Somewhere out in space there is a planet orbiting a dying star. The planet is crumbling away, little by little, as the star pulls it into its deadly embrace. They are both ancient, one of them shedding its last light as though shedding thick winter fur, the other gliding soundlessly through a floating field of ice. You read about it somewhere when you were still alive. You found it quite poetic, really: two astral bodies drawing closer as they die, as though huddling together before the lights go out.
You’re free to go there now. One of the first things you did when leaving your body was to see how far you could go – and sure, there was something exhilarating about flying over the cities you used to live in, but that was nothing compared to leaving Earth’s atmosphere. No boundaries. No limits. You flew to the Moon and when you came back, your family were only just starting on the canapés at your mother’s house. You were happy to have missed the frightening homilies about how Christ would absolve you of your sins – the Christian funeral had been for your grandparents’ sakes, so you aren’t mad at anyone for choosing it. It didn’t mean you had to put yourself through it though, so you didn’t bother.
Your hands still glitter with moondust as you follow your girlfriend home. You wonder if it would be civil to try and make her notice you now, when they only just buried you. You decide against it. Perhaps out of politeness, or perhaps because you’re too scared to take the chance and realize that she won’t ever notice you again. You follow her up the stairs into her room. You have entire galaxies to explore but for all the excitement of it, all that freedom, you feel suddenly daunted. You want to stay within these four familiar walls, if only for a time. There are other smaller mysteries you’re free to spy on, and you’ve always wondered what she’s like when she’s all alone with no one to pretend for. You tuck her in on that first night and her hair glitters with moondust as you run your hand over her head.
You learn that she talks to herself a lot. You learn that she sneaks cheese up into her room and sings really loudly when she thinks no one’s around. You learn that she stares at herself in the mirror a lot, but more in a silent, curious way than just to check out her butt (though she does that, too). For the first few months, she sleeps with your tattered green scarf draped around her rather than pyjamas, and your aftershave sprayed all over her cushion. She now wears that white-gold necklace you’d brought back from Egypt for her, the one she’d forgotten at the bottom of a drawer when you were still alive. She collects pieces of your old life like relics and handles them as delicately as if they were your bones. The way she runs her hands along the folds of your scarf almost makes you feel jealous. But you learn that that jealousy is nothing compared to what’s coming.
When she starts to bring men home, you go back to exploring the world. You slip down to the deepest places of the sea, the twisting caverns under the earth. You take stones and fossils from the places you set your astral feet, carrying them in your transparent pockets. Then once you feel yourself ache for familiarity again, you travel back, slip between the cracks of her bedroom door frame and glide over the bed, where she’s naked and entwined with some new undeserving sack of limbs. You look. You turn away. You place your treasures in the pockets of her coat and you stroke the cheap magenta fabric, thrown as it is over the back of her rickety desk chair. The collar smells of a new perfume. It suits her well. Maybe she’ll notice something rough against her fingers when she wears it. Maybe she won’t. You don’t hang around to see.
You travel to Mars, sink your fingers into its cold red sand. Pocket a pebble or two. You travel to the far reaches of the Kuiper belt, skip between the asteroids, and you hope the ice you’ve collected won’t melt before you can reach Earth again. Every couple of weeks, you bounce back. Every couple of months, you decide to make the trips longer. You break into observatories – well, you glide through the walls, really – and steal coordinates for places you want to go. And finally, you find its exact location – the dying planet and its dying star. You travel there, and the sight of them performing their slow, soundless dance would’ve moved you to tears if you still had physical tear ducts. You scrape a chunk of black ice from the crumbling giant. There are pieces of its great body floating all around you, but you want to take something that isn’t quite dead yet. You want to take away a piece of its still-throbbing skin.
When you get back and find her, she’s sitting on a public bench by a quiet river. She’s wearing the coat, and her hands are in its bulging pockets. You approach her from behind, notice the glimmer of gold on her neck under the lovebites, notice a shiny wetness gathering in the corners of her smile. She still has moondust in her hair and you’re falling in love with her all over again as you watch her, sitting utterly still while all her rage and sadness bursts out of her, unrelenting. You come closer and drop the scab of the dying giant into her pocket. She seems to relax, the lines on her forehead disappearing, her smile easing into a soft, thoughtful line. You step back as she stands up and begins walking. Her heels sink into the soft earth as she walks towards the river through the long grass, across the silt and pebbly, uneven ground. The water comes up to her knees and she’s walking, and you’re watching from the riverbank. You don’t know what to do. The water’s up to her waist now. You step forwards. Do you want this? you ask yourself. Could this be what you wanted from the beginning, when you started filling her pockets with stones?
The water is up to her lips, then her nose. She closes her eyes, lets the current sweep her feet up and she’s drifting, a last tangle of reddish hair stroking the surface of the water before disappearing beneath.
You plunge into the river after her, grab onto her ankles, follow her through the surge of the current. You climb up her body, trying to find her hands, and for the first time – her hands grasp yours. She notices you. When you pull her out of the water, you’re both laughing, both floating, and neither of you spare a passing thought for the body that continues on its way, at the bottom of the river, pockets full of places no human will ever travel to for thousands of years.
You’re holding each other on a slippery rooftop and when you’ve had enough of just looking at her looking back at you, you say:
‘Come with me. There’s something I want to show you.’
Previously published in the UKCCWS Illustrated Anthology Vol. 4 (2017) with the accompanying illustration.
Lilly is a freelance writer, editor and artist who loves working on new projects and keeps forgetting to look for a Real Job. She is writing two novels at the moment and trying to find the time to get better at art along the way. You can contact her at email@example.com or commission some artwork from her at https://lillywhiteart.tumblr.com/commissions (warning: mature content).