The first body came back on a Monday morning. Five A.M. and the world was still quiet, steam rising from the dew-slick grass. I’d just finished my morning run—three miles in twenty-four minutes, my personal best. Leaning against my car, fingers around my ankle and stretching out my quad, I saw someone stumbling up the street. The movements were broken and jarred. Probably drunk, I decided.
Inside, as my coffee percolated and body buzzed with adrenaline, the sweat cooled on my skin and I felt sticky. Still, I sat, smelling the coffee and missing you, remembering how no matter the time of day, you always tasted of it. You took it black. No cream. No sugar. You’re all the sugar I need, you’d tell me. God, I missed you.
That’s when I heard the scream.
Now that they’re coming back in swarms, people don’t scream anymore. They just burn. But he was the first, or at least the first around here, and so his wife, when she opened the door, still half asleep in her plush, pink bathrobe, had screamed and screamed.
Now, though, we wait for them. Some of the bodies haven’t come home. Maybe they’ve gone somewhere else. No one knows. So everyone waits. All afraid, except for me.
My waiting is different. I know you’ll come back to me; it’s only a matter of time. Every morning and every evening I sit on my front porch, drinking coffee or red wine, and wait for you. I don’t scan the street nervously. I don’t strain my eyes searching the distance. I wait patiently, because that is what I’m used to with you.
We met at a bar where men like you go to find women like me. The cocktails were expensive but watered down and you bought me enough so that my head swam a little and everything seemed romantic. Then I took you home, because we couldn’t go to yours, because that’s where your life was, and I was a vacation from that life.
That’s what you called me. Your little vacation.
When friends and family asked if I had a man in my life, I’d smile politely and shake my head. I’m focusing on work, I’d say, and I’d feel the weight of their pity as my cheeks burned. I’m sure my pinkening skin would appear as embarrassment. There was no way they could know it was because I was remembering the feel of your hands, your mouth, your everything. The taste of you.
To others, I was alone, but in secret, I was yours. And, if only for a while, you were mine.
Mine. How delicious that word tastes passed between warm mouths. This is why I’m not worried now. I know, eventually, you’ll come back to me.
I try not to think about the day you left. I hadn’t heard from you for a week, which was odd; your appetite for me had been getting increasingly voracious. When yet another text went unanswered, I’d Googled your name—I’d done this from time to time when I was missing you, would look at your headshot on your company’s site and burn in all the right places.
That day, though, I felt my heart grow cold, stop, then keep beating, impossibly.
CYCLIST STRUCK BY PASSING CAR.
In my mourning, I’d think of myself at the funeral. I’d sit in the back, I decided. I’d wear all black, cover my face, and be the second, secret widow no one knew to comfort.
But I knew that I could not see your body like that—stiff, pale, mottled—without remembering how alive it’d been in my bed. I knew I could not see you without throwing myself atop of you, a widow burning on the pyre. So I stayed at home and drank a bottle of bourbon instead.
But now, the dead are walking once more, and they’re walking home. Others are afraid, burning their loved ones. I’m not afraid. Don’t go to your wife, she won’t understand; she’ll burn you like everybody else.
Every day I wait for you, just like I did before. I am trying to be patient, my darling, but I need to feel you here with me. I need you back in my bed. Warm, solid. You.
Or will you feel cold? It doesn’t matter. We can start a fire. Sit in front of it. We can burn together.
Hannah Gordon is a writer and editor living in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Hypertrophic Literary, Jellyfish Review, WhiskeyPaper, and more. She is the managing editor of CHEAP POP. You can read more of her work here.