Wednesday, February 29, 2012

stuck in the middle with you

It’s Leap Day of the leap year.  The temptation to title this short story “leap of faith” is strong, very strong, but I shall resist the urge -not that “stuck in the middle with you” is much better, but perhaps the two titles work together, as in:

    I’m stuck in the middle with you, because every day with you is a leap of faith.

or

    Every day with you is a leap of faith, where I wake up, jump off the cliff, and wind up falling

        way down into the middle

            with you.

I definitely like the second iteration better, because somehow it’s better to be falling -at least then you are moving -than it is to be stuck, and not moving.  Frankly, you’re not going anywhere.  Instead, you’re at Wegman’s in the suburbs or the farmers’ market in the Circle (because you both think you’re better than everyone else), but all you’ve done is worn a path (viewable from outer space above!) that is like a circle or, rather, a handcuff actually (or maybe an anklet -how fun!) around your life, from your office to your home to... well, you know, the grocery store.

You might deviate a bit, of course.  To yoga, or whatever it is that’s hot right now (what is it? is it “zumba”?); or to the bar (which, let’s face it, isn’t that much of a deviation); or to the coffee shop (because you really are better than everyone else and everyone who agrees with you actually hates you); or to... you know... whatever it is, you’re not really going anywhere.  You’re just doing all the things we have to do to distract ourselves from the tedium -but let’s do try and be more poetic here.  Let’s replace “the tedium” with “the low hum(drum) of every day life.”

There.  That’s better, isn’t it?

But, where was I?  Ooh, right...

here...

stuck...

in the middle

with you.

Monday, February 27, 2012

all the small things

she laid in the crook of his arm, wide awake yet half asleep.  he was somewhere between sleep and dreaming, and he’d hold her closer if she tried to move in a way she found endearing, but -also -a little heartbreaking, for surely this was how he had held his other lovers too.

she pondered this, turning it over in her mind like a geode in her fingers.  she also tried to figure out a way to escape from his embrace without waking him, but to no avail.  she fell asleep without any answers.

she had tried to hold onto her thoughts in the night, but they had slipped out, like the water through her fingers.  is that an apt analogy? she wondered as she stood over the sink.  more like, when her phone slipped out of her hand (repeatedly).  if she was out and about, it’d fall to the ground; if she was in bed, it’d thunk against her forehead.  he had the small tact to not laugh -even though it was funny, actually quite funny.  did the cavemen ever drop their clubs on their foreheads?  doubtful.

and it really was the little things, wasn’t it?  everyone made such a big deal about the (alleged) Big Things (Valentine’s! Christmas! Kwanzaa! blow out sale at [*insert name of whatever here]!), but it was really the little things -the way talk about the weather, small and insignificant that it was, was really the grout that kept society together.  if you couldn’t talk about the weather, then you had to talk about sports or politics or reproductive rights -and heaven and hell both knew such things were a dangerous morass.  better to stick with talk about the interminably poor weather -a reliable topic in almost any case.  well, because it did suck so much.

and maybe, she mused, this is the allure of the suburbs -not the suburbs themselves as a physical place -but the actual mediocrity in humanity that they had come to represent.  it is far easier to mock “the suburbs” than it is to recognize the tendency for the average in all of us, she mused some more as she opened the medicine cabinet in search of dental floss.  but, no dice -no floss.  dammit.  she really hated to go a day without flossing.

she walked in the sun outside, considering further her morning line of thought:

there’s a certain comfort in routine, in knowing if you reach for “x” you will not receive “y.”  say “x” was the person you met and you fell in love with and that you moved with to the suburbs and had children with and jobs and chores -and all these petty yet seemingly large things consumed you.  then one day you woke up and you reached for “x,” perhaps something you hadn’t done in a long while, because you were both always so tired and so always assumed that the other one would be there.  but when you reach across the bed, you are shocked -not because “x” isn’t there, but because “x” has become “y.”  this person you thought you knew has seemingly overnight become someone else.

but, so have you, not over the course of days but over the intervening weeks and months and years -the ultimate trick of time.  but this doesn’t occur to you.  all you know is that you don’t recognize the person lying next to you anymore.  and you always took such comfort in the small things; so much comfort in the routine -that you completely lost sight of the big things.  and you shouldn’t have...

...because life is about so much more than the weather.  



focus on small things chase after big things

lose sight get lost

we fall

into the crevasse
between

where I know you
but still
I miss you

Friday, February 24, 2012

Standoff at the DMZ: A Love Story

The general consensus was that this could not continue.  Naturally, they vociferously disagreed.

They gazed forlornly across the barricade at one another, a modern-day Pyramus and Thisbe, their parents being none other than the bumbling North and the intractable South.  There would be no bridge across the great divide for them -no sweet, triumphant kiss in the middle at the very end, where they twirled to the sound of music only they could hear.

That sort of nonsense only happened in movies, and Thisbe seriously doubted Pyramus could lift her, much less twirl her around while locked in a kiss.

From the basket nestled at her feet she produced a large bottle of life water, wondering momentarily as she shoved it through if it would fit through the small seam they’d created between their two worlds -but it did fit, and she heard Pyramus on the other side sigh with gratitude and happiness.  He couldn’t believe she’d managed it, but she had.  His Thisbe -she was so amazing, so absolutely, utterly amazing.

Pyramus uncorked the golden bottle -just a small taste was rumored to be equivalent to a full day of festive meals, the sort of meals that were themselves just myths and rumors to him.  If Thisbe had brought nothing but a sliver of bread -even that would have been magic to him.

As Pyramus took his drink from the forbidden bottle, Thisbe reached back into the basket at her feet.
In her hand this time was a gun.  With a practiced ease, she trained the barrel of the gun directly into the middle of the small seam that split the worlds between them... ...and slowly depressed the trigger.


Abruptly, Thisbe dropped the gun.  She wouldn’t do this -not with a gun, anyway.  If she ever had the chance, she’d do it up close, with a knife, so she could watch his eyes close as his life beat out in her hands.  

She closed her eyes, waiting, but the answering shot never came.  Cautiously, she opened her eyes into the seam.  Pyramus’ eyes were locked on her, but his gun was at his feet.  For a long moment, neither of them breathed.

Finally, he held up his hand, turned his palm, and beckoned to her without saying a word - “come.”

Thisbe’s hand, seemingly of its own volition, lifted from her side and reached through the seam between them, toward Pyramus and his outstretched hand.

For a brief, agonizing moment, their fingertips touched...

...but, ultimately, she went her way, and he went his.

Maria

last night...

...I said I love you

but I whispered it

while you were sleeping

so you wouldn't hear me

I whispered other things too

that you'll never know

- naked poetry
   from your bed

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bringing Up Baby

She lagged behind them, caught between the rack of long-sleeve cable knits and the rack of short-sleeve cable knits.  She tugged nervously on her dino cap, trapped in the racks and wishing her parents would turn around and help her -but they were in deep discussion over a bin of triple-cotton, sailor-print shorts, available in both blue and green.

“...but blue is more slimming,” mummy was saying as she pawed through the bin, “She has such a big bum...”

...the big bum that was currently trapped between the racks of variegated knits.  She wiggled her tail, but to no avail.  Rather than freeing herself, all she managed to do was knock over the rack of long-sleeves with a crash.  With an almost equal thud, she suddenly fell over too, and then there she was -belly up on the floor; blinking up at the fluorescent-lit ceiling; helplessly flapping her hands and feet in the air.  Without looking, she could feel people stopping to point and stare.

“...aw.  Stop saying our little girl has a big bum, sweetums,” pop-pop responded to mummy, oblivious to the fact that his daughter was flailing about on the floor behind him.  “You know, you have a big bum too.”

Mummy paused in her pawing and narrowed her eyes up at him, “Did you just call me ‘sweetums’, honey?”

Pop-pop blinked at her from behind his sunglasses.  He held up a green pair of shorts.  “These are nice -I like green for her.”

“...ugh,” mummy groaned, rolling her eyes at him, oblivious to the small crowd of people behind her trying to help her daughter up off the retail floor, “Green is just so... cliché.  Really, let’s do try to be a little more original... snookums.”

“Okay.  Blue it is,” pop-pop conceded, dropping the shorts from his black-mittened hooves without further resistance.  He was not overly invested in the green and so not too terribly concerned about the blue.  He just wanted mummy to be happy.  

Sometimes, not being like everyone else was rather difficult for them.  Very briefly that morning, while chewing on his morning bowl of rice, (a habit that drove mummy veritably nuts), he had pondered the wisdom of bringing her home -but whenever he looked at her, or heard her laugh, or read one of her ridiculous txt messages, (she did have such a terrible time with the tiny touch-pad), he knew he’d made the right decision.

“Mummy...” she called from the floor as she struggled to stand upright, her little T-Rex feet slipping on the tile floor as several pairs of tentative-but-curious-enough-to help human hands tried to help her up.

“Blue it is,” mummy declared, tossing a pair of the sailor-print shorts into the basket hanging off of her tiny arm.  Without turning around, she called to her daughter, “Do hurry along, dearie.  I don’t want to be at this godforsaken store all day.”

“Yes, mummy...” she called, caught up in a tangled rainbow of long- and short-sleeve cable knits and trying to peel them off of her one by one.

Mummy paused in her forward progress to rifle through the bag that also dangled from her arm.  From behind his sunglasses, pop-pop wondered how mummy managed to carry around so much on just one tiny little arm -with her other arm always free and at the ready for trying to send txt messages from her tiny little phone.  The slippery thing was forever sliding out of her hand, much to his silent amusement.

“Here I am, mummy!” she called, finally free of the cable knits and bounding up to her parents.

Mummy looked up, peering over her glasses down upon her darling daughter.  “Darling...” she asked, “Where is your little dino cap?”

She gasped, patting the top of her bare head.  “Ooh... no............!”  She turned around, staring with dismay at the rainbow mess of cable knits she’d just escaped from.  Her lower jaw jutted out in a pout, but she scampered back anyway.  She wanted her little dino cap back.

One of the human store clerks had a huge clump of the rainbow knit mess in his arms.  He was dutifully trying to clean the mess of clothes up, but he dropped everything as soon as he saw the little T-Rex baby barreling down upon him -there was nothing “little” about her.  He ran off down one of the far aisles, the sleeve of a cable knit trailing along behind him.

“Diapers...” mummy sighed, as she watched her little zebra-print girl scamper away, “I do wish they made them in her size.”

“She is beautiful just the way she is...” pop-pop shushed her through his sunglasses, “...perfect -just like you.”

“...ooh ...you ...are so...”  Mummy melted,  “...ooh... stop it.”  She was smiling as she vanished down the kitchen appliances aisle, her tail thumping in that tell-tale way he knew she was happy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Coloring Book

she loved her coloring book.  she often slept with it -in it, actually -pulling the fun shapes up over her like a blanket; tunneling in between the cool sheets like an adventurer on a treasure hunt.

when her unimaginative mother wasn’t looking, she’d talk with the characters, and play with them, and learned all about them.  T-Rex liked eponymously knitted caps.  and secretly didn’t like the color green -but everyone colored her green, so what could she do?  T-Rex sighed sometimes, when she was alone.

“what do you like?” she whispered to T-Rex, her hand cupped near T-Rex’s ear, so that her mother wouldn’t hear.

“pink nail polish,” T-Rex giggled back.  

she giggled too.  that was funny.  a T-Rex with pink nails -who ever heard of such a thing?  but -delighted -she dutifully painted T-Rex’s nails a strong, bright pink.  when she was done, they both sat back and admired her handiwork.  

“do you think,” asked T-Rex, “Zebra will like this color?”

“I don’t know,” she whispered back, feeling conspirational, “I think... he only likes white and black.”

T-Rex thoughtfully tapped and admired her bright pink toes; her tiny little T-Rex arms resting happily upon her big round T-Rex belly.  “maybe... if we paint the rest of me... pink?”

“but... will he recognize you...?”

T-Rex tilted her tiny little head.  a tiny little puff of air whiffed in and out of her flared nostrils as she thought about this.

“oh!  but you know what would be so exciting?” she exclaimed, but softly, so as not to interrupt her mother, who was in the kitchen yelling at her teapot and pans.

“ooh...?” said T-Rex, perplexed but a little excited too.

“purple!” she said with great authority.  before T-Rex could respond, she was off with her purple crayon, eager to hunt down Zebra and fill him in on the latest news.  he was going to be purple today!

“I think,” Zebra said when she found him, “I look good in black and white.”  Zebra lowered his sunglasses and eyed her purple crayon with suspicion.

“it’s only temporary, I promise,” she said, filling in his white stripes with purple before he could stop her.

“that tickles!” Zebra protested, giggling as he tried to wriggle away.

“hold still!” she asked him sternly, coloring him in as fast as she could, “T-Rex has surprise for you.”

Zebra stopped wriggling and giggling.  “a surprise?” he asked, delighted and... well, surprised.

“yes,” she said, with great authority, “and you’re going to like it.”  and then she giggled.  and then they both giggled.

“I like surprises,” declared Zebra, still feeling tickled as she slowly turned him purple with her crayon.

when she was done, they both paused to admire her handiwork.  Zebra flicked his tail and did a few turns for her, turning this way and that, trying to admire himself from all angles.

“purple and black,” Zebra said.

“it looks so good on you,” she smiled back at him.

“but... will T-Rex recognize me...?” he asked her, suddenly worried.

“ooh, yes!” she promised, nodding her head with confidence, “totally.”

Zebra bounded off the page before she could stop him.  Excitedly, she turned the page to find Zebra and T-Rex admiring each other.

“ooh, that’s so crazy!” T-Rex was exclaiming.

“ooh... you look so pretty!” Zebra was declaring.

“ooh... you’re so handsome,” T-Rex was blushing.

she felt so happy, just watching them.  suddenly, T-Rex and Zebra both turned to her.  “but... this page is so plain.  this won’t do.”

“oh!”  she knocked over her box of crayons.

“I’ll fix that,” she answered eagerly, more than happy to color in their world.

Monday, February 20, 2012

the real and the remembered

The sun at the height of summer burned the tips of the grass brown and yellow.  In the summer, everything went from pale green and floral to this monotonous shade of golden burnt umber.  Some days she liked it and some days she wished it would summer rainstorm, because she really did like it when it rained.

She would often spend hours sitting under the cool canopy of the trees, one of her favorite places to be, but today she was sitting on the sidewalk in the middle of the sun, the great country yard splayed out around her.  The house was ahead of her and the dusty gravel road was off a little in the distance, but her vision was drawn rather to the near reflection of all this in the window of the car.

She stared into the glass, willing herself to fall to the other side, imagining that in the shimmering heat of summer this was possible.

Everything was inverted in that delightful "through the looking glass" way.  The house in this place looked bowed out and wobbly, like a bubble version of its real self.  The colors were more saturated too; more tactile.  All that was missing was the white rabbit.  And a hole.

In this place, she could imagine a world without that yellow-haired woman standing with her arms crossed at the far end of the sidewalk -the end nearer to the house -staring down the other end of the sidewalk with that perpetually icy stare of hers and a yell forever on the tip of her lips.

In this place was a woman who loved her, who let her stay over with her friends, who had a real warmth in her hug, and a smile that actually reached up into her eyes.  This woman never made fun of her in front of others or said cruel things in private that made her cry.  That woman really did try too hard to always see her crying.

In this place, only the opposite of anything was possible but, suddenly, the limitation frightened her.  That woman was filled with an insatiable rage, but the opposite (*him*) was no better.  What if both halves represented no choice at all?

That question destroyed her reverie.  The specks of gold shining in the air around her turned back into humble dust motes in the summer sun.  And she was back too, back on the sidewalk staring through windows in one moment, but in the next scrambling up the hill on the far side of the house, running ahead of that woman’s voice, convinced that if she could disappear she would be forgotten long enough to dream about something else.

The Pillage of the Lambs


The villagers were working in the fields when they saw them -approaching in the broad sunlight; rounding the curve of the lined up haystacks off to the right; their distinctive bleat giving them away.

Panicked and afraid, the villagers dropped their field tools, and turned almost as one -and ran.

The marauding sheep had returned.

Years ago, it had all begun so harmlessly:  The marauding sheep had come to them to give them of their wool; in exchange, the villagers had fed them; housed them; given them great gifts -but it was not enough.  The marauding sheep wanted more.  First they had taken their women, and then their children, and then their very homes.  After years of rape and pillage by the marauding sheep, the villagers had had enough.  As one they had arisen in defiance and defense of their homes -and they had driven the marauding sheep off their land.

But always the marauding sheep returned, always more hungry and rapacious than the last -their eyes burning red with incandescent rage.  The vision of those glowing red eyes kept many a villager up late at night.  And now there they were again -an army of glowing red embers glaring back at them; setting their fields on fire; bouncing up and down on their broken haystacks in the wanton glee of vengeful destruction.

And then, suddenly, the marauding sheep vanished as quickly as they had arrived, their triumphant bleats fading into the distant mountainside.

As the sun set, a lone villager stood in the ruins of his field, a pitchfork held aloft in his fist -all but impotent against the faraway mountain.  In the distance, he heard the giddy bleat of a marauding sheep.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Yes

She was puttering about in front of the stove, wearing house slippers that were really heels and an apron over her short, too formal dress.  He couldn’t believe she was dressed this way; that he’d shown up at her door with a bottle of wine and no warning -and still she’d been dressed this way.  She looked impossibly lovely for someone who had just been in transit for nearly 36 hours.

He tried to appear focused and calm, but like it mattered.  She was hardly paying any attention.  In fact, she wasn’t paying any attention at all.  Someone had rung and with a blithe yet apologetic wave of her delicate hand, she had fluttered out of the kitchen while simultaneously answering the phone with a brusque yet impossibly friendly, “Yes?”

With her absent from the kitchen, he was left alone with her guests -a random amalgam of people she knew from the city and from the university; people who were strangers to him, yet so friendly and so curious to know him.  It hurt him, a little, to know that they didn’t know him; that he hadn’t existed in their minds at all -at least, not until he’d shown up at the door with the now empty bottle of wine.  

He would never admit that hurt though.  Other things he would freely share with her, but not this.  Instead, he smiled and made small talk with the young woman nearest him, a bright, sharp creature whose presence didn’t surprise him at all.  He couldn’t imagine anyone being in this kitchen but people he respected, admired, and more than a little bit looked up to.

Someone new came through the door -a tall man in a suit who looked awkward -who was swiftly greeted and welcomed and whisked off into some back room (wherever she was) for whatever it was he needed (from her? with her?).  

When they rematerialized in the kitchen, he took his leave with a polite tip of his chapeau and a slight backward glance that seemed to suggest things, but she was already looking at whatever she was pulling out of the oven with great care, and so the door closed behind him without her once looking up.  This satisfied him, which -again -he would not admit, but it did, as did the incredible aroma of whatever it was she had decided on a whim to make for dinner.

Later, after he’d found his way to her bed and they’d rolled around together in the old way, he asked her if she missed him, the one question he’d promised -swore -he wouldn’t ask, and she’d answered, after a long, much too long pause:

“Yes.”

He squeezed her in his arms and she curled up inside him, like a sweet little cat, and neither of them said anything else.

The next two weeks were a bliss of blurred activities -listening to her lecture; taking in the city, her city, through her eyes and through his; tasting her foods; watching her change her clothes as easily as she changed her personality.  

Even though they’d never fallen out of touch, he was learning her all over again, and it was like visiting a city he’d once known -he still needed the map.  Where once it had been he, now she was skittish -bouncing from project to project, showing him in her studio the things that she had done that he’d only ever imagined or talked about.  He propped himself up on one arm in her bed, and tugged at the back of her hose while she tried to keep them on.

“Come back with me,” he insisted, something else he’d decided beforehand he should not say, “Come back home with me.”

Her heel hung in her hand, dangled by a finger.  The shoe was delicate, but strong, like her, with a sharp heel -also so like her.  It swung back and forth on a small trajectory, waiting like he waited, for her.

This time the long pause before she responded really cut him.  This was why his pride had told him not to ask.  He knew the other women upset her or, at least, he thought that they did.  But, there would never be anyone but her.  The intervening years had made that abundantly clear.  There had seemed to be a limitless supply of foolish young women to prove that point -and he’d dated many of them.

Finally, she slipped the shoe from her hand and slid it neatly upon her tiny foot and then pulled up her skirt, all in one smooth motion.  She turned around to face him -still on the bed, still wanting to tug on her hose, and still wanting to make love (not sex) -and tilted her head to one side.  Her gaze was passive, but he could tell she was pondering her response.  She was the kind to take care of every syllable, even though at times she could seem careless.

Finally, when she said, “Yes,” he felt the stress that had been bottled up in his shoulders release like small waves breaking over his body.  Of course she had said yes; when had she ever told him no?

But when he drove back from the airport, the passenger seat in the truck beside him empty, he just stared at the road straight ahead.  Now he wished he’d never told her no.

Fairy Tales

“tell me a story.”

she was tired, yet strangely wide awake.  her ability to sleep through the night -it seemed she’d never had it, so she agreed and began to speak softly, so softly that they would not be yelled at:

“do you know the song about the beans?” she asked her.

“ooh, yes!” she practically squealed, and giggled, and then covered her mouth guiltily, trying to keep the sound that had already escaped quiet. “they’re magical...”

“yes,” she interrupted her overly excited sister -eager to please her; eager to keep her quiet; eager to keep her smiling.  “well, it’s not just a song.”  her voice was low and quite serious, which made her sister open her eyes wide.  she was incredulous and anxious to hear more -anxious in a good way.  she climbed out of her bed and leaned in close to the bed of her tiny sister -always so thin; always so seemingly weak -and whispered with authority, “well you know... it’s all true.”

her sister let out a little gasp and clapped her hand over her mouth again.  her eyes couldn’t possible widen any more.

she licked her lips, really getting into the rhythm of it now:

“well, when you eat the beans, you know they go inside you.  but, they go to a special place.  a really magical place.”  she paused, her sister’s breath heavy in her ear.  suddenly, but very gently, she poked her sister in the tummy.  “the beans go to the bean factory inside you.”

“there’s no factory inside me!” her sister protested, trying to swat her hand away, but not really, because her touch was soft and gentle and tickled -in a good way.

“ooh, yes, there is,” she insisted.

“ooh,” her sister sighed, her eyes wide and full of belief.  she trusted her so much.

“lay on your back,” she ordered her, and then they both laid back on the bed, side by side.  “now, imagine you’ve just eaten some beans, and they’re sliding down... down... down... into your tummy.”

“uh-huh,” her sister whispered, her hands on her belly.

“...but instead of your tummy, the beans go to the bean factory.  everything else in your body is dark, but around the bean factory there’s a halo of light ...from all the gas-”

her sister squealed.  she tried so hard not to laugh.  “that’s stupid-”

“do you want to hear about the bean factory, or not?”

“yes,” her sister said, feeling very contrite.  with great docility, she placed her hands back on her belly.  she really wanted to hear the rest of this story.  a bean factory.  in her body.  really?!

“okay... so the bean factory is bright and always busy.  so, the beans go in, but do you know what comes out...?”

thinking she wasn’t supposed to say anything, a silence hung in the air above the bed between them.

“well, do you know what comes out?” she asked her sister again.

“oh!”  her sister turned her head to her.  “gas!’

“no,” she shook her head seriously.  she sat up in the bed beside her sister, pulling the covers up above her head as she did and creating a tent of covers over both of them.  “what comes out, if you’re very, very lucky...”

her sister’s eyes were huge; she didn’t think her narrow eyes could open any wider.  her mouth had fallen open and she could see the word “what?” on her lips, but it didn’t fall out.

“...if you’re very, very lucky...” she repeated, her voice mildly ominous with suspense, “...out will come...” she looked around, even though they were alone under the covers, “...out will come...”

and then she farted.

her sister screamed in a whisper, “you’re gross!”

but she had collapsed back on the bed, the covers thrown aside and they were both laughing -a little too loudly.

suddenly, there was a pounding on the ceiling.  “ooh, shit...” she whispered.

her sister hugged her.  “it’s okay.  I really liked the story.”

as they both waited for the sound of footsteps on the stairs, her sister hugged her again and said, “I love you.”

Future Imperfect

She fogged up the glass by leaning in close.  Her sister had taken off years ago on a mission from Mars that now seemed would never end.  Their parting had been chilly, like the glass, but surely some fondness remained.  She fell asleep as the sun was setting thinking about this, clutching in her arms a story her sister had spent many long nights reading to her.

Miles away, so many miles she’d lost count of the stars between them, she piloted to the surface, nosing the air tentatively with the tip of her ship; trying to find a safe purchase on the ground.  The hope for this mission was great, but the reality was the opposite.  There was no hope -not for success, and not for ever seeing her sister again.  When she’d parted ways with her, she’d known this, but not said anything.  Better to go with the lie than the truth -better to avoid the rage; the temper; the inflated disappointment.

As for the mission... She took a sample of the soil, but was already certain of the result -there would be no water; as usual, no hope.  But she’d taken off on this mission without that expectation -the expectation that lurked in her colleagues’ eyes, making them shine falsely bright.  Now their eyes were dim, while hers... her eyes were about the same.

Water?!  She let out a shocked gasp when she pulled the capsule later.  She clutched the small vial close, reminding herself that this in itself meant little to nothing.  But, still... despite vast evidence of it, this was the first real water she’d come across in -literally -years.

Months later, as she and the archaeology crew walked the maze of tunnels underneath the surface of the alien planet, she recalled the moment when she’d first held that little capsule of soil.  Now they would be living here -she would be living here, a nomad finally become a settler in a faraway land.  For a moment, she thought about her sister, forever left behind, but she erased the thought and refocused on the task at hand.

All signs indicated that they -she and her intrepid group of fellow explorers -were not the first and that, in fact, the planet had once seen a long and successful occupation.  But whoever they were, they were long gone, and all that they had been was now reduced to the public and private works that she and her team were currently excavating and studying with great care.  The excavations would likely take years -the rest of their lives, probably, plus several lifetimes more.

A member of the team dropped a new sample off at her station.  They exchanged some small talk, but -mostly -no one had much of anything to say to one another.  They were all thinking about the people they’d left behind, no doubt; people they would never see again.  She wondered how it had felt to lie to them -to their families; to their friends.  It was the sort of long-lived lie that encouraged silence when faraway from home.  The truth didn’t matter out here.

What’s the point of feeling anything if you can’t do anything about it?  So much research had gone into their long-term physical well-being, but what was happening to their feelings?  She looked around the large lab they’d set up, blankly eyeing each of her colleagues in turn, but they couldn’t see behind her goggles and her momentary desire to see behind theirs... evaporated.  Better to not know, and remain silent.  What an unhappy colony this is going to be.

She picked up the sample, turning it around in her hand a few times before she set herself to the task of recording it for posterity.  Gently, she hefted its weight.  It was strange and yet familiar.  When before had she seen something as wasteful as this?  Delicate, but remarkably well-preserved, and covered with markings she felt she ought to know.  Feeling tired, she pushed her goggles to the top of her head.

And gasped.  A few of the team members in the lab turned around, but no one moved as she sat down, staring at the table -at the sample she had just dropped.  Her colleagues turned back to their work.  She looked fine.  No need for unnecessary fuss.

Hesitantly, she licked her lips, and then picked up the sample again.  This wasn’t possible.  She pulled the goggles back down over her eyes and the symbols on the page changed.  Then she pushed the goggles back up, so she could see the sample with her own eyes.  Her breath was shallow; this lie was huge -much bigger than the lie they’d all been forced to tell all those years ago.

Slowly, she set the sample down, zipped up her jacket, and walked out of the makeshift lab.  No one followed her.  She walked swiftly, with purpose, toward the huge turbines they’d set up at the peak of one of the many tunnels they’d found.  Once she felt the blast of icy air on her face, she felt it was safe to cry -where no one could see her or hear her... or be there to have to comfort her.

Half-sitting; half-leaning against the rocky wall, with cold air whipping her face and her hair, she dropped her head in her hands and cried, softly at first, but then harder the longer she thought about it.  

Suddenly, she felt a hand on her shoulder.  It was the colleague who’d given her the sample.  He’d watched her leave without moving his head, not wanting to incite notice.  And then he’d been careful to wait to follow.   When her tears finally softened, he took the chance to apologize.  “I remember you telling me how much you used to enjoy telling your sister funny stories when you were you little.  When I saw this artifact, I thought you would like it... examining it.”

Wordlessly, she nodded.  She wiped her eyes, trying to swallow her hiccups.  “It was very thoughtful of you -thank you.”  She tried to smile, but her lips felt wobbly and lopsided.  “I need a few minutes alone -I’m just remembering my sister now... this is... embarrassing.”  He held up his palms in the accepted no-worries gesture and slowly backed away.

She could never tell them the truth -that this wasn’t just some random artifact composed of wood pulp and mysterious symbols, but was -in fact -the favorite book of the sister she’d left behind.  She looked at the goggles they always wore.  She realized now that from Day One of the Mission she’d never seen clearly; everything she’d ever seen had been a lie, and she’d traveled so far back into space and time -it never occurred to her that she’d ever come back ...home.

Two Pages

He woke with a start.  He felt like he was falling, but -no -he was safely in his bed.  And, where was she?  She had been lying right next to him, warm and soft.  Now her side of the bed was cold.  He threw back the covers, still half asleep and half-convinced she must be in the bed somewhere.

But she wasn’t.

Now he was fully awake, and frustrated.  When the alarm went off on his phone, he picked it up and threw it.  Then he realized that he wanted to check it for messages -any possible messages from her.  He closed his eyes, feeling intensely stupid.

Later that day, as he sat in his dungeon of an office, a cup of cold coffee turning into a brown stain on his desk, he realized -as the clock struck dangerously close to 5 p.m. -that he’d done next to nothing all day but think about her -she of the no messages all day.  Nothing, not one single text.  He half wished he still lived in the olden days, when everyone had to write letters.  Maybe waiting days or weeks for a letter wouldn’t be half so bad as waiting all day for a text message that should have been there now, that morning, last night, at lunch, during breakfast, in the middle of the afternoon, just... now, right fucking now.

She should have been there for breakfast, sitting across from him -no, wait, he never sat down for breakfast -standing up, wearing one of his shirts, leaning against the door, holding a mug of tea and watching him through perfect bangs -her perfect bangs.  The sound of her voice wishing him a great day, laughing at him, with him, one last hug, kiss, or roll around in the sheets -or an attempt anyway, with her pushing him off, but only half-hearted, with one hand on his chest, the other on his arm, and her legs spread wide open, a total invitation in her eyes.

He sighed.  He ran his fingers through his hair, messing it up; making it stand on end.

“Bad day?”  One of his co-workers walked by.

“Yeah.”  He didn’t bother to look up.  What is she doing now? he wondered, Why won’t she fucking text me?  Instinctively, he checked his phone.  No messages.  None from her anyway.  He felt as though the image that was his phone’s home screen was making a mockery of him, although it couldn’t possibly be.  It just a shot of a building -a building that meant something to him.  

He thought about changing it to an image of her.  He’d had this embarrassing thought multiple times.  He looked around his office, around the edges of his cubicle, hoping no one could see how stupid he was being.  Then he checked the pictures gallery on his phone (again), as if checking again would change the fact that he didn’t actually have any photos of her.

Dinner was a disaster.  His coworkers had convinced him to have drinks after work.  He’d nursed a beer and then switched to a whisky on rocks, trying to look tougher; trying to look more... into it.  Yeah, he thought, This is so fucking stupid.

But some girl had sidled up to him, next to him, made eye contact, and then moved down further along the bar with her friends.  They had looked him over multiple times, making eyes; giggling (he imagined); smiling (he was sure of it).  Finally, one of his coworkers had punched him (not too hard) in the arm -really, it had been nudge of encouragement:  “Jesus Christ, man, go get it.”

The girl at dinner had fidgeted with her hair and looked down a lot, nervous, all of her confidence blown over those long looks and giggles at the bar -and also the fact that he barely looked at her.  All of his interest had gone with the whisky.  They made awkward small talk.  It was so uncomfortable, and the wine (which neither of them had really wanted but had felt compelled to order because... well... that’s what people did on early dates -especially first dates), the wine did not help.  It was kind of gross, actually.  He thought people who liked wine were jackasses.  She thought people who liked wine were smarter than she was.

When the check finally came, he grabbed for it, probably too fast.  He dropped his cash in the tray before the server could leave and said, “No change, man.”  Thanks, whispered the server solicitously, vanishing by backing away slowly.

He dropped his coat and his keys and kicked off his shoes.  She didn’t quite know what to do, but the bottle of wine was in her veins and in his too, so they wound up having wet, mildly desperate, vaguely unsatisfying sex anyway.  Afterward, when they were lying side by side -she under the covers and self-conscious; he under the covers and wanting her to leave but not knowing how to make that happen without seeming like an asshole -they didn’t say anything to each other at first.

“I have to be up early,” he said finally.

“Yeah...” she replied, feeling disappointed and embarrassed and angry and sad.

“Let’s go to sleep, okay?”

“Okay,” she responded, feeling a lit bit lighter, like she might actually float away.

He woke with a start.  She was still in his bed, her side of the bed warm with her body.  He felt heavy and a little bit under from the mixture of wine and beer and whisky in his belly -and half confused, but he got up and he made breakfast, something he didn’t normally do.  Halfway through cooking, he looked up.  She was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, leaning against the jamb, looking at him through her bangs.  No, she wasn’t looking at him.  She was looking down, tugging at the bottom of his shirt to cover that she hadn’t put on any panties.

After an awkward but not awful pause, he said, “uh... I hope you like eggs.”

Instead of saying yes, she just smiled and gave him her number.