Where to Go
Lauren DeStefano

They warned us. They painted our names on signs. They dove furiously through the books written by the madman in love, highlighted the letters carefully scrawled by his widow who tossed the pages up around her like snow before they found her floating breathless in the sea. They said our destiny was tragic; to love each other was to die.
We were born as throbbing stars, bright and overeager. Fingers reached for us and we scorched them. In photographs, you were a fierce-eyed child. The sleeves of your dresses always torn, your cheeks muddy, smile wild. I was on the other side of the world, waiting to meet you. But as a child I met you in my dreams. You were something I’d been holding, something that broke into thousands and thousands of pieces and sank down into the water. I spent my nights trying to piece you together. I had fevers. I drew furiously on all the pages I could find. I exhausted all the ink and all the graphite trying to create some image of you that I could hold.
And then we saw each other, and everything made sense. The nights became cadenced. There were no dreams, only darkness and our breathing. But they kicked down the door. They ripped us away. I reached for you, and your eyes were just as they were in all those pictures you showed me: wild. They put us in white rooms and locked the door between us. I could hear you pounding, but I couldn’t hear you breathing.
Now they put headphones on my ears. They show me pictures of the world ending, not by these angry gods they proclaim, but because of people. People who set fires. People who hold signs. People who warn us of things that never come. And a voice in the headphones tells me that none of this would be happening if I hadn’t found you. They say we’re the madman and the widow reincarnated. They say that in a world of billions we were never meant to find each other. They planned it this way. They watched us.
They say that we’ve died and been reborn for generations. They murdered you in the womb, and they say I grew into a beast. I set fire to the city. They had no choice but to end me.
We returned as insects after that. We were dragonflies and we stayed up, up, where human eyes couldn’t reach us. But an insect’s heart can only beat for so long. It was our briefest romance.
I have no memories of these lives. I only know this life. These hands that go cold and clammy without you. These eyes that sting for all the horrible things they show me. All I understand is now. And I don’t want to destroy the world—all I want is you.
A man removes my headphones and talks to me plaintively. I don’t listen to his words, I don’t listen, because his paper coffee cup has made overlapping rings on the table, and it makes me think of your elbow hooked around mine.
I try to reach you with my thoughts. I can’t hear you, but I can feel you. You’re waving your hands, frantically signing a message to me. Your poet mother was deaf, and you can sign in three languages. You had started to teach me little words. Not always enough words to string a sentence, but powerful words don’t need sentences around them. ‘You,’ your hands say. ‘Me.’
I understand. Let them tell us their truths. Let them send their warnings, lock their doors. ‘Can you hear me?’ I ask. Your hands are still. I focus harder. ‘Can you hear me?’
I see your face, drowned and pale in the spotlight they’ve got over you, looking up. Your fingers move: ‘Yes. Yes, they’re going to kill us.’
I know what you say is true. I can see the syringe laid out on the metal cart a woman in white has just brought. They’re cuffing my wrists and ankles to the chair. Someone is holding my head steady in case I struggle. But I don’t struggle. I think of the painting of a poppy field that hung over your bed. In it, the sun is always just about to set. The poppies have caught a gentle breeze, and they’re all tilted towards the horizon, where the sky and the ground are parted by a searing line of light.
That’s the image I send to you, as the hot fluid rushes into my veins, as my eyes grow heavy. I can only hope this reaches you. I can only hope you understand.
‘Wait for me where the poppies are pointing. I’ll find you there.’

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