Shh, stop. Morality is about stopping yourself, I can’t hide behind a golden mask and say I’m from New Orleans, a hurricane could come tomorrow or your California could burn, we’re spectacularly doomed, kiss me, what’s the point of not –
The whole planet is rupturing rapturously, glaciers are water and summer is snow, rain comes with no rhythm, wildfires go at random, a game we’re playing now, with nature showing us who will always win. Did lay out highways endlessly stretching like a vulva giving birth did it make us happy to be always giving birth to something new and something fast and something chrome and something fast did it make us happy to show the trees that this planet belonged to us? Yes, power made us happy, isn’t that what killed us, all this happy, so much happy that we couldn’t stop?
We could turn off the air conditioners, learn to love the water’s temperature and keep it clear. We could turn off the heaters, warm up close to one another. We could turn off everything, we could stop. Love is knowing when to stop.
I want to look at you but I like your eyes hot on my back. When I know you’re ready to beg me for relief, I turn.
“Did you miss me?” you ask, a crack in your voice.
“It doesn’t really work like that.”
“But we can still…” you start.
“Don’t guess any of it,” I tell you. “Don’t wonder, don’t imagine, just…”
“How much time do you have?”
“Shhh.” Remember, I don’t say, the hot rain and the stares? Getting pelted with beads and laughter because we couldn’t wait?
“I need you.”
“I can’t be here if you say things like that,” I remind you. I’m risking everything without knowing what. I wonder if my eyes are as bare as your face or if I’m successfully hiding anything; I have to be good, now, at hiding everything.
We’d always kissed like the world was ending and we were determined remember one another’s heat.
Now I feel your heartbeat with one open palm. I unbutton your crisp shirt to touch you more freely, you’ve missed this, I can tell, my hands hungry on your chest and I say, softly, into your ear, “Take that off. Take everything off.”
Before you reach down to your underwear, I catch its band in my teeth. With a hand on each of your hips, I pull it down, toss it anywhere.
“Can you…are you…is it still…can we…?”
“You think I’d make all this effort to get here and not…?”
We’ve always slid together naturally, but this is fraught now, isn’t it, and even though you move in time with me, even though I grab your wrists and take you in as deeply as can, deeper, you ask,
“Will something happen to you?”
I kiss you like I want to eat you alive, my teeth pulling at your lower lip – you like that even more now, not knowing if you’ll wake up or I’ll disappear, because that’s what it felt like to you, I suppose, when I—
You were bucking your hips so fiercely you could have thrown me if I didn’t hold you down; you’ve always liked my deceptively strong arms, and you’re anchoring me to this world…I remember I remember I remember I remember I remember I remember until there are no thoughts, sounds so unlike language.
“I’m—” you almost manage.
“Good,” I growl.
I remember your eyes, tightly closed, your fight between determination and surrender.
A hot rush courses through me with a sound you must remember. My weight and yours, the same collapsed, invigorated exhaustion.
You started to touch my clit like this was just us, together, as always.
“It doesn’t really work like that,” I whispered. “You can’t make me come anyway, so don’t…I mean I’m not like I was, remember?”
“Yes you are.”
I laughed. “I’m still dead,” I reminded you, sitting up.
“But I can see you,” you insisted. “And we just—”
“I broke every rule to do that. Literally every single one.”
“What’s going to happen?” you asked. “Will the world end?”
I was sick of thinking about that when I was supposed to be at peace. “Look at everything that’s happened just since I died.”
“So that’s why you’re here? Because it’s all going to break apart anyway?”
“Wow. You don’t, know something we can’t know from here, right? A date?”
“No,” I said. “These things aren’t linear.”
“Will I go first?”
“What, because I came here for you? I’m dead, not famous. Nothing will happen to you because you said yes to me. No one knows who I am in any realm. Besides people like…” I considered.
“Presumably, if I’m not so forgettable as all that.”
“I mean those kind of people. Everyone at your funeral.”
“And what kind of people were at my funeral?”
“Not one kind, I just mean…” I loved watching you stumble over your words, because it almost never happened.
“I know,” I said.
“Is there music?” you asked, sounding almost childlike.
“What do you mean?”
“Where you are. Do they play music? With harps?”
I started to say, “It doesn’t really work like that,” but then I knew you’d want details, insider details, and it would turn into a whole thing.
“So the world is ending,” you said. “We’re all pretty sure about this.”
“It’s the one thing that everyone on agrees on, yes. What’s up for debate is whether the human species was always meant to exist for a finite period or if it’s really true that we – I mean you – people, everyone, broke the world beyond repair.”
“Can that happen?”
“I died two years ago and just fucked the shit out of you, did I not? Anything can happen.”
“But if you go back and I lose you again, the world will still end. At some point. And if you don’t go back…”
“There is no I-don’t-go-back.”
“You know who says.”
“I don’t know who. I’ve never even had a theory, you know that. What if you just stay? What will happen?”
“God knows what will happen,” I said automatically, not sure if it was figurative or literal.
“Worst case, we break the world, which is already shattering as we speak, yeah?”
“Maybe if you stay we’ll bring about the meteor. Maybe it’ll make it painless for all of us. It might even stop.”
“What if it makes it worse?”
“Could it? You just said no one’s focusing particularly on you. So test that. If like, God or the Devil or the Archangel Gabriel actually does come for you because it turns out you’re who knows, wouldn’t that be kind of hilarious?”
“I need you with me,” you said.
I didn’t kiss you. We weren’t free and I couldn’t act like we were.
“No one can know I’m alive. I can’t stay in New Orleans, where—”
“I’ve solved that problem,” you assured me. “We’re going to Malaysia.”
“What? What’s in Malaysia?”
“The greatest food you’ve ever had, I promise. You can still eat, right? You can still taste?”
I remembered the salt of your skin. I nodded.
“How long do you think the world will last?”
I had no idea.
But for everything the TSA will search you for, for every possession they will invent a plot behind, no one ever asks, “Are any of you actually dead?” I helped an elderly woman get her orthopedic brace back into her shoe. “They don’t trust anyone,” she spat, and I thought about all the time we’re wasting, not trusting, when the world could end right now.
On the plane, you fell asleep, your head against my shoulder. The sleep of the dead, I thought, and couldn’t help laughing.
“What?” you asked hazily.
I kissed your forehead. “Nothing.” You nodded off again. I focused out the window. Far below us, the world went on and on.
Sarah Neilson is a New Orleans native currently living in California. Her flash fiction piece, “Convertible,” placed second in Midway Journal’s 1000 Below Prose and Poetry contest, judged by C. Dale Young, and her short plays have been produced throughout North America. She holds an MA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University and can be found on Twitter @SarahMNeilson.
Image: Collage by Joan Pope