By Katie Simpson
He left us last night,
bag in hand and
this world at 9 am,
Each time, Billy
claps as Daddy’s
through, I sit
Breath returns only
when he’s a spec,
safe in the dark.
He tasted different when he returned from space. In the beginning, it unnerved me. In the privacy of night, my hands and mouth sought him out. The planes of his body felt the same, reassuring my hands. But when I breathed in his scent or tasted his skin, I encountered a stranger. One full of mint and metal not the allspice and sandalwood I fell in love with.
I gasped the first time, turned on a light in my confusion. It was his face beside me, his weight sinking the bed. Still, my body felt confused. Who was in my bed?
“What is it?” he murmured, warm hands cradling my face.
I laughed at my own nervousness. “Nothing, I’m just glad you’re home.”
Now, my nose and tongue welcome these strange scents. They are the bits he brings back from the darkness. They tell me he’s home again, real and safe.
A Conversation Overheard
“Why are you staring at the moon? You’re there all the tiiiime.”
“Well, it just looks different from here.”
“The moon’s the moon. It can’t be thaat different.”
“Yes and no…Yes and no.”
The bag I pack:
One pair of pants pressed and folded
One button down Oxford, for Houston
One leather belt
Five knockaround shirts (always included: Georgetown and Tulane)
Three, no two, pairs of sweats. (too many last time)
10 pairs of boxers
5 pairs of flannel socks
One handkerchief with one spritz of my perfume (he’s never asked, I’ve never explained. We agree in the silence)
The bag he packs:
One copy of Moby Dick, creased and worn
One black notebook
1) It’s of me and him on our honeymoon. The sun is bright on our faces, he’s picked me up. Both of us laughing
2) Billy and I sit across the table. Billy is four, and explaining something with his hands wild in the air. A smile plays on my lips as I sneak a glance at the camera.
One grey river stone, smooth, worn.
I want to be assured by the weight he carries with him. But there’s no gravity in space.
The sounds we make at separation
Zip. Zip. Zip.
That too. Besides, it’s time for you to go. (deep breathe) Billy! Come say goodbye!
Do you have to go Daddy?
I wish I didn’t, but I have to.
When will you be baaack?
Three weeks. Think you can be good til then?
Love ya kiddo.
Love ya too
(six feet walk towards the door. Four walk through. It squeaks open and closed)
I’ll miss you (sniffle)
I’ll miss you too
I’ll be back soon
(two feet walk down to the car. One door opens and closes. Ignition starts. The car rumbles away.)
Sometimes I wish I could call you in space. I could tell you how Billy wouldn’t go to sleep last night. Or that I ran into Mrs. Jones. She once again asked where you were. She still doesn’t believe you are an astronaut, or that you exist at all.
But phone calls would cause more problems. Billy would cry, missing you even more. Would the connection even work? I imagine trying to talk over white noise. Feeling further and further from you.
Secretly, I don’t want the option. You go somewhere further than outer space. There’s a room inside you with space only for one. A room made of metal, and filled with mint. I don’t want to hear your voice, so close and yet far away. My heart would break to see your eyes, but not you inside them.
Instead, I wait. I count the days til you break through the stratosphere. I pray to the moon you will come back to me. So far you have. Still, I hold my breath. Waiting.
Katie Simpson is a poet and short story writer. She’s been published in both the Wilderness House Literary Review and Walking Is Still Honest Press. When not writing, you can find her wandering through cities or cuddling with her cat, Cleo. This is her first published short story. Find her at http://twitter.com/ksimp522