Romance, with Still Life
Here is a comprehensive list of the diseases I will give you: dinosaurs. But it won’t be, like, a bad thing, the dinosaurs. They’ll only be there at all because we love each other so much that life cannot help to bloom around us. Trust, trust that feeling. We could stand in a parking lot and make it a jungle. You’ll see when we kiss, and the roses unfurl and the bees come and, yes, there will probably be some iguanodons.
Think of it this way: there were no dinosaurs before you and I. There was no you and I before you and I. Now we’ll be together and the dinosaurs will be together with us, and we can only hope that they’ll be the cool dinosaurs. Some of them must be into love and puppies and not into chasing and maiming and mass extinction events.
Do you know that feeling when you want to die because everything feels too beautiful? The kind that only comes at night? I hope you know it, because it’s how I want us to feel together and also, if I’m being honest, some of the dinosaurs are bound to be into chasing and maiming and mass extinction events.
Watch, watch the dirt. I’ll take your hand. I’ll brush your cheek. There are consequences to these actions, and already I can feel you shiver as the new grass tickles your toes. Stop, stop moving. They can’t see things that don’t move. Close, close your eyes. We can’t see things that aren’t beautiful. Everything must have been beautiful once, when it was newborn and flowering and full of dinosaurs.
That breath on your neck is me. Me, or one of the carnotauruses. That hand on your back is definitely mine and not one of the babies. Don’t, don’t worry. If we hold each other long enough the vines will grow around our legs, the hummingbirds will feed in our ears, and the dinosaurs will raise the babies. We’ll never move again, and we’ll never let go.
It’s a disease, this love, but some of the diseases must be good. Because would it be any better if nothing grew when we touched? If the earth browned, the tress undressed, the dinosaurs suffocated? So please, please don’t run.
The First Ghost
You would think the first ghost would be lonely, but really he’s just an asshole. The first ghost was alone in everything—the space inside walls, the corners of attics, the decision to live as a shadow rather than move into the light. He’d been by himself for generation after generation because not one other once-person rejected heaven. When someone finally did, the second ghost discovered that the first ghost had already written his name on everything, even you.
I am the second ghost. When I chose to stay I chose to stay with you. But the first ghost called dibs, and now the only place I haunt is the top of the world where the sun never sets. I sit on a small circle of ice where I crossed out the first ghost’s name and wrote my own. He let me do this, the first ghost, but only for this circle and only because the ice here is melting and soon will be gone. Then I’ll sink to the bottom of the ocean and haunt creatures so empty they’ll call me friend.
Sometimes on my thinning ice panting polar bears pass by, but when I stretch to pet them I see the first ghost’s signature writ large across their fur. Like us, they don’t know who owns them, only that they are owned.
You are owned. The first ghost wrote his name just below your right ear in that spot I used to kiss. He’s written his name on everything that is yours and everyone that you see. His signature is loopy and old-fashioned, one he must have once signed with a quill but now signs with an invisible finger. I see him, sometimes, when the wind makes a new cloud or a bale of turtles is born. He flies by and writes his name on every trembling newborn.
Maybe he’s only scared by how little we have as ghosts. Maybe there is someone he once loved, someone he waited for, someone who passed by him on their way to heaven. Maybe he’s a jerkoff.
One day I will fall to the bottom of the world. There I will wait for you. But don’t come. This I would tell you if I were tapping a silent finger against your window. I would speak all the words I know and as they left my lips, the first ghost would call dibs on them and it would be as if I never said anything at all. So I stay far away watching the sun gild the ice.
I know you won’t choose this. No one does—only me and the first ghost, and of all the things we might write, it’s never why we chose the lesser eternity for fleeting ownership of the present. If I’d been first, I would do exactly as he’s done. I would write and write and write, a name, never meant to be read by anyone, even you.
You were a remnant of the weird months. I don’t know why you were the first person I called with the bad news, but I knew I’d dialed right when I heard your voice dulled with sleep. I was outside the hospital and I let the prescription blow down the early morning street as I made small talk until I could admit what the doctor had said.
I’m sick, I said. Stabbing.
You didn’t understand and thought I’d been stabbed already. No, I explained. I will be stabbed.With two sharp fingers I felt the hollows between my ribs and told you not to worry. Then I ran after the piece of paper and sat in the pharmacy waiting room until my prescription of bandages, gauze, and flowers was ready.
It should pass soon, he said. Give us a call if you notice any side effects or if you have any questions about how to start a knife fight.
The doctor who diagnosed me gave me pamphlets and showed me a filmstrip and referred me to a specialist named Dr. Murder who led a gang and took my insurance. I spent a month with the 4-Star Posse but all we did was paint a community center and hold an intervention for Chino whose drinking was worrying Claire.
When I came to you, I was crazed. I had not been sleeping. All day I felt for the weak spot between my ribs and all night I helped Dr. Murder run the Neighborhood Watch. You let me in and I fell into your arms. Although I only knew you from the weird months, you recognized something in me right away and I recognized something in you.
I let the prescription blow all the way down the street. I got hugged out of the gang. I planned your graduation party. When you asked for the scissors, I came running. I tripped but it was your shoulder, a small wound, only an inch deep, just enough that it won’t heal with flowers alone.
Believe me when I tell you this: I never knew I wasn’t the diagnosis but the disease.
Adam Peterson is the author of the flash fiction collections The Flasher, My Untimely Death, and, with Laura Eve Engel, [SPOILER ALERT]. His fiction can be found in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, The Normal School, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.