When This is Over
a prose piece by Yunseo Chung
When summer comes, it brings a sickly-sweet yellow that sticks to the back of your tongue. It seeps through the ceiling and into the floor. The sun burns brighter and brighter every day, like she wants to make our lungs explode into flames to have just a minute of peace, like she wants to shove us down her 27-million-degree throat to keep us quiet. The ozone layer never stood a chance, not against the sun. Not against its own people, who built buildings to scrape the sky and screamed when we wanted more. Really, I think the universe is tired of us. The Earth stopped spinning in March, hasn’t budged in its orbit in months. We never stood a chance.
Maybe, when all of this is over, we can be a little more careful. We can try again, let the flowers grow back and wait for the stars to return. We can do it right this time – hold hands, speak softly. And when we pass each other strawberries in the cafeteria, I won’t miss a second of your unmasked smile. But I know this is just wishful thinking. It’s too late to change the past.
Still, when we die, maybe we can do it together.
Maybe we can move to Mars together, sitting too close for comfort (but close just because we can), in the spaceship that’ll rip us from this life and take us to another. Your warmth will bleed into mine, thigh-to-thigh and denim-against-denim, and I’ll die happy. Maybe this was the plan all along.
When the sun rises, she opens the door to a house that hasn’t breathed in months. Maybe not ever. It sees a girl, splayed awkwardly at the bottom of the stairs, choking on her maybes. It takes one look and walks out, stoic. In her defense, this is how it’s always been. There is no other version of this story.
I wish life was kinder. I wish summer would have offered a helping hand, smiled soft and warm instead of turning on its heel. Maybe it does, in another life. In a past life.
I hope it does. I hope it did.
There is a boy, and there is a girl. He likes her more than the summer heat, and the sun shines happily on them, kind and not jealous. He would do anything for her, I’m sure. They’re high school sweethearts, had a making-out-under-the-bleachers kind of love that made everybody jealous. Then, they were college sweethearts; then, both doctors. Now, they live on Main Street with 2.5 kids and a golden retriever. When they die, it’ll be within a day of each other. The sun will mourn their bodies and celebrate their souls.
A plane shakes in the sky, halfway between Seattle and Singapore. The pilot comes on the intercom and says, “The turbulence wasn’t forecast, apologies from the crew. It should be smooth sailing – flying – from here on out.” The passengers laugh out of kindness. No one is angry, no one is in a hurry. This flight is about the journey, not the destination.
It’s summer. I press the boom mic to my ribs, live-stream my heartbeat. The neighborhood dances to it. I’m pulsing with sweet red blood, unafraid of life.
You live in a two-story house. It has a nice-sized backyard, but not the big front porch you wanted. That’s okay. This life is about compromises.
But maybe you shouldn’t have bought the house, excited because they sold it to you seventeen thousand dollars below market price. Maybe you shouldn’t have compromised anything at all. Compromises brought us here. We were too happy in our past lives; we used up all our luck.
Now, the world is diseased, on fire, flooded, corrupted, unkind. It has to be this way. That’s how it works.
We lay on my childhood bed, blankets tossed to the side to make room for the heat. You tell me that we’re done for. I listen wide eyed, try not to believe you too much. When the sun sets, I look away.
When the boy goes through life, he never meets the girl. He meets another boy, though. But all he ends up being is someone else to watch him die.
A plane flies off of the edge of the Earth and is never heard from again. When people need a distraction from the fire, they’ll trade stories of what they think happened.
I should tell someone that I’m not afraid to die.
You live in a two-story house. It has a nice-sized backyard, but not the big front porch you wanted. That’s okay. There’s no one to share it with, anyway.
The city makes a graveyard out of the public park. The sun doesn’t bat an eye at the body bags.
When summer comes, it brings death. The people are used to it, so they throw parties at the beach.
I wish this life was kinder to us. I’m sorry – sorry about my awkward knees in the doorway. Sorry about the mess in my room and at the bottom of the stairs. I’m sorry there’s no Diet Coke; I didn’t think that far ahead. Sorry about the sun dripping down the walls. Sorry that we ruined it all.
Cover Photo Source: Oyvind Lien