Seth and Serina Go On Tour
I met you in the suicide ward.
In a group therapy session they claimed would make us feel less alone, you sat across from me with your dark tussled hair and sunken eyes. You were wearing a stained denim jacket with patched elbows and torn sleeves. The group leader told each of us to go in a circle and exchange compliments with someone else to get the ball rolling. When the circle got to me, I told you your jacket made you look homeless and you told me my haircut made me look like an ugly dyke. We were both asked to leave. When we parted at the door, I told you to go fuck yourself and you told me to go to Hell.
I didn’t feel alone anymore.
In the night, I could hear you play guitar through the paper-thin hospital walls. And even though I had thick bandages around my wrists, and my fingers were cold and sore, I picked up my ukulele and harmonized to your melody. We played on and on into the night, together and apart, until the nurses asked us to stop. And then we played some more until they took our instruments away.
I was hooked.
At breakfast you sat next to me with your plastic tray of cold scrambled eggs and undercooked bacon. As you shoveled food into your mouth, you said, “We’re a bunch of grade A fuckups around here, you know. Can’t even get dying right.” And then you looked at me with your pretty brown eyes and said your name was Seth. I told you I cut my hair so short because I thought it might help me disappear. I liked throwing parts of myself away, little by little. You laughed a little and told me you wore that awful denim jacket because you had it on the last time you remembered feeling something. You thought it might help to chase the numbness away.
I knew you were one of my kind.
We played our music together behind the hospital by the garbage cans where there were no cameras. I sang what I felt and plucked my ukulele along to whatever melody you strummed to life with your guitar. We played for hours – you and I and the trash. All of us were discarded and forgotten, and we felt closer to those faulty toys and empty chocolate boxes than we did to the friends who sometimes came to visit in our sterile white rooms. We were so broken, but somehow our sharp edges fit together perfectly to create something soft and light and beautiful – like jagged jigsaw pieces coming together to make a sunflower. We sang our sunflowers at the top of our lungs – you and I and the trash, protesting our place in the world behind this hospital in this brisk night air and its stale sickly scent. So determined to prove that we were so much more than the sum of our grey parts.
I felt like I was more than I was with you.
When the moon came up – just before the nurses found us and dragged us back inside, you presented me with a challenge. You said, “Whoever dies first wins. No matter what happens, no cheating this time.” I looked at my wrists and you touched your neck and we shook hands and promised neither of us would call the reaper again.
I knew you were here to stay.
When the apocalypse came, we were out of the hospital, sharing a closet-sized apartment filled with music and bright yellow flowers. The men on the television gave reports intercut with shaky footage of moaning monsters and violence and gore. They urged us to stay in our homes until help arrived. You watched those reports from the pillows we laid out on the floor instead of a sofa, your legs crossed neatly in front of you. The flashing white glow of the T.V. set dyed your skin silver and you smiled at me and said, “I think we should go on tour.”
We put on our battle armor – my gelled pixie cut and your old jacket, and we did.
We played our puzzle-piece sunflowers in bars full of terrified people drinking to forget and drinking to remember and drinking because it was all they knew how to do anymore. We played in empty parks and looted grocery stores and vacant office buildings in seas of abandoned papers floating in the wind. We played as the undead grew more numerous and the living less so. We played for fear, for love, for hate, for death, for life, for numbness, for pain, for everything, for nothing. It didn’t matter. We just played.
We played until my ukulele and your guitar were the only music left on Earth.
People would come from far and wide when they heard us sing. They would stumble forward in their rags, fed on canned beans and sick with fear. They would drag their bloodied crowbars and baseball bats behind them and seek us out from wherever they’d been hiding. We sang our sunflowers and they watched us like we were the only thing that mattered. I saw peace on their tired faces - and I saw them become sunflowers too. For just a moment all those weary grey eyes would fill with brilliant yellow light and soak in the sun.
We crossed oceans.
We flew around the world in little aircraft with frightened people looking for their families or their lovers or some impossible place where they would be safe. We played for the pyramids, and all those long dead Kings. We played for deserted streets, and empty cafés and piles of corpses and swarms of monsters ripping humans limb from limb. When we found people, they always asked how we did what we did. We would tell them, “If you always lived like you were dying, the apocalypse doesn’t make much of a difference.”
We barely noticed it.
We climbed the Eiffel tower and sang from its peak, and we wandered into the ruins of the Sistine chapel. I saw chunks of its fallen ceiling – faces, and robes, and a painted hand outstretched; reaching for God. I touched the far wall and told you I felt like Michelangelo – the way he’d painted himself as the empty husk of flayed skin held by Saint Bartholomew. A fat tear rolled off my chin and you told me we all feel like Michelangelo sometimes. Knee deep in rubble, we played our broken sunflowers for Michelangelo and God and the human race and nothing at all. We just played.
We witnessed God fail.
We wandered into decaying cathedrals and stadiums and if there were emergency generators, we would turn on the hot yellow spotlights and play for hundreds of thousands of empty seats. Our voices would echo over entire decaying cities, out into the dusty grey wind, and for a moment the world would seem alive again. When the zombies were drawn to the light, you would kick them off the stage and crush their rotting soft skulls with your guitar. You would pull me close with a bloodied hand, and kiss me in front of all those seats filled by ghosts and emptiness and dust.
We were all that was left.
When the rest of the human race fell completely silent – and no matter how loudly we played, no one would shuffle out of the void to crouch by our fire and listen to our music and tell us their stories, when there was no one left but us, we played for each other. “We’re a couple of grade A fuckups, you know,” you said, “can’t even get dying right. Everyone else seems to have gotten the hang of it.”
We couldn’t go on forever.
When I was finally bitten, and my sweat soaked through my clothing, I couldn’t sing or hold my ukulele anymore, so you held me and sang for me. You took off your old denim jacket and wrapped it around my shoulders when I began to shiver. You kissed my forehead and told me you didn’t need it anymore because the moment you met me, you could feel again. And I told you the moment I met you I didn’t want to disappear. I said I decided I didn’t mind being a grade A fuckup so long as you were one too. You laughed through your tears, pushed a short piece of sweat-drenched hair behind my ear, and agreed.
You’re still holding me.
Here by the fire, I can still see those tears on your face. I know my humanity is slipping away. My life flashes before my eyes in odd fragmented shorts. But even as everything else grows muddy and confused, and my skin gets cold and grey and my eyes turn milky white, I remember you. I can’t remember anything clearly but you. As the orange light of the fire licks at your sleeve, I can see a gun in your quivering hand, pointed at yourself. My ukulele is crackling to dust in the fire, your guitar beside it, but not caught aflame quite yet; hissing orange fingers tickle its belly. You tell me you couldn’t bear to kill me, and don’t want to see me turn. You tell me you’re sorry for breaking your promise. I slowly reach up and grab the barrel; with wet shaking hands I pull it toward my own sick head. Using the last of my energy, I string two words together; “no cheating.”
You shut your eyes and pull the trigger.
I guess I win.
As the world fades away, you sing to me. You sing those beautiful broken sunflowers we created together, and I feel like a sunflower myself. A smiling yellow thing, soaking in the light. I can hear you sing, and as it grows quieter and you begin to wash away like footprints in the sand, I hear you whisper, “I never told you how much I love you. I always liked to think you knew.”
I always did.
I met you in the suicide ward.
Now you’re the last man alive. When your life ends, humanity will end with you. But it will end singing it’s protest – it will end growing sunflowers and proving it was always so much more than the sum of it’s grey parts.
But then, I think that’s what life was all about to begin with.