A screaming comes across the sky. It is not the wind, not a siren, not a missile finding its mark. It is the calling of a name.
His favorite color is black, his favorite sound is silence. He gets a remarkable number of things exactly backwards. He’s aware of it, but he prefers his small personal errors to the larger ones of the world outside.
She never listens to music and people always tell her that’s weird and all she can do is shrug. She thinks some things are worse than others, and some things are better, and she would rather be eating a sandwich than making out with a boy any day of the week, but she can’t talk about that with anyone.
When he was five and had already recited the names and life stories of every plant and bug between the kitchen and the backyard fence, he stopped to watch rain pattering on the ground. It soaked into the earth and turned everything green and alive and he thought, I want to be like that.
When she was thirteen and had held a crow’s severed head in her palm and been screamed at and berated by two different men because of some choice she didn’t want to make, she sat in her room and tried to think of what kind of life might give her the courage to wrap her hands around a man’s throat, to take a man’s life. She thought of a knife in a trembling hand, and she thought of an angel with a sword.
In the year of the tiger, in the bone-crack winter, they sit together on a metal bench in a silent plaza and watch snowflakes fall and settle. The bench was designed as a place for lovers but no one ever uses it. She leans her head on his shoulder and thinks of the softness of the fur of animals, their warmth, their breathing in and out.
When God threw Lucifer out of Heaven, he didn’t say he couldn’t return. He just said he had to work his way back up the same way everyone else did.
He doesn’t approve of her sullen streak and she doesn’t like his tendency to mutter things under his breath. They bicker about commercials and soda and whether or not the things he writes are poetry and she doesn’t even like his poetry. When he called her and asked if she wanted to go to the zoo, she hung up on him. She called him back five minutes later, laughing, and said yes.
Sometimes, if he really concentrates, he thinks he can hear the sound of the stars moving. He knows he can’t really, but he concentrates anyway. You can’t see air, but it’s there.
She dreams of blue light and monsters and breaking glass. He never dreams.
She bakes him cookies and he kisses her wrist, tasting the sugar on her skin as she giggles and shrinks back and tells him he’s disgusting. He grins and licks some more, the point of his tongue flicking against her pulse.
She likes money and he doesn’t. She likes money because it’s green, because it has a smell and a taste, a feel. All those things, she likes, and money’s got them. She likes money because it buys you things and it stays where it’s put.
She brings him something from the store. He looks down at the silver crucifix in her hand and asks her with a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes, what do you think Jesus would say about stealing?
She sighs at him and says, “He’d say ‘thank you’, you fucking loser.”
He puts the cross around her neck.
When she was a child, she used to dream of burning. She would stand in the middle of a circle of fire, and she would spread her arms and let the flames consume her. She would wake up before they reached her head, but she would always remember the sensation of burning, the heat searing her skin, the smell of her own flesh cooking.
He doesn’t pray because he doesn’t like the idea of God hanging up the phone and laughing at him.
After the war, after the bombs, after the radiation, they will be the ones who survive. They will be the ones who crawl out of the rubble and stand in the sun and blink in the light.
When she was ten, she broke her wrist because she fell out of a tree and landed wrong. She remembers the pain, sharp and bright, and the way her parents hovered over her. She remembers how the crisp sheets of the hospital smelled and how that smell was always there in the hospital but never in her house.
There are certain things he cannot taste, certain flavors of cigarettes and beer and cupcakes that are just beyond his experience. There are certain sounds that no matter how hard he tries he cannot hear.
The way she chews her lip when she sews, the way she puts the cap back on the bottle between sips, the way she says “call me” and means it, the way she says “be careful” and doesn’t. The way he holds a book, the way he scratches his neck when he’s saying something important, the way his shoulder is ridiculous, the way he gets quiet when he talks to cats.
He says the world is one big refrigerator and we’re just the magnets. He has held her hand so tight that it has turned colors. He has measured himself against every beast of legend and myth, and he has always come out the loser. He doesn’t mind if birds shit on his car. It’s their right.
All summer they lay beneath the metal roof of the shed, their bare feet planted in the moist dirt and their heads resting against the cool tin. He reads to her and she traces the lines of his veins. They listen to the ticking of their wristwatches, the humming of transformers, the sloshing of the sea.
One day, the sun will balloon into a red giant, but just before it swallows the earth she wants to hold her hand out and touch it. She wants to be the last to feel its heat.
They get married in a graveyard, the whole thing on a whim. She wears black and he wears white and after the ceremony they go out and get drunk on the local wine and they spend the night in a cheap motel and they wake up sticky and giddy in the morning light. He scratches his palm to test if he’s dreaming.
They will build cities on the ocean bed and they will spend their lives underwater and when they die they will float, quiet and beautiful and covered in algae.
She takes her coffee to the bedroom, and it has cinnamon in it, and vanilla, and thick, rich cream. He brings her wildflowers every day, limp and shy but pretty, and sometimes, when she feigns sleep, he presses his lips just above the hollow of her temple and she whimpers just a little bit. She dreams of a world rearranging itself, walls and landscapes falling apart everywhere. It was her childhood wish to have a bedroom made of mirrors, and in the dark, when she’d stare at herself across the room, she would only see herself multiplied.
On the day of their first child’s birth, the ground opens up beneath the peninsula, swallowing cars and houses and people, and the city becomes an island. She holds their tiny girl tight and the baby’s eyes flutter and close and she sleeps against her mother’s chest and there is nothing, nothing that you can compare that weight against.
In the basement he builds a telescope, and every night he brings it with him to the roof, and though he doesn’t know the constellations, he manages to find them anyway. He names them whatever he wants. Diana and David. The Three Bears. The Big Dog. Dracula.
Their daughter asks to go to the beach but beaches are a memory now, hidden beneath the water. They tell her about the world, and she listens and when they are done she places her hand on their knee and she says that one day she will go get it back.
Sometimes they forget they ever kissed someone else, that they ever kept their silence, that there were toxic years. They curl their fingers over the ridged scars on their palms and they think of the imprints they left on the earth. They think they might forgive themselves. They hope the earth might forgive them too.
When Lucifer left heaven, he took a third of the stars with him. They’re still falling from the sky, one by one, and sometimes at night he catches them in his telescope, and sometimes he thinks he can hear them burning.
In the year of the tiger, in the scorching summer, they settle in a white house with a happy dog and a fussy cat. They plant vegetable gardens and amaryllis bulbs and they make soup with beets and cabbage and carrots, simmered in brown broth until the flavors marry. They sit on the porch at the end of the day and they punch numbers into old fashioned cell phones and there is a raincloud on the horizon, a black, blooming storm, but it’s still a ways off. They lean against each other and listen to the wind and look out over the water and they see the shore, the city walls, the turquoise harbor, the faraway lighthouse sending its message out, growing dimmer, dimmer, fading into the orange twilight.