We walk along the dirt path that winds within the botanical garden, and he looks over to flash that photogenic smile, the one with all the teeth. I tell him, Michael, no, we don’t have to play these games.
There’s not much time left, he says, as the smile falls away among the scattering leaves. He reaches down with his long fingers and picks a wild petunia from along the path. His face is real now, all cheekbones, the makeup around his eyes red red, painted on the kind of face you want to fuck to death, except you can’t, because he can’t die. He’s the antichrist.
I grew up hearing stories about when he’d come. Him, the kind of man that could snap his fingers, and just like that, poof, it’s all undone. I knew for sure I loved him that time I fell off a swing straight into an ant pile, and instead of jumping out, rested on the ground. Covered in ants, red, I wanted it to be over, but couldn’t get to my feet. My heart beat fast, in time with the bites.
He holds the purple flower in his hands and stands up tall, all of him blocking out the sun that isn’t caught by the surrounding trees. For you, he says, and I am his and he is mine.
I hadn’t met him yet, but I always wrote him letters, cursing in the back of the church. Make it stop and I’ll love you right until the last moment, and then I’d kneel and pretend to pray, pressing my nails into my hands and watching a lizard crawl on the floor, wishing it was a snake.
He reminded me early on that the storms were coming. But there wouldn’t be animals floating in the flooded streets. Those responsible had learned to lock those animals in barns before the floodwater rushed in, so that when the animals drowned, they drowned behind closed doors, where no one could document with pictures.
The antichrist is mine. The flower is mine.
On our second date, when I saw him with his hair down, wild and blond and free, for the first time, we flirted out loud and ate pretzels with beer cheese. As it got later, a couple near the door argued even louder than the chime in Michael’s voice.
What do you mean no, this man said, and raised his hand up toward the woman next to him.
His friend whispered, but loud enough for us to hear: not in public, yeah?
The other man nodded, and reached to grab her arm. He made it an inch before his own arm turned to dust.
Michael grabbed my hand and held it the way you’d hold a baby bird. I said, yes, yes. He leaned over to kiss me, tears in his eyes, as that man across the bar finished becoming nothing. The woman laughed. Of course she had seen worse.
He reaches his hand out, and the color drains from the petunia. His smile darts down into a frown. He picks another flower. It turns to dust as well. And another. Then another. And still more until I say Michael, no, it’s okay, there are limitations on our bodies, but not this, and I press my hands into the dust in his hands and pull him close. The flower doesn’t deserve it, but we might, right, right?
Nicole Oquendo serves as an Assistant Editor for Sundress Publications, and has most recently volunteered as a special features editor for The Florida Review. They are also the editor of the forthcoming Manticore: Hybrid Writing from Hybrid Identities anthology. Their essays and poetry can be found in CutBank, DIAGRAM, fillingStation, Gulf Stream, and The Southeast Review, among others. They are also the author of five chapbooks, including the most recent, Space Baby: Episodes I-III, as well as the hybrid memoir Telomeres. They are dealing with this prolonged moment of crisis by writing thinly-veiled speculative fanfiction.
Artwork by: Robin Basalaev-Binder
Robin Basalaev-Binder is an artist and urban planner living between New Jersey and Montreal with her partner and inspiration, Cesar. She uses primarily watercolors, gouache, conté, and inks in her art. She believes in fighting injustice through resistance, critical thought and creativity.