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Let me tell you about Henry. A gentle friend, with lips that smile even when he’s

not smiling. Kind, with a voice that whispers even when he’s not whispering. A body with scars in brave places. When Henry’s in the room, the lights come on. When he laughs, it’s spring. 


I winced as the kettle screamed across the kitchen. The apartment had been too

quiet since I woke up, and now it was too loud. I dropped the spent tea bag into the trash, where it landed on top of Henry’s crumpled note, bleeding sepia across his words: See you in a month


Henry was in Brussels; Henry was in Rome; Henry was visiting his mother in Hong

Kong, wearing an ill-fitting, conical hat he’d bought at a tourist-trap kiosk. The woven straw brim fell over his eyes, and his golden chin was turned up, jaw slightly askew, his teeth washed with daylight. 

I smiled in return: a modest mirror halfway around the world, the wan light from

my phone a poor imitation of the beaming, faraway sun. 


In my dream, it’s a cold day by an oblong lake. Its surface is obscured by mist, so still

that the gray is reflected down like a sheer canyon. A velvet-black pine forest lines the shore. Henry is standing a ways off, wearing a long, cloudy garment that falls to his ankles. He turns to me, his eyes two dark ghosts through the fog, and he draws in breath to call my name. 


I’ll tell you now that Henry is dead. He was dead when you started reading, and in

all probability he will be dead when you finish. 


Once, I invited a date to a party at the apartment I shared with Henry. She laughed a

lot and smelled like cheap strawberry lotion. In the dense smog of the party, I fell onto the couch and pulled her into my lap. I kissed her and she kissed me back, and when I dug my fingers into her plush waist she retaliated by holding my bottom lip hostage between her teeth. 

In the kitchen, a loud crack was followed by the sound of a champagne cork

bouncing off the stovetop. Someone snorted with laughter. 

I pulled back to catch my breath, my mouth wet, and my eyes found Henry. He was

watching us askance from the hallway, his toes just behind the threshold, heavy shadows falling over his cheekbones like a masquerade mask. I gave him a sheepish smile. When my date curled herself into me, nipping my neck, I saw his throat move. 


We’d already tried, years ago, to tell each other how we felt without using words.

We’d pressed our faces together, our lips mismatched and clumsy, our noses bending beneath our efforts. When it didn’t work, I’d just tried harder, grabbing for a lifeline in the folds of his t-shirt, until Henry had taken one of my wrists in each of his hands and placed them back in my lap: a sterile gesture, groaning under its own kindness. 

My breath had hitched with embarrassment, but he’d taken my face between his

palms, held me at a safe distance, and told me, “It’s alright, it’s alright,” until I had no other escape but to believe him. 


Just once, I told Henry about the dreams. It was almost every night: us in twin sets

of armor; us riding the train through a neon city above the clouds; us in aprons, laughing, with flour dusted up our arms. 

“They feel real,” I explained, “like other lives.”

The inward ends of his eyebrows quirked up.

I asked, “Do you believe me?”

He looked at me for a long time. Then he said, “I want to.”


In one dream that keeps recurring, he speaks and I hear bells: bells like a religion

that hasn’t been invented yet, their paeans swifting through the dusk with a sycophantic fervor. 

I’m always listening around the bells. 

I’m always asking him to repeat himself. 


There are many ways to describe how it feels when someone dies. There are many

ways to say I miss him. But there’s no way that’s unique to him. There are no words for the particular cadence of darkness left behind. 

I’m told there’s no way to call a person back from the dead. 


Henry launched himself through the front door, landing lounged on his back on

the loveseat, hands tucked behind his head and a coy smile lurking over his lips. I lifted his legs and inserted myself onto the loveseat as well, adjusting his calves over my lap. 

He stacked one heel on top of the toes of his other foot as he told me he’d met

someone: “A cutie from the finance department.” I laughed at that, but couldn’t say why. They’d gone to dinner and kissed on the bridge under the moon. 

Henry laced his hands into his hair, lolled his head back over the arm of the loveseat,

and breathed out through pursed lips. 

“I’m so happy,” he declared. 

Meanwhile, I was busy inventing an entirely new emotion: a black-hole singularity

sitting just below my stomach. I draped myself over his shins and tucked my face against their ridged denim seams. 

The room got quiet. I closed my eyes and breathed, my chest pressing, once, twice,

again, into this part of him that I could safely touch. 


In another dream we are in a twisting, nighttime alley. Green fog dances over our

heads, made liquid by the street lamps. My mouth tastes like beer. So does Henry’s. A crooked brick jabs to the left of my spine as he presses me against the wall of the empty lane. 

We’re both wearing tuxedos, and something about this is extremely funny to me. I

laugh, so he laughs, and our teeth clack together, which only makes us laugh more. Soon we’re almost doubled over, our giggles muffled by the cottony night, supporting one another, each with an arm around the other’s neck. 

“I miss you so much,” I pant. 

We both grow still then, and look, and look, and look. Henry’s face is too close to

make sense of, but his eyes are warm and bronze and fringed with moisture from laughing. His breaths huff out of him and into my mouth. He blinks. I wake up. 




Now I’ll tell you something else: Henry’s coming back. He told me. It doesn’t

matter if you believe me or not. It’s all true.


Sometimes, just before waking, I see a vision of two men sleeping cradled against

each other. I don’t know who they are, and if anyone else were to see the scene, they might say the men aren’t doing anything. But I know that’s not the case. What they are doing is loving each other. 


Jealousy is such a boring emotion, I told myself as I tucked Henry, very drunk, into

his bed. A tired emotion

I handed him a glass of water, but didn’t watch him drink. When I grumbled

goodnight, he made a noise of protest and reached out to clasp my wrist. 

“Hey,” I frowned. 

Linked by his hot palm, we waited in the orange-gray city silence. An early-morning

delivery truck beeped in the distance as it backed down an alley. Henry, propped up on one elbow, swayed a little. Then he shook his head. 

“No,” he said, far too lucidly for someone so intoxicated, “not right now” — as if I’d

suggested something. 

Then he let me go, rolled over, and began to snore. 

I walked with rigid steps to the back door and out onto the balcony. I was shaking,

the winter air like menthol in my lungs.

And, for a while, that was that.  


Before, when people said they couldn’t wait to see their dead loved ones again, I

thought they were speaking figuratively. But now I think it’s more like a promise, or a prayer: 

I will be good. I will wake up each day, and the one after that, and all the days after

that, and time will tip forward, as it does. I will not go back. I will not skip ahead. I will do it all, live through each moment, and then finally, finally, it will be over. Then finally, finally, I will see him again. 



Spring came barreling into the Bay. I sat in front of the screenless window and the

sweet breeze opened up my bones until I groaned aloud. 

I called out to Henry, “Let’s go on a trip!” 

So we did: down the state to Santa Monica, where we stood on the beach and

watched a sunset that looked like a postcard. 

I said that: “It looks like a postcard.”

Henry gave me a closed-lipped smile as the wind attempted to rip the shirts from

our chests. 

“I get kind of dizzy,” he said, gazing out to the place where the sun had just

disappeared, “thinking how we’re spinning backwards.” 

As the darkness settled, he turned and began picking his way back up the sandy

slope to the parking lot. I followed close behind him, my heart beating the same way it did when we were in a crowd and I grasped the strap of his backpack so I wouldn't lose him. 


I wake to Henry’s voice. 

The hotel room is night-city bright, and Henry is in my bed. His face is very close to

mine. Orbs of colored light spin over his cheeks, thrown from the pier down the street, where the Ferris wheel must still be turning. 

He speaks again. He’s saying my name. 

“What is it?” I ask. 

“I couldn’t sleep,” he replies. His lips barely move. I don’t see them move. But they

must. “I was cold.”

I snort. Before bed, we’d turned off the air conditioner in favor of the breeze from

the window, but now it’s uncomfortably hot. Over Henry’s shoulder, I see his bed, sheets rumpled and pillows punched into odd topographies. 

“Cold,” I repeat. 

“I missed you,” he declares.

It’s not subtle enough. I’m dreaming again.

“I always miss you,” I say, once I’m sure. 

I scooch closer, so we’re sharing the same pillow. Our noses brush. 

“Even right now?”

I take a moment to consider. “Yes.” 

Henry regards me. His eyelids give the smallest flutter. His breath catches. 

I shift my ribs toward him. My hips. 

“Well, you can’t be cold on Santa Monica Vacation,” I muse. “That’s no good.”

He grins, “I agree.”

I drape an arm around him, move as close as I can. I push one leg between his thighs

and feel the warmth there. Cold. I laugh and it tousles the feathery hair that hangs in front of his face. 

“Does this help?”

He nods, his smirk fading. Jaw set seriously, he swallows. 

“This isn’t real,” he tells me.

“I know.”

“So you can do it.” He pauses. “Whatever you want to do.” 

We breathe together for a few moments. Absently, my fingers latch onto the ledge of

his shoulder blade — the natural progression of the line my arm makes around him. 

“What do you want to do?” I ask him, as though we’re deciding which movie to


Very suddenly, he closes the space between us. His mouth, like everything else in the

Southern California midnight, is sweltering; the air punches out of me and I press myself against him, chest to shin, and our bodies slot together so neatly. 

“I’ll come back,” he says, right into my mouth, one palm pushing into my chest, “I

promise.” When I don’t answer, he draws back, asks, “Do you believe me?”

His russet cheeks. His heaving collarbone. O, the glimmer of his tongue behind his


“I want to,” I say. 

Then his lips are on mine again. I trade his shoulder blade for a fistful of hair, while

my other hand drifts down between my own legs. It’s a dream, so there is room there, even though it feels like I’m wedged against Henry’s thigh. I feel my fingers at the same time I feel the slide of his bike shorts, riding up his leg with our movement. He exists even as he doesn’t. 

I gasp, and my mouth is suddenly cold, suddenly without Henry’s. 

“Henry!” I cry out, “Where did you go?”


I woke, panting, with just enough time to press my face into the pillow. The noises I

was making were obscene in the stuffy room. 

In his own bed, Henry slept on. He looked far away, all the way across those three

feet between our beds. 

I stayed very still, face half-buried in the pillow, mouth open against the laundered

cotton, one eye free to gaze at the rise and fall of Henry’s ribs until my breaths matched his. 

He had not kissed me, and I had not felt his bike shorts riding up, and none of it

was real. 


“Sometimes I let my mind go totally blank and make my body limp,” Henry had

said earlier, before we went to sleep. “Do you think that’s what it feels like?”

His eyes reflected the gray slats of the blinds. 

“What what feels like?”





How could I tell you about Henry? I could never do it right. 

I might as well describe the way I’ve stopped watching the world. How my eyes stare

like glass from my head at the brown highway wall. How I don’t wait, anymore, to make sure the traffic stops before stepping into the street.   

No, I don’t think it’s working. I miss him beyond translation. 

But it’s good, I suppose, to be proven right: No one else is like him, and so no one is

like me. 


I was waiting at the carwash with a friend when I learned Henry was dead. I stared

at the asphalt, blinking, until suddenly I needed to leave. 

I started walking. 

I went up to a tree surrounded by a low brick wall in the middle of an empty

parking lot and I sat down on the wall and put my head between my knees. 

I wanted to scream, but I didn’t want anyone to look at me, so I mostly kept quiet.

Except for the sobs, which broke out of my throat with a groaning, coyote sound I didn’t know I could make. 

After a while, I noticed a slip of yellow paper wedged between the bricks next to me.

When I unfolded it, it was blank. No clues. No message from Henry. 

I looked up. The sun shimmered through the leaves of the tree above me. I closed

my eyes and let the warmth scatter over my face. 

I breathed in. 

A car honked at an intersection. 

I breathed out. 


Loneliness is so full of sound. It churns. 

I wake often, disturbed, feeling eyes on me from beneath my desk. 

As I return to consciousness, the fear turns to a whimpering hope, half contrived, as

I wonder if it’s him. But why would he make me afraid? Why would I hesitate before searching the room for his shape? 

Ironically, this always comforts me. There is nothing to fear anymore. No horror

could be worse than his absence. 


No one talks like Henry. I grow tired without him. 

I speak to friends. I laugh. But every interaction takes a fraction more effort than it

did with him. Every idea takes just a little more explanation. 

I never noticed it before: how easy it was to say a word and let him catch it. 

It sounds simple, but no one else quite manages it:

I spoke and he listened. 

I turned my face and he was a mirror. 

I held up one hand and he clapped.


If it weren’t for the dreams, I might forget what it was like to be with him. But every

night, there he is again. 

At first, he promises to return. Every night, a new Henry reassuring me. 

Every night, I believe him less. 

I stop talking in my dreams. I just listen. I watch him. He moves the way I

remember, but I can’t be sure. Then, after a while, he stops talking too. 

There’s one dream where we just sit, facing each other, and smile. I try to read his

mind. At the end of this dream, I always start to cry. I put my head in my hands, and Henry disappears from view. 

By the time I’ve collected myself, I’m awake.


There’s a picture of Henry on my nightstand — the one of him in the too-big straw

hat in Hong Kong. 

He was alive there. Where is he alive now?


I dream the light flashes and I see him, like a shape made of smoke caught at just the

right angle.


I dream I stand among a push of bodies mid-concert, eyes wide, mouth moving,

casting the spell that brings him back to life. Above the purple blaze of the stage and the unending sound — he’s there.


I dream I’m riding back from Henry’s funeral in the passenger seat. I drift, emptied

out and already haunted, as I watch the sunset flash between the hills. Lulled against the headrest after dark as I arrive home, I smell him when he opens the car door. 

“It’s alright,” he says, “I’m almost there.”

Smiling, eyes closed, I let him lead me into the apartment. He steers me down the

hallway and into bed, and he climbs under the covers beside me, and we fall asleep. And we both wake in the morning, alive, to the screaming of the gulls, the backfiring of cars, the broad and faraway rushing of the sea. 

And it goes on like that, on and on, all that time, so much time it means nothing. 

So much time we forget, somewhere along the way, how to grieve.


And then…the waking up. The stench of the city. The crows floating like magic on

the blue air. The light slanting silent through the pines. It’s almost too much, almost always. 

But then again, sometimes it isn’t. 


I was sitting under a tree when I learned Henry was alive. He called me just as I was

thinking about getting up, because the roots had started to dig into my thighs. When I saw his name light up my phone screen, I didn’t react at first. 

The breeze shushed through the leaves above me. I tasted metal. 


“Hey!” He sounded out of breath. “Can you come home? I’m here.”

I’ve never run like that before — like everything else had better get out of my way. 

I burst into the apartment, and there he was: framed with late afternoon light, hair

burnished bronze where the sun hit it. Dust swirled around him when he turned toward me, as if he’d just arrived. 

“Oh!” He breathed when he saw me.

A dog barked outside. 

He grinned, eyes glittering, nose red. “You look like you saw a ghost.”

I couldn’t move. I squeezed my eyes shut and covered my face with my hands and stayed very still, a cornered creature with nowhere left to go. 

I heard Henry’s weight shift, crunching over the dust of the unswept floorboards. I

flinched as his palms cradled my wrists and I thought of that night so long ago, when we’d tried and failed to kiss each other. Then his lips, chapped and warm, pressed into the center of my forehead. 

I sobbed and dropped to my knees. My head fell against Henry’s stomach, nestled

into the soft space beneath his ribs. 

“You promised you’d come back,” I said, muffled.

“In your dreams?” He asked. He was stroking my hair, from the top of my head to

the nape of my neck, over and over and over.

I looked up at him. The glow from the window was so bright I could hardly make

out his face. 

“And?” He finally said, fingers tangled in my hair, “Did you believe me?”

Theo Zucker (they/he/she) lives in Chicago, where they write stories, perform Shakespeare, and lend their voice to audio dramas. A lover of fantasy and magical realism, Theo's writing is influenced by their fascination with time, memory, and all the magic just out of sight.

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