last Woman on Earth had been handed a talk show, not because she deserved it, but simply because she was a woman. The Last Man on Earth dies with resentment in his heart.
“The Last Woman on Earth” was originally published in Prairie Schooner.