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In the quiet

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You're fighting zombies. You've got guns and knives, a baseball bat, rusty scissors, a brick, a pipe. You've got time—your eyeballs are sore against the wind, your skin is burning under the sun, your breath is hurting your throat going in and out, in and out—but you've got time. Time is stretching because she's smiling at you, a shiny smile in the sun even though her skin is burning and her eyeballs are aching too. Tears are leaking onto her cheeks but they're tears of love. And you're both going to die, no way around it, and so she wants the fire that you want. She chooses life and you, and she steps in and her fingers touch yours. Your skin is singing and you lean in to her smile and her breath is sweet on your tongue—despite days of hunger, despite days of water that tastes like blood. She's happy because you're happy. And you're together at the end of the world.

You meet in a library. You're quiet and taking up a tiny amount of space and she bowls up and spills herself all over you. She's not looking where she's going, she's striding through the world, eating up the space around her, each kick of her strong legs moving the globe underneath. She's too beautiful for this small stunted space and you wonder what she's doing here. She's laughing with a friend as she helps you pick up your books (you instantly hate the friend) and she's talking so fast and she's clever. You know you're just as clever and you could impress her, make her laugh so hard she'd notice you—oh yes—but instead you're closed and put away like the books she puts in your hands. From the friend you learn her name is Taystee. Taystee, Taystee, Taystee: take a trip on my tongue from my lips to my teeth and kiss me with the kisses of your mouth. Your heart is thumping but your body is shocked silent and she smiles at you as she walks away. A smile to say—sorry I bumped into you, a smile to say hello, and a smile to say goodbye.

You knock on her door. She opens it after a slow minute. You're here to sell Avon and you smile at her. It's 2:59pm and she's wearing a faded silk robe and fluffy slippers. The light in the hallway is dusky but you can see her eyes are swollen from crying. Instead of your patter you ask if you can do anything to help, and she invites you in for tea and company. She makes the tea with deft hands, but her breath is coming quickly and from where you are seated at the kitchen table you can see the silk moving against her chest. You are trapped dry-mouthed in your desire to lift the robe away from her shoulders and kiss her breasts. But she needs someone to talk to and you'll do. So she tells you the story of her life and after a while you're the one crying. Then it's night outside and you're both exhausted but the kitchen table has become a secret paradise. Her face is kind and beautiful and across the table she's looking at you. You look back and let her see your eyes as you imagine laying her down on the table and parting the robe over her breasts, sliding down the silk to expose her nipples. You close your eyes to see her image better and then she's gone.

You're on a cruise ship. It's your honeymoon. You're crazy in love and surrounded by old couples. They smile fondly at you. You drink cocktails and chastely dance away the night like lovers too shy to take the next step, just excited to be in each other's arms. You play to your elderly audience, kissing her hand and leading her off the dance floor like a princess. Now it's dark and you're between her thighs. Kissing her lips and running your tongue all over her wet, swollen skin. Licking into her and holding her legs apart as they begin to shudder. Licking and sucking and listening to her breath catching, feeling her hands gripping your shoulders, and then surging up and taking the peak of one breast in your mouth, swirling your tongue around the dark nipple, tasting and nibbling and squirming over her luscious body as her hands slide over your back and your ass, then surging up again and kissing her so deeply, and she's kissing you back now, her tongue deep in your mouth, searching for her own sweet taste in your mouth. Then you're back down between her legs and you never want to surface, encased in her scent and pillowed by her flesh. You drag your tongue over her clitoris and suck it into your mouth, tonguing it and kissing it and pulling it in again and again as her thighs strain open and her blood beats a rhythm and your grip tightens as she starts to buck.

You're in prison. She's your best friend. She trusts you and she loves you, and you love her and you try to be worthy. She's the A to Z. Without her you'd be a shell around nothing. She makes happiness out of kitchen scraps, she makes jokes out of recycled air. She smiles at you every morning. She elbows you, trips you, challenges you, she's in a gang with you, she makes you laugh, she dazzles you with words, with her boundless beauty. You remind yourself every day that love is making her days seem shorter, love is saving her a place, remembering a story, inventing a game. Small kindnesses to frighten away the time.

You're lost and alone in a sea of breathing, but you can't breathe. Your heart hurts. A cough. Someone turns over. Someone whispers quietly in the dark. You can't see her outline against the wall, only the dark space between you and the darker shadow of her bed. She's the daylight in your life, she's everything good in your life, and you promise yourself you won't sully her by dreaming anymore.