The woman steps from the train and the world stops spinning. The platform and the pedestrians fade away before her, unraveling on the exhaust of the underworld, until all that is left is a man. Him. That same boy that used to lay beside her, dark and exhausted, yet always unable to sleep, reeking of whiskey and whispers.
The man keeps his back turned, knows her before he sees her, a stinging in the scar tissue around his heart. That same girl, but older now, in her arms groceries, children’s socks, a whole different life. He closes his eyes and a thousand hours fall from their shoulders. There are dark eyes shining beneath darker lights, cigarettes in the air and the smell of vodka on her breath.
They are fairy tale lovers at a barroom back table. They are fervent and brief and damaging. Devoted and self-immolating. She is the queen of a kingdom that will never be and he is the king of her broken heart. Their sandcastle is made of salt.
The woman smiles softly at the man. A haze of sunrise nights whirl on either side of them, the barrooms turn to beaches, then coffee cups, cotton candy, kisses and kitchen counters, till there is nothing but the burned down skeletons of what they used to be. Her face is a clockwork, ticking away, trying to make sense of what was there before the wreckage, the temple they looted and torched. The man turns and sees nothing but an arsonist.
An air break screeches, the train swaying behind the woman and rumbling back beneath the city. A flood of fluorescent washes across the smoldering debris of their past, the empty glasses and crumpled socks returning to expired MetroCards and carved up benches. The woman shifts the groceries in her arms. The man adjusts the strap on his shoulder.
Hello, she says.
Your hair got long.
The woman’s cheeks flush and the man’s heartbeat races. They move toward one another slowly, inexorably, trepidation in every footstep as they shuffle through the ashes of the realm they once ruled.
Their pulses quicken. The man and woman shift in the soot, hoping for a rainstorm while holding matches between their fingers, praying with their pagans for one last miracle.
This is fate, she says.
This is mutually assured destruction.
The man and woman take each other’s hand.
There’s no point in living forever.
Eirik Gumeny lives in New Mexico. He is the author of the flash chapbooks Boy Meets Girl (Kattywompus Press) and Storybook Romance (Red Bird Chapbooks). His website is egumeny.com.