He handcuffed us to a water pipe running along the floor next to a pile of boxes full of chocolate. Then he lit the boxes on fire.
“This is what love gets you,” he said. “Killed. It will tear you apart, every time.”
“You didn’t get killed,” I told him. “You loved your wife.”
“This isn’t living,” he said.
Then he left.
The chocolate boxes burned, and the chocolate in them melted, and for awhile the melted chocolate slowed the fire down slightly. The melted chocolate flowed toward us and soon we were sitting in a pool of melted chocolate. I put my hand in the chocolate and lifted it to Emily’s face. She tasted the chocolate. She lifted some chocolate up to me and I tasted it. Houseman just sat there looking depressed. The smoke and the chocolate fumes were filling the room. We started to cough. Soon we were coughing so hard, that I felt like I was going to die. Then I realized I was going to die.
At that moment, the smoke of the burned chocolate started to billow more substantially, like the smoke was becoming thicker than smoke, more like cotton or something. And out of that smoke a figure began to form. An old woman’s face, then a crooked neck, and a bent back, and the rest of her. She was striped black and white. Her clothes shimmered like waterfalls.
I was losing consciousness.
“That’s Tonacatecutli,” I said, through a series of coughs.
The old woman nodded.
“Thank you,” I said, “For saving us.”
The old woman shook her head. She gathered up the chocolate and made a gesture that would be rude coming from anyone, and disappeared. The smoke dissipated somewhat, but I could see that several desks set further back in the room were still burning.
Houseman kicked at the complex of levers and things at his end of the pipes.
“She just came for her chocolate,” Houseman said. “Love is worthless. I thought that ancient Mexican goddess was coming to make some point about love and save us. Right and wrong are worthless. Gods don’t even do the right thing. We’re going to die.”
“Even if we die,” I said, ”love is going to continue to be a real thing in the world. I believe in that. Even if love destroys us here, it’s still real. In fact, love destroying us proves that it’s real. And I’m willing to be a sacrifice for love.”
That’s when I realized that I, being chained closest to the burning desks, now without the obstacle of the burning boxes could actually slide my handcuffs along the pipe a pretty decent distance.
“Emily,” I said. “If I get you a paperclip, can you get us out of these handcuffs?”
“Maybe,” she said.
“Do you know how to?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. Her head was lolling. Houseman still looked depressed.
I kissed her and shuffled toward the burning desks. Once I reached them, I realized I was going to try to pick up a paperclip from a burning desk with my foot. Maybe there was a box of paperclips that I could kick towards Emily. I started kicking the living hell out of the desk. It was hot. I kept kicking. I smelled my leg hair burning. I kicked the desk until the drawers came apart. And there, in the burning debris, was a box of paperclips. I kicked them over to Emily, coughing uncontrollably. She pinched the box between her feet, and passed it up to her hands. And that was it. We made it out.
My leg isn’t what it used to be. And I had to get a new job. And they never caught Byron.
But after we staggered out of that building, faces dark with soot, I took Emily in my arms. In the face of searing pain, in light of the spite demonstrated towards us by lesser divinities, I kissed a beautiful federal agent, still slightly high on the weird fumes of burning chocolate. And in that moment, love and law and virtue and impossible human striving towards goodness and the divine existed all in the same place.
I’d thought about it before that moment, about how kissing is weird. About how love makes itself known when two people feel like pressing their mouths together. Their gross mouths. But mouths fundamentally mean communication. That’s the whole thing with mouths. Kissing extends that communication into the realm of unutterable expressions. Kissing acknowledges the failure of verbal communication to adequately express our vulnerability and possession of each other. At the point at which two lovers kiss, we have two people who have come to an impasse, two people who feel that action must be taken, who have come to the end of one kind of communication, and must enter a new wordless place of teeth and tongues repurposed and transformed.
I mean I didn’t think that in the moment. I thought a bunch of stupid things like “wow” and “I can’t believe this is happening” and “sweet”. But the other stuff popped in, you know, upon reflection.