WE DON'T BURN OUR BODIES

Elizabeth Ho

We don't burn our bodies. Not that we don't want to, because it'd save us a lot of trouble digging through meters of soil and sand until we reach the remnants of the mega paleolake that our tupuna once called Taupō-nui-a-Tia. We don't burn our bodies because a year ago when we burned Mareikura (our last astronaut, sommelier and pastry chef) the fine dust particles in the air ignited and carbonized half of us to a blackened crisp. Our empty stomachs growled at the smell of meat, but it was pure ash in our mouths. That night the remaining 12 of us raided Mareikura's secret stash of thousand-year-old fermented honey and pear, letting the faint flowery notes swell on our tongues as our bodies consoled one another.

After the Mareikura incident, we left the distress beacon perpetually on because we realized we were foolish to try and revive the land that was once home. The soul of the land has long departed, and it shows with craters like curved jawbones, mountains like ragged teeth, rivers as dry as tear ducts. But we didn't account for the diseases that we incubated in our own blood and cells to be our downfall. We're rabid with bored, neigh on recklessness to give into the urge to join our sweaty bodies as one and forgo any thought of the painful death that awaits immediately following climax. We argue who to blame – the land, or our biology?

This is what happened to Jerome. Reality got under his skin, pressed heavily against his chest, clawing at his empty stomach, made him desperate and horny. He's why we're all outside on a -23F morning instead of sleeping through nonexistent breakfast. Choi should be in the sand with him. He knew he was an immune carrier but still slept with Jerome. Pearl, our virologist/renowned banjo player, is back at the ship taking tissue, semen, and blood samples from Choi. We hope she's not gentle.

Nagamo sings as he digs while his twin, Niimi, kicks up sand as she dances. We weren't sure of what they did until we started dying. It's odd now to think of burying a body in silence, without the sounds of feet dragging through sand or the throaty warbling of words. The rest of us lie in a circle around them like smoke-drunk bees, tilting our heads away from the sun as we await our turn to dig. We watch the shadows grow and fade under the cover of the long white clouds before we can slip Jerome's body into the hole. Shiro picks up the shovel, ceremoniously scooping up sand and tenderly drizzles it over Jerome's naked body. Niimi stops dancing. Nagamo lets his song die away. Unmoving, we stand watch, each of us thinking about the courage it would take to let the tranquility of a shared orgasm cradle us just before death.