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Sean Meriwether

Against the silver-black screen of my mind I preserve an image of my wife: her impulsive smile, the rusty smudge of freckles across her face and chest, even the dainty mole on her right hip that she is always threatening to remove--but these fragments cannot bring my Melissa back to me.

I rub my sore eyes but the darkness remains. I cup a hand over my mouth and nose to mask the sweet-meaty stench, like rotten fruit, and cough until spots swarm on the vacant field of my vision.

"Richard?" Alan's voice is rough after hours of silence, and its raspy edge cuts through my thoughts. His breathing is labored, deafening in the small room, and I curse him for wasting our remaining air.

Alan's joints pop as he crawls across the concrete floor, feeling his way with sweeping hands. He mumbles under his breath, a tense whisper or prayer, and reaches out with blind fingers to touch, then grasp, my foot. I choke down an emotional bullet of phlegm and reach down to cover Alan's slender hand with my own.

"I think she's gone," he whispers. "Beverly." His voice breaks. I pull him closer. He slumps against the wall, a shifting bundle of heat and noise. "I thought I was the last, and coughed and...thank God I'm not alone." He squeezes my thigh with his hand, as if to confirm its substance.

Alan's bony shoulder burrows into the softer flesh of my arm. "Can you hear anyone up there?" I shake my head, then tell him no. There had been no sound at all, only the periodic shifting of debris in the stairwell.

"Is anyone else alive?" His voice squeaks like a child's and his body tenses against mine.

I tell him I don't know.

"They won't find us." The meaning is drained from his words, just sounds, like the hissing of the dust as it slides down into the room.

My doubt pollutes the silence and Alan's voice evaporates. He is reduced to a single strip of heat along my arm, a nose-full of jumbled smells. I breathe him in: sweat, oil from his unwashed hair, and cigarettes.

"They're all dead, don't you feel it, Richard? We'll die down here too, like Beverly and Willie and Marilyn. Like rats." His voice is flat and even, challenging me to dispute him.

"It won't be long."

His charged silence hurts me and I regret saying what we both know to be true. I drape my arm around him and rub his thin shoulder through the gamy texture of his shirt. His body shudders, then stills like a movie coming into focus. He turns to me and kisses my ear, his lips feverish and chapped, his stubble scraping the side of my face. "I know." I hold my breath and the silence overtakes us.

Alan shifts and drops his head into my lap. I cradle him there, run my hands through his thick, dirty hair, tugging softly at the sweaty knots. He lies quietly, the back of his head pressed against my crotch. Melissa steals back into my mind and I project her onto the man beneath my fingers. I move my hand along the soft curve between her breasts, the gold crucifix hanging there like a sparkling beacon, begging my touch.

I don't remember the last time I told Melissa that I loved her and felt it. We'd been married so long that the words came easily and honestly, but had lost their value through repetition. I crave the fullness of her body, the tangible history of our eleven years together, the fluttering touch of her lips against my skin. Her image hovers in front of me, naked in the dark, fading like a pebble dropped into water.

Alan calls me Billy and I assume he is thinking about his friend or lover while I think about my wife. His breathing quickens, and in an awkward movement he rolls over and places his lips against the fabric of my pants. His teeth trace the lengthening shaft of my penis as his fingers fumble with the zipper. Alan hesitates before taking me in his mouth, his breath like feathers along the head of my cock, then his warm mouth swallows me and the darkness brightens behind my eyes.

I run my hands over Alan's face, his mouth dry and clenched like a fist. He is crying. I stop him and pull his head up to mine and kiss him, my teeth clashing with his. "I'm sorry," he mumbles. "I only wanted to..."

"It's all right," I say to him. "Everything will be all right." I hug him and say that I love him so that I can say it out loud to Melissa. He pulls away and returns to my lap. I close my eyes and Melissa is on the bed before me, her skin pale against the black sheets, her eyes dancing with secret light. I place myself in her arms as I come into Alan, my aching body hunched over and dehydrated from this final loss of fluid. Alan collapses onto my leg and I caress his ropy muscles as he masturbates, his ejaculation marked by the sharp stiffening of his limbs.

Alan's breathing slows and he whispers, "I love you, Billy," before falling into a fitful sleep. I hold him, amazed at the simplicity of holding another human being, listening to the breath ease in and out of his body. Alan sleeps for minutes, maybe hours. I envy his peace.

"They're all gone," I tell him. "Just you and me. Just us." He snorts as if he'd heard me, then sits up abruptly. "Are we dead?" His words reverberate along the metal walls and return distorted by echo. "Are we dead, yet?"

"Alan." I say his name with the comfort of prayer.

"I don't want to die." A violent coughing seizes him. He sits up and pulls away from me. His breath rattles. I know it will end soon.

I pull him back down into my lap. He is clammy and feverish, and his ragged breath is punctuated by rasping coughs. I hold him for hours as his breath falters, then stops. There is nothing left to do. A concrete block tumbles down the stairwell, sending pebbles skittering across the floor to mark Alan's death. Then silence. The darkness becomes my own.

In this infinite dark, I am reminded of the nighttime sky of my childhood. My father stood with me beneath the stars and taught me about the huge galaxies floating in space, clusters of light and dark with millions of light years between them. My universe of cells, a swirling cosmos, is winding down upon itself, collapsing into the raw materials it was created from. Dust to dust.

I nod in peace as Melissa's smiling face carries me forward. She is wearing a blue and white gingham dress with full skirts like a country girl, made up for a costume party. Her auburn hair is pulled into pigtails and exaggerated freckles dot her face. "What are you looking at?" She flirts, elated by the power she has over me. "You dirty old man," she laughs. "We'll be late." She smiles as I take her hand and lead her upstairs.

"Then we'll be late," I tell her. I sweep her up into my arms and carry her to the bed. I tear off her panties and stand over her possessively, staring at the beauty of her white thighs and the swirl of hair that joins them. I kneel to caress her legs, inching up her thigh to the universe within her. She senses a change in mood and begins to sit up, but I press her down with the warm flat of my hand. "Please stay, just like this, so I can always remember you like this. So beautiful," I tell her stroking her skin. "Melissa, I love you."

All is white, all is light.


Sean's fiction focuses on the bizarre nature of everyday life in an attempt to make sense of the world. His short fiction has been published in Of the Flesh, Best Gay Erotica 2002 and Best Gay Erotica 2001, and has appeared online in Suspect Thoughts. He has the pleasure of editing Outsider Ink and Velvet Mafia: Dangerous Queer Fiction. Sean lives in New York with his partner, photographer Jack Slomovits, and their two dogs, Sasha and Nik Nak. Together they form, an internet design company. Sean is currently working on a novel and building a collection of short fiction. If you are interested in his work, please visit his website.

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