#1. Strong

Hey, have you ever thought about dying?

There he goes spouting all of the nonsense shit that, through a miraculous gate, always gets from his brain to his mouth in the most inconvenient moment to me. I lie on top of him, look down on his face, and the lips that know far too well how to kindle a fire of desire and anger within a man’s heart at the same time.

I sometimes wonder if you can read the most basic situations.

Like what?

Like now.

That so?

He pushes my shoulders and, with a simple maneuver and settles my whole body back down the other pillow. I watch on as his nimble fingers draw meaningless circles around my chest as if this is the first time they know of the warmth on living human skin. As if this, too, will be the last time they linger on the skin of a being with a heartbeat.

Hear that?


The beat. Ba-dump. Ba-dump. Ba-dump. What’s your heart rate?

Normally, 70 bpm.

Ain’t it a little bit too fast for that rate?

‘Cause this is not my normal. I catch his fingers, which are dancing dangerously on my ribcage, and kiss each one of them. Slowly at first, then faster, and swallow them whole. I look into his eyes, You are making it abnormal.

How so?

Can I kiss you yet?

No, but have you ever thought about dying?

He withdraws his fingers from my firm grip and looks into my eyes. An inquisitive pair of eyes. Too dark for the world. Too light for my desire. The moonlight outside the window shines its reflection on the dark irises. For a moment, I thought his eyes are the color of my mother’s beautiful silver bracelet. I can see the dazzling jewels decorating the bracelet shift slowly from their position in the past to his black pupils at the moment. Damn, I thought to myself, damn, honey. You are killing me.

Have you ever thought about dying? That pair of eyes gently asks me that question.

I am thinking of it now. Can I at least touch your chest? Please, my darling, can I at least touch your chest?

No, you have to answer my question first. He laughs as his fingers form a weak barricade in front of his flat, bony chest. I can break the blockade easily in a twist of the fingers, but the bumping of his heart makes me hesitate. Ba-dump. Ba-dump. Ba-dump. What’s his heart rate?

I already answered it.


I said I’m thinking of it now.

Don’t be a child, and answer me.

I really am thinking of it right here, right now. Quit it, and just let me touch you.

I inch closer. The down blanket and the mountain of pillows between us grow larger and heavier to get through. Who the fuck thinks of putting this many pillows on our bed? Definitely not me.

I am also thinking about it.

Of what?


I lift my head from the heavy blanket, but he turns his gaze away. Unconsciously, I keep begging him in my head. Look at me, darling, look at me. Only at me. 

We are all dying, you know. Each and every one of us. I wonder what your response will be when I die. I will lie here on the bed and say, Darling, I’m dying. And you will sit on that chair and say, Oh, don’t die. But will that ever stop me from dying?

What are you saying now? That won’t stop anything.

But you said it the other day.


I was lying here, sad, and desolate. I said, Darling, I’m depressed. Guess what you said then?

I didn’t mean it.

Wrong. You said, Don’t be depressed.

I didn’t mean it.

Why? That cures me of my depression, darling. Do you think that heals me of my depression.

I’m sorry.

Why are you apologizing? I’m not punishing you. You know what, honey? Don’t be sorry. Hey, let’s have sex. Let’s do it then, the thing you love most. Touch me.

And I touch him. Despite knowing that I’m a bastard and the worst human among all the living humans in this world, I still touch him. My palms hesitate on his chest. The veins on my fingers feel the warmth of his skin, the layer of bones on his ribcage, and the heart that is slowly beating behind it. I feel like crying. I don’t even know why, but I suddenly feel like crying. This is a heartbeat. This is yet another heartbeat. And once my palms leave this place, I can’t feel it beating anymore. So I firmly set my palms there, and close my eyes. 1, 2, 3 –

What are you doing?

I am feeling it.


The living.

He laughs and detach my octopus fingers from his chest. You’re weird, he says as he throws the down blanket on the ground and swipes the mountain of pillows down the bed. It always amazes me how he can do the things I can never be able to do.

Listen, that’s not what you should do.

He looks at me; his black irises promise an adventure of mischief and pleasure. His fingers slide down my chest, but they never really touch my skin. I quiver slightly as he bends down, his breath touches the hollow between my neck and shoulder. His lips fall on my skin like spring rain. The dead skin is itchy, but the softness is still there. Weird, I assume he will use the peach-flavor lip balm –

What are you thinking, darling?

I’m not – Oh, God.

The kisses move lower and lower, with the same tempo as my current heartbeat. Just when I think he will finally kiss me in the right place, the kisses stop.

What the hell?

I read a story the other day.

The fuck are you doing?

I feel like this is the perfect time to tell this story.

He straddles on top of me, and as my desire grows exponentially with every labored breath he takes, he lowers his pulsing chest onto my chest and whispers his goddamned story. The hot breath on my skin feels like fire, and my skin keeps on burning, burning, burning.

And I like this quote about the story, you know.

What quote?

Let’s see. So the sensei tells the student that he is a lonely man, so he is glad that the student comes to visit him so often.


And then he says that he is also a melancholy man, so he asks the student why he wants to visit him so often.


I’m a melancholy man, darling. He looked down at me. You don’t see it so often, but my melancholy is always there. I sometimes wish there is a way for you to see it, and perhaps you can take it away from me.

As he says that, I feel like his breathing grows fainter. It’s as if the warmth on my skin can disappear at any moment. As if I had been wrong right from the start. That I had picked the wrong side of the war, and thus, I had grown to be a man I detest. That he had chosen to follow the other route, and the promise to see me on the other side of the war was all a lie, because he did not pinky-swear on it. That we are children who grow up too quickly in a world that was not, and never will be, built for children. That his melancholy will be my melancholy someday, but the prophets do not tell me that yet.

I want to see your melancholy.

You don’t want to see it. He collapses onto my chest. Looking up close, his eyelashes fan out like the butterfly’s wings. You don’t want to see it. You only say that so I can let you embrace me.

You are wrong.

But I will always let you embrace me. He ignores my words. His fingers keep on drawing these meaningless circles, and I don’t know if I should be happy or sad. That’s how much I love you, darling. And that’s how much I wish for you to love me.


Because I’m a melancholy man.

He sits up. I can feel his bottom slowly slides down my waist, and it keeps going lower, lower, lower. My hands catch onto the rough, round buttcheeks, and squeezes them. He lets out a quiet sigh, then continues on his journey. The soft flesh bounces back against my palms, and I can feel it tighten up, then relax, then tighten up, then relax. It’s good, I tell him.

What’s good.

This. This is good.

Of course.

Of course what, baby? Of course, I am only after my own desire? Or of course, you are good because I’m not the only one you sleep with? Of course, I’m a simple man, and I can never escape the pleasure of the flesh?

This is what I never tell you. I look at him, bouncing up and down on top of my body. The downcast eyes, the tangled hair, the bony chest, the soft muscle on his stomach. All of it, all of it. This is what I never tell you, my darling. This is what will haunt me. This is my biggest regret and my largest comfort. This is what makes me chase after you, calling your name in the dark, again and again.

It’s good, darling. It’s good because you are alive.

You’re crying. Why are you crying?

Because you are beautiful.

That so?


But you don’t call a man beautiful.

That’s sexist.

That so? Stop crying. Come on, will ‘don’t be sad’ work?

I can’t live without you.

He stops his movement and looks at me. His eyes are like the eyes of an orphan who had stayed in the orphanage for far too long, and when all humans have abandoned him, a family comes up and says, Will you go home with us? Don’t lie, he says, that’s bad. Children shouldn’t lie.

That’s the truth. Although there is no universal truth, and my truth will never be on the same level as your truth, this is my declaration. I hold his face and make sure that he won’t avert his eyes. Look at me, darling. Look only at me. Because I can’t live without you.

That’s a lot of bullshit for someone who never thinks of dying.

He climbs down and returns to his pillow. His hand reaches for the lip balm on the nightstand, and he puts it on. The finger that just now was caressing my skin is on his lips, sliding back and forth, back and forth. He smacks his lips a few times, and when he finishes, the rough skin is now red. Not the cold-or-blue-or-whatever-it-is red that the femme fatale wears on TV. It is a pinkish-red, with a sheen gloss. And as he opens his mouth to let out a sigh, the plump lips part with a soft sound as the sticky balm refuses to let them separate.

Can I kiss you?

What’s with the sudden request?

No, but can I kiss you?

You do whatever the hell you want anyway.

Of course.

He looks at me; his brows furrow impatiently. His gaze stops at my eyes for a little bit longer than normal – the kind of normal no one wants but has to cope with anyways – then he smiles. You don’t have to smile if you don’t want to. I wanted to tell him that, but I didn’t. And as years go by, I am less afraid of what I have done than what I didn’t do.

Can a kiss heal anything, though?

He reaches out to the window panes and opens them. Outside, the stars are fading away, just like whatever we have in this room, this very moment.

You know, I heard a story.

What story?

That the stars that we see right now, they are already dead.


Don’t you think it’s lonely? People only see them when they died shining. What about when they are suffering? What about when they are happy? Or when they have an exciting story to share but the only living being there is just rocks and dirt?

But we appreciate their beauty, though, right? Like right now, we can see that they are very beautiful.

I sit up, push him over, and lie down on his stomach. Somehow, my body is all heavy, and I just want to sleep forever on his warm belly. Amidst the drowsiness and the border of dreams, I hear him talking to me, ever so soft, ever so gentle. My darling, darling, darling –

Honey, it’s not about us. It’s all about them.

Honey, feel it? This is warmth. This is a heartbeat. This is living.

Honey, have you ever realized what a marvelous coincidence it was when we are the only living things in this vast universe of dying stars?

Honey, humans are beautiful.

But honey, oh, honey, humans are extremely lonely.

And honey, if God really does love us as what they say in the bible, how can he make humans such lonesome creatures?

Honey, honey, honey –

Honey, do forgive me. I tried, I failed.

I hear a loud bell ringing constantly, one after another. My head is all heavy, and my mind is hazy. It’s as if I’m dreaming about a world that would never be. I turn off the alarm on my phone. Then the one on my nightstand. Then the one on the boudoir across the bed. Then the one on the window panes. All the places that he used to touch and live and breathe.

It’s been one year since the day he tried to fly. But the Earth’s gravity was too strong, and instead of being an angel beside God, he was just a mess. A mixture of blood, bones, flesh, and my will to live.

I look into the dressing mirror. Who’s there? Is it me? Or is it him? It seems the monster who took him away from me has finally decided to possess me. But never mind, never mind.

The phone rings. A close friend of mine.

Hey, wanna get lunch today? I tried calling in the morning, but I failed.

I stare at my reflection in the mirror, and the monster in me asks him over the phone: Hey, have you ever thought about dying?



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Author: Thanh Dinh

A writer at heart. A pessimist on the brain. I am always on the great journey of finding what it means to be living.

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