Significant Others

Sienna Liu

June 28, 2022


They live in this old farmhouse in rural Italy. I’ve seen pictures of it on Instagram. They always manage to look as sunny as those lemon trees. To get there you need to take a plane, a train, followed by a bus. When she opens the front gate for me I think, do you know how hard it is to find a good excuse to go through all that? She knows, of course.

She puts on a record. She is holding a glass of grapefruit juice. Her feet are wrapped in faded linen, and her steps are dewy. I only have my exhausted eyes. We are equally eerie. I say to her, “So, how have you been?”

She smiles and talks about her travels, the weather, unfamiliar sounds, mirrors that can never be wiped clean. She has been sleeping a lot, drinking a lot, sleeping and drinking without even knowing she is doing it.

I begin to peel a tangerine. One of us tries to tell a joke. The other tries to laugh. Erasable words.

Time has etched things on to our bodies and we have to cover them up with glances and distance. When we were thirteen, she claimed she could make anyone fall in love with her. We were at some crossroads near school. She was pushing her bike, I remember, and her uniform was at that moment full of wind. I thought she looked like a kite that was going to fly away any minute.

Was he there when this happened? She was thinking about this too. An August, quiet and sultry. The only sound was that of the cicadas, who didn’t know they were about to die and thought themselves very young and important. An August when we shared a copy of A Hundred Years of Solitude in that little classroom bathed in blue light. We tied up the old blue curtains so they looked like a huge bra whenever there was wind. A hundred years is longer than a century in Chinese, I told them. A hundred years is ambiguous in Chinese. Hundred. Year. García Márquez didn’t like the Chinese. Our copy was a pirated copy, because García Márquez didn’t like the pirating that was rampant here and never granted the rights to any Chinese publisher. So we looked at that pirated copy together, where strange things happened because of bad translation.

Many years later, I was to remember that distant afternoon, when... Many years later. That distant afternoon. That distant afternoon, when...

I close my eyes and open them again. I say to her, “So, I heard he died alone in a foreign country.”


And what’s strange is that I'm not alarmed by the word “died”, but the word “alone”. You see?

She laughs and says, “Yeah, we are both old enough to have poet friends and dead friends.”

Sometimes the poet friends are as real as the dead ones. She turns to face me, and when our eyes meet I remember the desire I once had. The desire for flesh and bone. The desire to tear things apart and swallow them down. Ants are gnawing at my nails. My mind is full of scissors. But my body is stiff and dry. My desire is not for another human. I don’t know what humans are. I only know skin, hair, blood vessels, tongues, lips, and bones.

Did I just say something very bad? No.

I close my eyes and open them again. I think I’m about to cry, or she is about to cry. For the man who died alone in a foreign country. For our terrible, terrible shared loves. It is the same inevitable thing. But no. When I open my eyes again I see him walking out of a room and into the sun. He walks very slowly in the sun, like an old poem I used to know.

Meanwhile, she has her arms crossed. I remember that once she threw her phone into a trash can on the street because she didn’t like the text message he had just sent her. A profound tragedy obviously lacking in meaning. But I was happy to be the only witness.

I see myself in the image of another person, stout and wordless. Possibly a headmistress with parched lips.

He continues to walk. He is halfway here. Life expectancy has more than halfway to go while healthcare and inheritance join hands to guarantee his well-being, at least for what goes outside. And he lives with the perpetual burden he now knows to be completely reasonable. It has finally reached a certain equilibrium with the consciousness that wanted to negotiate more privacy. Now it is all his. Efficient as sewage, he is made public, connected, served and paid for, just like that time he announced with his voice that he needed to be taken care of.

With sorrowful eyes they look at me. Something is stinging my left shoulder. Perhaps a cactus. Why is there a cactus in this part of the country? They stand next to each other and look at me like they are looking at a portrait of a dead person.

Sienna Liu is a writer of prose and poetry based in London. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cotton Xenomorph and A Velvet Giant. Her debut poetry chapbook, Square, was published by Black Sunflowers Poetry Press. Check it out here.