When I die, I want to be burned. I know the proper term is ‘cremation,’ but that word is stupid to me, really. It’s just a word we use to lie to ourselves about what is actually happening, and makes me think of heavy cream being whipped into a fluffy dessert topping. Or what a penis becomes after a messy ejaculation. Cremation.
No, when the universe decides that it has had enough of my living body, when Mother Nature swoops in and stops my heart, suffocates my cells, and turns my skin cold, I will crackle and scorch and blacken. Flames will climb up my legs in fiery vines, and my face will be seared off in a single hot breath. The little body fat I have left will sizzle, and my organs will shrivel up like peeled apples left in the sun. My skin and muscles, once rippling with passion and energy, blood and lust, will be reduced to piles of carbon ash. All that will be left of me is bone fragments lying amidst smoldering coals.
Can I donate my skeletal remains to the sugar companies who use animal bone char to filter their precious granules, so that my death can at least produce something sweet?
Only small patches of ground are visible, lit up by my flashlight. Twigs, stones, and roots are revealed by its beam as I walk carefully through the woods. I can hear my friends around me, sticks breaking and leaves crackling underneath their feet as we all look for dry wood. I pile my arms with anything I can find, my fingers aching from the cold as I rustle through the dirt. I’m anxious to get this fire going, to thaw my bones and return the feeling to my ears.
Thirty minutes later, we gather around a roaring ball of orange, red, and yellow, tongues of electric blue jumping up occasionally. The faces of my friends are illuminated by its glow, coating their skin with a warm lacquer provided by campfire light alone. A few swallows of spicy apple pie moonshine rest heavily in my stomach. The sound of crackling wood fills my ears, the musky smell of woodsmoke permeates the air. The heat from the fire protects us from the winds that swirl loudly around us. Why don’t we always live like this?
The kitchen is filled with the smell of the sauce I’m cooking from scratch. It’s a secret family recipe, passed down through my family for generations. I used all fresh ingredients that I got from Sung Sướng Rau, the market on the corner of 1st and 17th-- tomatoes, garlic, onion, carrots, celery, oregano, and basil. All unpackaged, still dirt-flecked from the ground they grew in, fragrant and colorful. I shop there so often that Kim-Ly gives me a discount if I come in during the slow hours.
My buzzer goes off, an alert that she has arrived. The walls of my apartment building are thin, so I can hear her feet on the stairs. A step for every level of anticipation that I reach. I nervously stir the sauce, fidget with the dinner plates. My dress suddenly seems too dressy-- we aren’t even going out after all-- and, oh god, what if she doesn’t like bolognese?!
“Hello!” She swoops in, bracelets jangling, purse swinging, closing the door behind her. Purse is dropped onto a chair, jacket is whisked off, revealing that she is, too, wearing a dress. I breathe a silent sigh of relief. I get a waft of floral perfume when she leans in to kiss me on the cheek, feel the cold from outside lingering in her hair when it brushes my neck.
“Sit down, make yourself comfortable,” I say. “How are you?”
She eases into a chair at the kitchen table, and starts talking about her day. Hands gesturing wildly, eyes widening and shifting in emphasis, rosy lips forming around every sound. I hang onto her every word as she takes me through her day. I interrupt her accidentally when I try to light the candles in the middle of the table, and become terribly embarrassed.
“Damn, I can never get these to work.” I break the third match in a row.
“Here, let me do it.” A hiss, and the little light is transferred to the wick. I turn off the glaring fluorescent bulb overhead, and relax as I watch a blanket of velvet light drape over the room.
We sit across from each other as we eat, and she looks at me over the dishes and wine glasses, twirling her spaghetti delicately. I can’t stop smiling. I feel like a fool some moments, but she ropes me right back in with accidental reassurances-- that the pasta is delicious, that my apartment suits me, that she’s having a good time. That she likes me. The flames of the candles flicker, sending subtle shadows dancing over her face. Everything is warm.
I feel like I can’t move from my bed. They have it propped up so I can watch television, but my eyes hate the screen now. It’s flat, dull, and meaningless. My head feels glued to my pillow, and though I’m cold I can’t summon the energy to pull my blanket over my shoulders.
My food is still sitting on the tray, untouched. Piles of tasteless mush and a plastic looking sandwich. A tin of Jell-o. Everyone here is dying, for god’s sake. We should be indulging while we can, eating foie gras and caviar, aged cheese and wine, figs and caramelized onions on thin crusted pizza. Grandma-style mac and cheese, with crispy breadcrumbs on top. Hot blackberry pie and ice cream. Peaches straight off the tree, still warm from the sun.
But the truth is, when I think about all these foods, these decadent morsels, my mouth remains dry. I can’t imagine actually eating any of them. I can’t imagine doing anything. I guess that’s the reason for the mush and the plastic and the Jell-o. Makes sense after all. They’ve given up on us just as much as we’ve given up on ourselves.
Can someone take gasoline and a lighter to my heart and infuse it with a burning passion, so I can feel one more time before I never feel again?
I’m packing my things into boxes, and it seems like I have way more stuff than I remembered. They just keep piling up, perfect brown cardboard squares stacked on top of one another, and yet there are so many possessions left to pack, my things floating freely around my room like they have minds of their own. I’m moving fast, sweat running down my body in rivulets, just throwing random stuff together at this point. I have to get on the road before sun up, or I’ll never make it to New York in three days. I can picture the phone call to my future boss:
“Mr. Jones, hi, it’s Lawrence. Yeah, so I’m sorry, but I’m still on the road. Had some car troubles. Is there any way I can start on Monday instead?”
What a way to start my first career.
I grab my blue sweatshirt, worn thin from so many adventures, and get a whiff of musty campfire. For a moment, I am transported back to the woods, to the people I love the most, to their comforting voices murmuring around me through my moonshine aquarium. An unexpected sob escapes my throat, and I’m gulping air, my face buried in the soft material. Why am I leaving?
I’m waiting for her in my bed, naked except for a soft maroon blanket tossed casually over my torso. I can hear her rummaging around the bathroom, my anticipation building with every second. I reach down and touch myself lightly under the blanket, feel the hot wetness there from kissing her. Finally, she emerges, wearing a simple black bra and underwear. Soft belly, wide hips, a delicate tattoo on her upper thigh. Long, wavy brown hair flowing over her shoulders. Biting her lip slightly. Purposeful seduction for me, or a natural reaction to my presence? I don’t know, but I feel my heart speed up regardless.
She walks over to me, pulls the blanket off, revealing me fully to her for the first time. I can feel her eyes tracing my every dip and curve, outlining my shoulders, breasts, stomach, hips… her eyes linger long enough between my legs to send electricity fizzling through my bones.
And then she’s there, warm skin pressed against my squirming body, mouth all over me. My fingers tangle in her hair, my lips find her neck, making her gasp. I’m on fire. We are setting the room ablaze with every movement. Her hands grab my legs, pushing herself down, kissing all the way. A moan escapes from my throat. She takes her time, tongue slowly exploring, revelling in my flavor. I’m lost, watching the insides of my eyelids catch fire. Everything is burning.
Rain pours from black clouds, the barren earth soaking up every drop gratefully. A figure emerges from a hole in the side of a red, jagged cliff. It has long arms with thick hands that clutch a crude flint knife as it slowly emerges, eyes cautiously scanning its surroundings. A quick movement to the right of the figure catches its eye. Deer. Food. It crouches, silently watching. Knife flashing. A crack of thunder rocks the plains, but nothing moves.
Lightning sears the sky, tearing east from west for a moment. Suddenly, a bush near the cliff is ablaze. The hunter forgets his prey quickly and lopes over to the fire. Eyes wild, the deer bounds away.
The figure looks at the bush, sniffs, backs off. It sends out a series of calls, getting louder with each one. Another figure pokes its head out of the cave. It comes over and they stand together, watching the flames jump. After a few moments of deliberation, the first figure crouches down and uproots the bush, careful to avoid the tongues of flame. Together, the two figures carry the fiery plant back into their cave. The rain torrents down, turning the air icy. The clouds fuse together into an amalgam of darkness across the sky, blackening everything in sight. The only light is a steady glow emitting from the cave, alerting everything alive that something is happening.