It is a landscape of a song: greens and yellows, lulls like hillsides, crags and cliffs as notes strike and shiver, the sun in the mouth of a singer that would foretell their deaths. They listen, Henrietta’s weight shifting until their thighs are touching ever so slightly, and she can smell butter and wool and salty sweat and throaty, musky something-or-the-other (Roy). And suddenly the song has new associations. It’s not death, anymore. It’s a room in shadow, and sitting, and touch, and eyes closed and listening until the music is all gone and then looking up into someone’s face and smiling, smiling.
And she shows them her hand-ax and tells them stories of golden robberies and nights spent under the stars, when they took from the rich and kissed the poor on the lips, and taking blouses from clotheslines and wearing scars like tiger stripes and battle wounds like lipstick, accessories after the fact, proof of living, of living greatly. And Henrietta grins and pokes fun at gang methodology, at the sloppiness of their structures, at the ill-timed plots and too-close getaways and Penelope rolls her eyes and asks are you jealous, do you wanna join, do you wanna be our planner, our strategist our bloody fucking timekeeper? It’s a joke but Henrietta says yes, yes, yes. And Penelope gets up and knights Henrietta the engineer with her ax, laying the handle parallel to her neck, just above the shoulder, and she whispers all hail Henrietta, general of the Lucky Dragons before dissolving into a fit of laughter.
And then the universe will take them and remake them. The heart of a star out of bicycle parts, the viscous swirl of a newborn galaxy out of the body of the continents, a glimmering planet out of the red streaks in Henrietta’s hair when she stands in the sun, a square foot of space dust out of the curve of Toru’s cheek, a meteorite out of the plastic bags collecting at the bottom of the ocean. It’s barely any consolation at all, but it is something.
There is lays, the barbed lattice, exposed, layers of blood peeling off, distance and days of time, draped over him, mixing in with milky warmth of his black eyes, drilling into a lifetime’s worth of wanting, understanding; all he’s been meaning to say, emerging, some maritime naked goddess stepping out of a grey-green pool, cautiously, purposefully, dripping, shedding. Henrietta listens to it all as though watching it happen, as though his loneliness occupied space in the room, as though it shifted the gravity of her world, pulling her in, unfolding before her (she wishes she could stab it, kill it, or else clasp it close, keep it safe, and the conflict grates against her, wound like a bond, a chemical link that not even a millennium on Earth could not destroy). He keeps going.
“There’s one other bit, too,” She leans in. There’s a theory between his brows, a string of variables in the soft threads of his dark hair, a list of environmental factors hidden in the heart of his hands, where he shakes, like the newborn surface of the Earth separating, like the switch in seasons traced out in the swiveling of the sky, like the poetry that is a pustule rather than a prayer, it hurts and harms him, the way her eyes bore and search him; one last trial run, one run into the ocean, one final experiment. “One thing I haven’t said,” she continues, purposefully dragging it out. There’s a luxury in that: there is no time left for them, but she can keep him here, hanging on the edge of truth and pain (the pain that accompanies truth, the truth that gives pain its value, shaped in the form of her smile, crawling closer). Her fingers come up to his jawline.
“What do you think it’ll be like?” He asks her, as she travels from collar to cuff, peeling away cloth. “Will it hurt?”
“No,” she says, reverently, “No. You won’t even realize it’s happening. One second you’ll be here, and the next you won’t be. Like falling asleep.”
“Falling asleep,” he repeats. “Will there be anything before? A flash of light, an explosion?”
“Oh, you’re so melodramatic,” she says, laughing. “That kind of stuff only happens in movies.”
He rolls his eyes. “You say that like you’ve been through this before, but even you can’t know exactly how it’ll go down.”
“I can make an informed guess based on evidence,” she says, arms curling around his neck. Now that time is going, it’s so much easier to make these movements, take decisions like pressing her toes to his ankle, her fingertips to his ribs (count them, count the bones from which you were made, the bones you now reclaim before the universe turns you both into dust, again). He smiles and the density and temperature of her heart increases by at least a thousand percent (pure mathematics) and she groans a little (I’m a goner).
“No,” she says, “it won’t be a big deal. It’ll be quiet and it won’t hurt.” If the universe hurts him, she’ll come back in the next one, she’ll tear it to pieces with her teeth, she’ll pin it to the ground and break its back.