fiction by Caroljean Gavin
The after room was lined in overstuffed, pastel-peach cushions. The saltines were a problem for my shaky fingers. Are you awake? I whispered to them. Are you going to be any help at all? The first cracker spun out of the cellophane and landed at the sandal of a women sunk down on the other side of the couch bent over her cell phone. She didn’t seem to notice the cracker, so I didn’t apologize. The second cracker crumbled in my fingers and I stuffed it into my mouth, spraying cracker dust everywhere.
Brandon was supposed to be here. Supposed to pick me up. Like a package, and deliver me back home fetter free. Fritter. Feta. Frittata. Piccata. Take me to the pasta. To the all you can eat it bar.
I pinched a fruit punch Capri Sun from the end table.
Brandon had a huge breakfast. I watched him eat because I couldn’t, the fluffy omelet, the crisp potatoes. He handed me an envelope. I didn’t open it. Put it in my back pocket. Pretty sure it was a goodbye letter. Pretty sure he was going to rocket to space on the rocket he’d been building. He was showing with it. The bulge in his T-shirt, the chrome glow tipping the apples of his cheeks.
As soon as he left me in the waiting room for the before, I read the letter and the letter said, “Thought I didn’t want a crew, but I think that meant anyone. There’s too much gravity between us. Sorry babe, I just need to lift off.”
The Capri Sun tasted like the sea if the sea were sugar, over saturated, teeming with microscopic life, somewhere in that palm sized foil pouch, a shark switched its tail, lurking, biding, hiding. Drinking it was exciting. The swoosh in my stomach, a microcosm of ocean seeding to bloom inside me. A whole ecosystem right here, an aquarium. Fuck the moon. Fuck the far off cold places, where I’d be just as small.
I looked up when the other woman sneezed. She sneezed out a little bit of blood. I handed her a tissue.
Brandon was standing there, behind the couch, space helmet cradled in his arms. Staring down into it, that empty, useless bowl, he asked, “Did they let you see it? The pictures they took before?”
I shook my head and lied.
He shook out his hair, dust plumed out. The other woman started coughing.
“I’ve been to the other side of the galaxy,” he explained.
I believed him.
“Now I’m ready to go home.” The smile he flashed was full of rocket fuel and lights.
I didn’t tell him I only passed out. I didn’t tell him there were still depths to explore. I didn’t tell him I still had the passenger, strapped inside the submarine. I didn’t tell him I was a submarine. That I needed water. Not space. That I couldn’t breathe when he was in control of the oxygen. He was always in control. Oxygen control. Central control. Controlling my centers, my hungers, my dreams, and desires, my footsteps and doorsteps, missed calls, bathroom stalls.
I gripped the arm of the couch with my nails to keep from spinning out.
The woman on the other side dropped her tissue and her phone, scooted next to me, took my hand.
“But I came back for you,” he said. “It’s safer for both of us this way.”
The woman dropped her head to my lap, whispering things I could not hear.
There was no stopping the shark. It rose back up, pushing with its tail. I opened my mouth so Brandon could see it, eyes rolled back, teeth distended.
He took a step forward. “It has nothing to do with me,” he said. He said, “It has nothing to do with me.”