You’ve stopped asking me to marry you. I think, finally, this is a good thing. We’re the last people on Earth, you cry into my ribs, your nose stopping on each ridge of bone like a gate unlatching. We don’t know that’s true, I say, but the air in this bunker is getting heavy with our foul smelling humidity. We’re just springs rebounding and recoiling, thrusting our hands out in the dark, mauling the air, waiting to connect.
You’ve stopped gorging on top ramen and bubble gum. The floor is littered with wrappers, slick with noodles, and those little peas that cling to the bottom of my shoes. I keep them on because I can’t give up the idea of running, my calves refusing to give up, the muscles popping and stretching below me, warning of attrition. There’s nowhere to run, I whisper, punching them twice a day anyway. You do love me, you say, mistaking my regrets as compliments.
You’ve stopped checking the latch on the containment door. The fear of being invaded has become the trampled dust, the network of shoe imprints you trace across the floor, pacing to keep the edge of possibility fresh in your mind. This you refuse to stop, coming closer and closer to my hip, my knees. Proximity, when we lived above, often created desire. But now you dart, zig and zag like a goldfish in too small of a bowl. I miss your skin by millimeters.
You’ve stopped talking, your voice caking over with fallen dust motes because you refused to wear the hospital masks I had provided. Then how will we kiss, you asked at my first suggestion. Survival, at first, felt flirty, like finding ourselves alone in a hotel while everyone else was at the beach. Now, I’m pretty sure the beach doesn’t exist. You still assume the world is out there, waiting for us, that we’ve merely stepped off the page of this fairy tale you’ve been writing in your head.
You’ve stopped waking up unless prodded by my fingers checking your neck for a pulse. A bear in hibernation, eyelids caked in allergy and lethargy. Even your heart has slowed. I whisper I love you, a hundred times a day, seizing on the lightning bug blip of your heart as it pushes back against my palm, its own failing cadence letting me know that I’m too late.
Tommy Dean is the author of a flash fiction chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV from Redbird Chapbooks. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program, he has been previously published in the Hawaii Pacific Review, Spartan, Literary Orphans, JMWW, Split Lip Magazine, and New Flash Fiction Review. Find him @TommyDeanWriter on Twitter.