Vast whiteness stretched out like a blank page. Myrtle sat upright in the hover sedan, afraid to wrinkle her new uniform. Looking out the vehicle windows, she was reminded of the vids of deserts back on Olde Earth. As a little girl she had liked the dizzying colors of the tropics and feared the dark of the thick forests. As she grew older Myrtle was drawn to oceans of sand with life hidden in its secrets. Cold, arid, lifeless these were the words that summed up Enceladus. She was not drawn to it. She had spent so much time weaving the innumerable joys of their new home to get Django excited about their move that Myrtle had begun to believe her own stories. The reality of this moon was a hard thing.
She forced herself to return to the view whizzing past. The horizon was a taut rubber band. There were no trees, no bushes, no clouds, no liquid water. The landscape was an unturned clear face of ice with eruptions of large bluish domes. There was domes of emerald green hydroponic farms to feed the men and domes factories to build the robots. The men and the robots built the identical suburban houses that would one day become the dream homes of the future. Her son dubbed it Planet Fishbowl and pulled on his HeadPhones. Myrtle swallowed down her lump of regret.
Myrtle did what she always did. She began making lists. What do I know? They wanted me here. The Board of Regents had reached out to her directly asking her to apply to the Chief of Police position for the new colony. The interview process went smoothly. She knew the local crime stats and resources available to her department. The salary was generous, the housing, pleasant. The Sub Mayor had greeted Django and her at the station and the Chair of AmeriChoice had sent her a honest to God basket of fruit. Myrtle had researched and researched. She knew everything that could be known about her new job except Why did they want her here?
The hover had stopped. She had arrived. Myrtle didn’t know how long she had been siting lost in thought but the vehicle’s NavSat voice sounded a little impatient. She approached the primary sealed doors and was scanned. Noiselessly, a series of metallic doors slid open for her. The building had the vibe of warehouse that had been recently renovated as a high end hotel. She strode into the Security Central Complex. A desk sergeant and her drone smiled up at Myrtle from their desk. Welcome to Planet Fishbowl, she thought. In her dress blacks with her hat tucked under her arm, Myrtle smiled back.
“Long time,” a familiar voice rang out behind her.
The politeness drained from her lips. Myrtle steeled her spine and slowly turned to face the last person she had ever expected to meet again.
Myrtle said, “No see.”
Heavy unbearably heavy
Weighing down your limbs
Pressing down your lids
Laying across your chest
When you know you must to get up and do all the things that need to be done
Light incredibly light
Light as a sun faded photograph
Light enough to slip into a pocket and be carried everywhere
Light as the paper band the hospital taped around your wrist on the last day you see your dad
Light enough to still be felt after it is cut away.
Daisy’s hair was a rich brown halo of thick coils. With a rat tailed comb, her mother separated the locks into smaller sections. Daisy with her tablet in hand sat cross legged on a pillow on the kitchen floor as Thea bent to rub coconut oil into the child’s hair. Sunlight from the window over the farmhouse sink lay across their shoulders. A vegetable stew bubbled in the crockpot and cornbread baked in the oven.
In the corner, the old radiator sighed with steam. Yawning, Thea stretched her back to stay wake in the cozy heat. Daisy stretched too and then broke out into song.
“Daisy, Daisy give me your answer do.”
Thea began teasing out the tangles and thinking about the accounts she had to reconcile.
“I’m half crazy all for the love of you. Ow!”
“Oh, sorry baby,” Thea said. She hoped all of the amounts would tally but she knew they wouldn’t. Stupid I can’t find my receipt Rita. “ I wish your daddy would learn how to do hair. Every Sunday you come back like a ragamuffin.”
“Mildred doesn’t pull my hair, Mommy.”
“Yes, I know you’re tender-headed, sweetie peach.” Gently, ever so gently. Thea began to braid.
“I’m not a sweetie peach. Mildred never calls me ragged muffins Mildred says I can be anything I want to be.”
Thea’s hands moved like water separating and joining weaving down to the ends. She looked over at her computer bag. Daisy hummed to herself.
That’s right sugar pop.” Thea oiled the girl’s scalp and massaged from her roots to her ends.
“I’m not sugary pop. Mildred says she couldn’t do what she wanted but I can.”
Thea thought next Friday she would tell Steven to make Daisy wear a satin cap or he can start taking this head to the salon.
“Mommy what’s hysteria?”
“What now? “
“Who is this Mildred? What kind of kid is this with two dollar words?”
“Mommy! Mildred is my friend, my special friend,” Daisy said.
Thea moved quickly. Shiny braids gleamed in the afternoon sun.
“She’s my special wecial friend who lives in my closet. Ow!”
“Sorry, sorry, how long have you had this friend?”
“Forever since we moved here. She used to keep me up with her crying. It made me so mad but you told me to use my words instead of my fists so I started talking and she started talking and we started talking. And then I could see her. Well I could see some of her.” Daisy broke out into song. “Give me your answer do.”
Despite the stove and the radiator, the kitchen suddenly grew cold. Thea’s hands froze in mid-air.
“What else does she say?” Thea said softly. She could see her breath in the air. Memories of this old house, her Mom Mom’s house, were she spent many sleepless summers seeped into the front of her mind. Closing her eyes, Thea slammed the five panel door on those thoughts She set down her comb.
“Just that she loves me like a mommy just like I was her little bitty baby that she doesn’t have anymore.” Daisy rocked to her song in her head.
On stiff legs, Thea climbed down to the tile floor eye level with her daughter. Thea smoothed the girl’s edges and kissed her forehead. Thea locked eyes with Daisy. They held each other’s cheeks.
“I’m your Mommy. You’re one and only Mommy. I know things have been hard with the move and changes but you and I haven’t changed. It’s impossible for anyone to love you like I love you. I’m your Mommy.” Thea lovingly tapped Daisy’s nose. Daisy hugged her mother tight.
Suddenly the kitchen was warm, heavy with the smell of buttery cornbread. The frost melted on the window glass taking away the words written in the ice from an unseen hand
“And I’m your butter bean,” Daisy said.
The day was bleeding out against the dark sky in ribbons of magenta and gold. The boys ran in small packs of four or five. More dangerous together than apart. Tennyson was the new kid. Justin had vouched for him but that only got him to the circle in woods not in the inside.
The woods were the green space tucked behind a small college. The four boys stood in a circle fighting the cold and the boredom.Tennyson’s parents had begged, borrowed, and stole to afford a modest house in the affluent suburbs with the best schools. But Tennyson made his own path. The four boys stood in circle sharing a bottle of liquor. Tennyson choked back the bitter fire in his throat and drank deeply.
The boys passed a joint and took turns playing tracks from their phones. Their grunts, whoops, and barking laughs punctuated the heavy bass. Flying, Tennyson bobbed his head to the beat.
Bobby stepped out of the darkness. The air was charged. He lit a cigarette, his spotted face crimson in the flame. Tennyson wanted to slip into the trees, wanted to sprint through the fields, wanted to cut across his neighbors’ backyards, leaping fences to the safety of his home. He knew his mom had saved a plate for him.
“What you looking at, freshman?” Bobby growled.
“Could I bum a Newport?” Tennyson answered in a deep voice, flaring out his chest to appear bigger.
“‘Member I told you I was bringing Ten?” Justin said.
Silence. After a pause someone chose another song and the boys bobbed their heads in unison for a while.
“It’s cold as shit out here,” announced Bobby.
“Well, Alfredo’s is already closed,” Tyler said, scratching his shaggy mane. “And my mom would straight up kill me if I brought folks home.”
“I know a place,” Tennyson said, his voice breaking.
The cackle of teens traversed the woods, cut through the square, hooted and hollered across the playground, and stopped behind the abandoned church. Tennyson showed them the broken lock on the cellar door. The inky black of the church basement swallowed them.
Tyler tripped over a chair. Justin tripped over Tyler. The pair started play fighting. Bobby flicked his lighter and attempted to light some kind of candle. The basement blazed impossibly bright. Bobby had lit a road flare that he lifted from his dad’s SUV.
“Careful guys careful,” Tennyson whined.
With a high pitched giggle Bobby lobbed the road flare to Tyler. “Don’t get your panties in a twist, freshman.” Sharp teeth shining, Tyler laughed manically in return catching the flare and tossing it over Tennyson’s head. Justin joined in the hysteria jumping for the road flare as it slammed against the far wall showering an old pile of hymnals. The laughter continued as Justin retrieved the flare and tossed it. Soon slender tongues of flames appeared among the dried pages.
Tennyson beat at the flames with his feet and then his coat. The others howled in the smoke before running outside. Wild, Tennyson tried to crush the fire. Justin pulled him into the cold of the night. Ten stumbled on the grass. Face striped with soot, he watched part of his life burn away and then Ten turned to run with the pack.
We thought of you today. I love you. I think of you everyday. Love, Mom
Charlie walked towards the rain streaked handmade sign. It was roughly taped to a traffic signal. Closely he peered at the words, tracing the familiar handwriting was a dirty finger. Charlie remembered grocery lists and birthday cards. Memories surged and crested over him. He leaned a hand against the pole to steady himself.
“You about to hurl?” Freddy shouted.
“Look, my boy, is hungover. How was the party, man?” Mick laughed
“I thought you were straight edge,” Vic said, joining in the laughter.
Charlie walked away from sign and climbed up into his rig.
Freddy tossed a stack of flattened boxes into the compactor. Vic and Mick held on to the truck’s rear. Charlie executed a tight reverse and headed out of the complex’s parking lot.
“I’m just sayin’. If you gonna hurl let a brotha know that’s all I’m sayin’,” Freddy said.
The cold front had moved out and morning was warming. The big green truck cruised around the complex’s curves. Charlie concentrated on the winding road looking for old ladies, clueless joggers, and tiny dog walkers. He could see his last Thanksgiving dinner at his Mom’s, watching football on the sofa, laughing with his cousins, helping Mom lift the turkey.
“Just let me know, man. That goes for gas, too. ‘Cause this one time Jack do you know Jack the driver not Jack the floor guy. He ate a bunch of tacos this one time—“
Mentally Charlie muted the conversation and pulled into the next parking lot. The crew hit the recycling bins. Mick was making up stories about all the things he did last Saturday while Vic and Freddy dumped bins and pretended to believe him.
“Hey there is another one of them signs,” Freddy called out.
The truck continued along its route. Charlie was back at school in the lunchroom reading a PostIt stuck to his juicebox: I love you, Mom.
“There’s another one.”
“ I wonder what it’s about,” asked Vic lifting a soggy loveseat
“It’s probably a viral ad like for a new app or a phone or something,” Mick explained.
“Nah, it’s a memorial for the living. Somebody is trying to call someone back into their life, man,” Freddy said carrying the other half of the furniture.
“Hey Rascal you want a mint?
“Mint? Dude where are you?”
Freddy ate his candy. Mick talked about all the girls dying to date him. Vic stretched his aching back. Charlie pulled out on the main road already back home.
An awkward silence lays awake between the warm sheets. Joseph wrapped his arms around Millie’s waist pulling her closer. “Don’t worry it happens to every man once in a while.” Millie is answered by a soft volley of snores.
“I love you so much. That’s what’s important,” Millie said as Joseph pretended to sleep.
“No, I’m fine. I just like being held,” Millie said to Joseph’s back.
“Don’t worry, you’re just over tired,” Millie said.
“I said, I am fine!”
“Umm, maybe you should like, talk to someone.”
“Wait, I didn’t even get my clothes off.”
“Maybe we should go talk to someone.”
“Is that it? No, I meant that was great, really. I have to get to work early tomorrow anyways.”
“It’s not you. It’s me. I need some space.” Space away from you, she thought. Shocked Joseph reached across the café table to hold her hand. Suddenly Millie grabbed her coffee mug and became fascinated by the scene outside the restaurant’s window. Joseph studied the turn of head, the set of her shoulder. He gestured for the waiter to bring the check.
“Thank you for inviting us to the party. The gingerbread was excellent. Next week the potluck is at our place,” Cassidy shouted across the driveway to Patsy, her next door neighbor. She dragged the trash can down to the curb. Wrapping her polka dotted robe tighter around her doughy middle, she waved to Mr. Miller walking his geriatric Peaches across the sun-drenched cul de sac. Cassie fetched the newspaper from the dew damp lawn and headed back inside.
Cassie scrambled eggs while she packed her husband’s lunch. Josh kissed her on the cheek before heading to the plant. She never looked up from the sink. Cassie loaded the dishwasher, started a load in the washer, and headed into her real life.
Her office was in Trevor’s old room. His Fast and Furious posters had been replaced with a pretty pink paint and a floral wallpaper accent wall. There were shelves of scrapbooking supplies and a new Cricut machine set up under the bright frilly window, but the real magic was the monitor and desktop. Cassie drew the blinds. She pressed the glowering red button. She sat her sweet tea on her Grumpy Cat coaster and waded into the electronic blue.
First her favorite online gaming site to place a few bets and see who was lurking in the corners. Cassie was gone. LuckyLeggs7 lost $300, flirted with some old pals, got invited to a late night poker game, and made promises she never intended to keep.
Next was the ‘gram to track her favorite stories and connect with her high school besties. HollistownHottie talked about who was hot and who was not. She had been stalking Bree, Trevor’s ex, teasing Bree about her size, her failed attempt at college, her nowhere job. Bree hadn’t logged on in a few days. Hottie was relentless. Condensation ran down her glass as she tapped furiously at her keyboard. Hottie scouted the internet and then sent a handful of inappropriate emails about the girl to Bree’s boss and Bree’s aunt in Wisconsin. Laughing, Cassie picked up her glass and drank it down.
Finally there were the chat rooms. Cassie rubbed her hands together. PrettyDangerous96 was provocative and like to push boundaries. Pretty was naïve and innocent. She had a folder of pictures of herself from 30 years before and carefully cropped nude photos from adult sites. PrettyDangerous96 was feisty and fun. Pretty was whatever she needed to be to be the center of attention. She flitted from chat to chat until AmericanSun logged on and begged her to answer his calls. Pretty purred and licked her lips.
“Honey?” The sound of Josh’s keys hitting the hall table wrenched Cassie away from the blue. She shut down. Arms open, Cassie ran to Josh. Her husband of thirty years was in kitchen with the mail in one hand and the other on the cold oven.
“Will dinner be late?”
Cassie leaped into his arms with a kiss. Josh held her wondering how did he get so lucky. The letters scattered across the linoleum.
The clinking of silver rimmed fine china, the scrape of forks, the family dined.
“Pass the turkey. No, I want dark meat.”
“You took the biscuit I was going to eat.”
“Today’s writing prompt is 10 things you are grateful for and then you write about one of those things,” Kim said. The sounds of eating echo in the dining room.
“Dude it’s just bread. Did you want this one? How about this?”
“I thought I could be inspired by you guys,” Kim said.
“Tommy, don’t pick the bacon out of the sprouts.”
“Sam, let’s start with you. Name two things you’re grateful for,” Kim said.
Long teenaged silence. “What?”
“I can go.”
“Okay, Toms, what are you grateful for?” Kim asked brightly as the beginning of a headache whispered in the back of her skull.
“More potatoes, please.”
“I’m grateful for basketball and working out.”
Kim’s head rumbled. “Okay, that’s something. And you Sam,” asked Kim.
“Me, too. I am grateful for working out.”
“Well that was one thing.” Kim swept her hand across the table heavy with food. “Is there anything else in the whole known universe that you are grateful for.”
Thoughtful teenaged silence. “Nah that’s it. Just working out.”
The kids exchanged mischievous looks as Kim rubbed at her eyes.
“Well I’m grateful for my health. My condition is stable. You getting another one of your headaches, hon.”
“Is this fresh orange in the cranberries? ‘Cause canned oranges are a little sus.”
“Just eat the cranberry sauce and shut it.”
Plates passed back and forth. The chatter of laughter and silverware.
“What are you what are you grateful for.”
Kim answered, “I’m grateful for writing and I’m grateful for this my wonderful family.” You guys are great material, Kim thought. Sam rolled her eyes. Tommy stuffed the last biscuit in his mouth.
“You said there was pie, right.”