So began the summer of our countries circling like vultures winged and blood-ready for flight. When we stepped into butchery and found our bodies had evaded us, and how no one dared to row your body back across the Atlantic, the whole town perking up at the smell of metal and whispering tragedy beneath the streetlights. And it is tragic, death in America, not because every avenue after midnight seems to become a cityscape with all the little lights blinking out; or because your mother was still waiting for us to come home months after we came home, but because we did not die in a great many cities very far from here, the kind of cities where death is always waiting for girls like us and girls like us deliver. Dip our feet into its jaws like the girls we laughed at by the August river, the ones who couldn’t help but proclaim its frigidity to the world, so often that the residents came to know the word cold. And I came to know your face, peach-splotched and slick with grease, with the sunscreen your mother packed into tupperware as if we’d need it in the weeks before we left, the days before it was decided we would not return. Turns out my college self is still streaming out behind us like the flag we hung from the car’s antennae, the flag we never got shit for because we could speak the language as good as the natives, as good as the natives we pretended we weren’t. In America we could erase anything we wanted from the cloth of memory, and America could erase any of us. We could have been those girls washing blue on American shores, who here have no words to be understood, who painted their bodies for the nightlights. We could have been the girls who made it home. Descending into a swarm of arms in an airport terminal, every flight path empty because there was nowhere else to go now, no ancient ruins to desecrate, no alcoves to duck into at midnight to press our slimy lips against the same man, lips still pressed hours later but the street around us empty, every light still blinking, every avenue still open, every eye still watching, still toasting us through open windows. And when the morning spread a lighter palette against your skin I could not wake you, not because you were so beautiful, which, of course, was true, but because your heart had stopped beating hours ago. Every window, every avenue shuttering, how I could never leave the city of our firsts and lasts, the city of my birth. All the lights blinking out, I could have said any number of things: a little prayer, the steps to the dance we taught your grandmother and her friends in the piazza at daybreak—O, how they laughed and cried a bit because they would never again be as happy as we were, never fill their bodies or another’s so well. In the end I did none of this, rendered mute as the American girls we laughed at, the ones no one else will ever remember. So I sat inside the mouth of darkness as your body was enveloped into silence, said: Suppose there was a house at the edge of the city that survived even this. Suppose you lived there.
Nikki Velletri is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, the National YoungArts Foundation, and the National Park Service, amongst others, and can be found in Kingdoms in the Wild and L’Ephemere Review.