What if the world was stuck, frozen, and we could go anywhere we wanted, together?
I died in the springtime, the season when we first fell into each other. I fell into her hands like water. Then came the rest of her—untouched skin and hair that got everywhere—but I didn’t mind. Pieces of her left behind on my pillows, on my shirt, in my food. Her hair that smelled of oranges, peeling, peeled. We were only second-year students when we met. I don’t remember the day, but rather the days. Days when the sky started to get sticky, and flower petals spun around our heads. On hot days, we would dip our toes in the pond and kick the water lily pads. Her laughter spilled into the summer like a bubbling creek. In the fall, she would write me poems about the trees being on fire. In the winter, her fingers froze into glass—I wanted to cradle them. Spring came again, a rainy season that year. She looked so still with her wet hair and clean face lit under the moon. I remember looking at her like that night we walked into the pond with all our clothes on. She plunged her head under the surface, then dragged me down into the water with her. We held our breath forever. Our eyes stayed wide open under water as we giggled bubbles out of our noses. Then she rose, her head breaking the water’s edge, and I followed.
Our time together during the day was sacred because we only met at night in secret. Sometimes we were lucky, and she could stay in my bed until the early hours of the morning. Just a little longer, we’d say to each other. We’d keep the curtains open so the sun would wake us the moment it was daybreak. Then, for a few minutes, we could look at each other up close in light we had never seen each other in. The flare of dawn, illuminating our faces in ways that were forbidden. The hues of pink from the window warming her skin, her hands more beautiful because in that moment, they were mine. “What would we do if no one remembered us?”
What if the world was stuck, frozen, and we could go anywhere we wanted, together? What if, instead of the pond, we had an ocean to ourselves? What if, when you pulled me under the surface, we never rose back up for air? What if, instead of the trees on fire in the schoolyard, it was the whole world? And what if I could hand it to her, give her the world in my palms, even if it burned my fingers? But our world together was very small and very short-lived. There were no oceans in our world, no vastness, no freedom. Only glimpses of each other in the day, and our bodies clinging to each other as long as they could at night.
It was the feeling that my body had been turned inside out when I realized I was no longer myself in a human form, but a butterfly. She was far below me, curled at the feet of my tombstone like a child, waiting. Her quiet sobs were like song to me. The music of someone you love grieving you. My butterfly form was blue, a body with no flesh or bones, so light it almost felt familiar to my human body in its final days. I floated down to her crying on my tombstone, but she didn’t notice me. I flew and landed on her back and sat with her for hours as she mourned my corpse. She cried into the night, her face buried in her hands, hiding from the reflection of the moon. When morning came, she finally crawled to her feet and walked home. I followed her. She opened the stone wall’s gate with a little silver key. For years, I followed her around, always unnoticed. I started to wonder if I was an invisible butterfly, but other people seemed to acknowledge me. “What a beautiful butterfly,” a man once said as I floated by, trailing behind her. I always kept some distance from her—when she went in the house, I floated up to her windowsill. She spent most of her days in bed, and I feared she was falling into the same prison that I had before I died. Part of me hoped she would die, so that she could be a butterfly with me and we could fly freely. But to watch her wither away, was a new pain. She cut her hair that used to fall all over me—it was becoming brittle.
One day when I was following her home from the market, she dropped her vegetables. Someone stopped in their tracks and helped her pick up the mess. I hovered over her while they conversed, met each other. I was there when they showed up at her stone wall, asking her to have dinner one night. I was there when they first kissed by the water. I was there by the window when they slept in the same bed, rising together in the morning. I was there for the world they built together, the world we only dreamt of living. I was there to see all the things I wanted so badly to do with her. I was a small piece etched into a world I thought would be ours.
I followed them, exhausted, to the ends of their world. Finally, I perched myself on a flower nearby as they sat on a bench. She rested her head on their lap and drifted off into a light sleep. They sat still, only moving their head around to take in the world around them. Eventually their head turned so that my flower was in their line of sight.
“Look at that,” they said.
She sat up and turned to look at me. For the first time since I had died, she had seen me.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” they said.
“Yes,” she said. “It is.”
So I flew away.