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Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt by Colleen Kimsey

The last time the lights go out, I take my backpack and begin to walk. You aren’t my destination, but when my feet find the familiarity of your green concrete doorstep, there is only a moment of you peering behind a dim door crack before you slip out and follow me into the growing darkness.

-.-

Afterwards, much later, I learn what you carried with you: a half-struck book of matches, three plastic water bottles (two filled), a miniature Swiss army knife missing the nail clippers and knife, an amber necklace your favorite aunt gave you, yellow wool socks, and the rattling bottle full of perfect blue pills.

-.-

The fourth day, we pass a concrete wall where someone has graffitied (it must have been before because who would bother to break this world, even a little more?)-
war is not about who is right
it is about who is left.

I watch you read it, summer-blue eyes squinting since you dropped your glasses on the third day. The city around us is hollow gray building hungry for movement (for you) so I lock fingers around your wrist and pull you on. I will not leave you behind.

-.-

There are things you learn you never wanted to. Don’t open closets, boltholes, those small dark places where the wounded go to curl up with their bloody hair and die. Last night’s ashes are never warm enough for this morning’s fire, just hot enough to burn questioning fingers. The neck works best, but if you can’t get that, aim for the lungs. One half of a blue pill might work as well as a whole.

-.-

I am not sure whether to be afraid, so we scuttle under yew bushes at the sound of engines, traitors against the unified, heavy silence. Some days, the rest, we walk down the middle yellow lines, the only verticals in a horizontal world. The paranoia rests in the back of my head, a beautiful, reassuring tumor.

-.-

If it wasn’t for the green sunsets, you could pretend everything was alright, almost.

-.-

You are almost all eyes now and you watch things too closely, the shuffle of your torn trainers across the black asphalt, or my lips when I tell you sleep here, eat this, keep walking. All softness is gone from your face, and you are rendered as beautifully abstract as a painting we once saw in a white museum on a school trip. Then, it reminded me of the smooth course of electricity through wires, of fisson and scientific advantages. Now your face and the memory of the painting just make me think- someone call the ambulance, there’s gonna be an accident.

-.-

On the forty-second day, you ask me do I know where we are going?

-.-

Once, I struggle out of sleep, fighting for breath, to see you hunched over on your heels, digging a hole with the trowel. The dark earth yawns open mouthed as you unzip your backpack and upend everything in. I keep waiting to see you reach in, retrieve that clinical bottle.
Before, I remember army trucks heading south as I headed north and like the cars in front of me, I rolled down my window and waved. The soldiers waved back.

I used to say that you were the end of my world, but that was a poetic lie. The end of the world is dandelions growing in the side of skyscrapers like the beginning sparks of an end-all-be-all fire. It’s stoplights stuck on yellow, telling us to get ready, prepare for change, always. The end of the world looks like a rusty butcher’s knife that you picked up somewhere unclean in your painter’s hand. It’s the way you are slowly falling apart; how you look at the remains of our camp each morning with your lip in between your teeth, because you are leaving a part of you behind, never to be retrieved.

Sixty-first day, you say fuck you, you don’t even know where we’re going.

-.-

The earth retreats to her original self faster than you would think. The water stopped trickling from faucets after a week and the dogs went even sooner than that. But there are still fingerprints on the soil, miniscule ridges of intention.

We move through the pine woods one gray afternoon where the light is cracked and reluctant through the needles. As you walk in front of me, I can tell from the knotted muscles in your back that you are hungry, can tell form the lift of your shoulders that you would like to stop soon and change your socks. But when you do stop, and crouch down at the base of a tree, I almost walk into you before I look where you looking.

There are three tiny crosses askew in the warm earth, made of brown popsicle sticks tied together with blue yarn. For a pet, a hamster or canary. Something that was loved, kept, protected from drafts and lightening.

I inhale, and don’t think of home.

-.-

Your shell-like fingernails have been bitten down to the red and bleeding quick and your cuticles are ripped and painful-looking. I wonder when you are doing this to yourself- when I am asleep?- and am jealous of this, yet another thing I can’t rescue you from.

-.-

In before I never asked what the pills were for, only assumed. Now I know that they were there to keep your hands steady as you eat plundered apples, your tears behind your eyes, instead of running wet constantly down your cheeks throughout the day. They reminded you that night is for sleeping, not turning pebbles endlessly jittery in your palms. Pills kept the way you moved through the world consistent, like an angular waltz (slow fastfast slow). Now you move in metronomic steps in the morning, in the afternoon hit me with loose fists almost like you mean real violence, dissolve into shapless crying jags as the day goes gray into night.

Still, you are no less beautiful for your madness.

-.-

You kiss me and it makes no sense. But then again- nothing else does.

-.-

We move through the enormity of after. At first, you wanted to stop at every dozenth house. Look through photo albums, try on wedding dressers and blazers, take cans of green beans from cupboards. Now you walk like someone half heartedly programmed you, getting distracted partway through the job. At first I worried over everything about you, the white blisters on your heels, the way your hands creep inconsolably when we rest, the way your backpack is a hollow cave. Now the worry is too huge to hold in me, so I let it wash over me in beautiful, drowning waves that crash only when we hold still.

Maybe we are walking to the ocean.

-.-

later, I think, later we will laugh about this. when we find the good survivors.
Then I realize I haven’t heard you laugh for maybe three weeks.

-.-

In one of the anonymous cities, you trip on a stair step. It’s in a town square; I can hear the empty space watching us. You lie on the brick steps not moving, your knee bleeding through your torn jeans. Your wrist is bruised in the shape of the tug of my fingers and I want to compel you to get up laugh, complain about your knee, ask for a band-aid, cry, swear at me, anything.

I lay down beside you. There are many hours until dark, but we slept there that day. The next night, somewhere else.