The World Over
Lauren DeStefano

The world ended. From way up high we watched the ashes writhe, and all those dying bodies looked like shooting stars. You said it would be coming for us, too—death, like a big black wave. We held hands. We waited.
But morning came. We woke beneath that searing sun, and there was no place to find shade (all the trees had shriveled into themselves and dissolved). So we lay on our backs and shielded our eyes and spoke in poetry, and soon we had forgotten coherent sentences. We lost the knowledge of languages, traded for the erratic, maddened cadence of artists. We painted with our fingers in the air, and the clouds began mimicking us. We drew mermaids in the sky.
You said, ‘I loved you once, but loving you was a coalmine. All those dark spaces. All those dangerous turns. I thought you’d collapse and kill us both.’
I laughed, said, ‘There should be a canary that stops singing when love is too dangerous.’
You said, ‘Then they would stop being songbirds.’
We fell asleep, cradled by the deep breaths of the wind. I dreamed of your yellow hair and eyes so blue they could kill. In the dream you were screaming but no sound came out, and your cheeks were all red and the grass was wrapping around your legs and pulling you down. The earth was opening to receive you.
We woke again, both of us gasping, nauseous. You said it was the dehydration, giving us nightmares, killing us.
Night came, only there were no coyotes howling, and no summer trees full of hooting owls and twittering birds. My mother told me that no birds sang at night, so when I used to hear them from my bedroom I would worry that they were ghosts. But nothing sang after the world ended, and the silence was the saddest thing I’d ever heard, so I started to sing. Horrible, off-key screeching words. You danced in ribbons of your hair. The moon was a spotlight on us. We sang all night.
Another morning rose. ‘Like a lotus from the mud,’ you whispered. We were parched, but the rivers had dried up. The empty ocean was a canyon of fish bones and crustacean shells. We climbed inside the ribs of a whale and called it our house. Our water house.
‘This is where its heart used to be,’ you said. I stood with you in the spot, and I could hear it thump-thumping in my ears. All things in the world were gone, but they left their life behind for us. We began looking for more life, and found little bits in empty lobster shells and shredded tree roots. You held someone’s hair in your hands and cried.
We walked for miles but found no grass, not even some mangled buttercups or dandelion puffs. You said, ‘It’s like the earth breathed out, and all the dandelions blew away.’
I said, ‘It is like the earth breathed out. That’s it exactly.’
As we walked, we called out things we remembered. Little girls in autumn sweaters, bursting through the double-doors of the school at three o’clock. Slimy green frogs. Salamanders wriggling under rocks like sperm inseminating eggs. Roadkill. Butterflies. Picture frames. Cheeseburgers.
We walked until we found more whale rib houses in rapid succession. I said, ‘I think we’re in the North Pacific Ocean.’
You said, ‘How far until we reach Japan?’
We walked and walked, until the sun melted and the stars came out. Only now the stars looked hot pink, and you said that maybe the atmosphere was breaking down, or maybe we were hallucinating, and I agreed both times. So we lay in a sand dune, miles and miles below sea level, and we huddled together.
There were no songbirds, and no canaries, and no coyotes. There was only the heartbeat of all the dead things on the ocean floor, and your jagged breathing.
‘Tonight,’ you said, ‘when we sleep, let’s stay that way.’
So we looked at the stars, as they became green, and then blue, and we could see the mermaids we drew weaving between them. You were still wearing your silver bracelet with butterflies carved into it, and the gold cross your grandmother gave you when you were baptized. And jeans with distressed knees, and a packet of Wrigley’s in your back pocket. You got dressed on a morning with mirrors, in a house that no longer stands. You came down the porch steps and met me in the shade of a tree that’s gone now. And even then you could have been the only girl in the world. You and me. We could be gods weaving patterns in the sky.
You’re breathing in my ear as I drift to sleep. You are the last sound in the world.

©2008-2017 Lauren DeStefano. Layout by Harry Lam.
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