Archive for March, 2013
The mess hall is empty as I come in. It should be; we’re on a night cycle now: limited lighting in the interior, windows open to the endless black. Out here in the Rim it’s more black than anything. Tonight is a free-floating night, engines down to conserve fuel and no gravity from acceleration. Everyone should be strapped into their beds, except of course the pilot, watch and engineer.
I turn and draw as the door opens, light bursting on, lighting the crotch of one of our passengers. I keep the light where it is and look down; he’s turned around in the micro-grav and floating the halls upside-down. It was the Priest.
“Wait, I thought the night-lighting was on the ceiling?” The Priest didn’t get into space much.
“No, Father. The day-lights are on the ‘ceiling’, night-lights go on the floor.” I don’t lower my gun.
He turns himself around and I follow him with the light. “What’re you doing outside of your cabin?”
“I couldn’t sleep, and now I’m hungry. Is that a crime, Watchman…?”
“Thomas. No, Father. Just most people don’t like floating about when they haven’t been in space much, ‘specially not on a cargo rocket.”
“Yes well, the body must be cared for in order to conduct God’s service.”
I make a noise of agreement and holster my weapon. After floating over to the storage bays, I grab three food-packs and lob one, gently, at the Father. It travels slowly, an uninhibited straight line; the Father catches it but didn’t brace himself against the door, and starts tilting backwards, he ends up horizontal to the rest of the room. When he comes back his eyes are scrunched up, looking upwards and to the left. He is frowning, his hand rubs his stomach.
“Not particularly. Seems I have yet to develop my space legs though… It’s amazing how complicated technology has made things.”
“We call them null-legs.” I don’t particularly want to engage the Father in conversation. I made that mistake once and found his views too old-fashioned to be any good.
“Wasn’t technology supposed to make things easier, to make our lives more comfortable?” He doesn’t seem to care that I have duties to attend to, or he is unaware. “Yet for every new technology, for every new vista that opens up, new challenges remain to face us. New controversies arrive at our doorstep and beg to be solved. People make problems by progressing forward.”
“No, people make progress. We change, we grow and we change again until we die.”
“We have explored the multitude of the Heavens, and yet people go hungry and die. Magic fuels our flights through the stars, and yet we cannot learn to accept those who are different from us, who choose different lifestyles. Perhaps our progress should solve the problems we already have instead of making new ones.”
I float back to the door he is standing in, “Sometimes, we don’t choose to adapt, Father.” My hand reaches out and pats him on the shoulder; this time he braces himself.
The next day I have off, but I work that night, so I go to the café in the early afternoon. There he is again, in the same spot as he was last time. I ignore several people who I know have watched me come in and order an iced tea. I take a seat where I have a clear enough view of him and proceed to take in all of the details. Again no one approaches him. I can tell this time it is more than just its placement, more than the arrangement of things around him. Something within him seems to say “Do not approach”, and most people are willing to listen. I change my posture; subtly shift what I’m doing and how I’m seated. Instead of isolated though, more people approach me. A blonde haired, curvy yet athletic woman, on her way to the gym by the lack of sweat asks if I mind some company. “Sorry, I have a girlfriend.” Another well-toned man in suit and tie, younger than I am if I had to guess, asks to sit. “Not interested.” A group of women carrying several shopping bags asks if they can set their stuff near me, their eyes are not focused on the chairs. “I’m saving the seats.”
I realize I’m mimicking it and stop, sit up straight and stare down anyone who thinks they should approach. I relax my face muscles before I start to get frown lines and stare at him. While I’m doing so I can see someone approaching him from my periphery. I stare at the intruding man, somewhat overweight, somewhat hairy, decidedly not worthy, and some corner of my mind envisions him becoming a burning pillar. He does not explode into an inferno though, so I leave my drink, get up, and decide to walk towards the object of my dreams.
He sees both of us. When the unworthy one sees me approaching, he slows down, and turns towards the restroom, his face reddening and his gaze on the floor tiles. I smile and also slow my approach, savoring the moment and the thought of having him, of him being mine. He does not meet my eyes, but does not look away from me.
As I approach his hands slowly lower towards his lap, taking the screen of a phone with them. A small frown appears. I’m upset at whatever it was that caused that frown; I want to hurt the cause of it. He’s already mine, now I just need to make sure everyone knows this. His arms cross over his chest, resting snugly against ribs. He looks down, tilting his head towards the phone, and looks back up me from under the ridge of its brows. For the first time in a while I can feel the adrenal pulse of primal instinct; I push through it, still approaching. Finally I get to the table he is seated at.
He doesn’t respond.
“Do you mind if I sit.” I sit down without waiting for an affirmative. He scoffs, tilts his head down and to the right as it looks left, picks up its drink and takes a sip, looking at me.
“I haven’t seen you around here and I thought you might want some company.”
“From the best looking man here who has a girlfriend? No thank you.” He looks back down to his phone.
I lean back in the chair, back straight. I can’t think of what to say and that fact makes my hands start sweating. I cross my ankle onto my knee and my eyes narrow.
“Look, I was just trying to be friendly, no need to be rude.”
“Ha-ha!” Two short sounds, one low, then high, and I cross my arms over my chest. “Hypocrite. What about the other people who were ‘just trying to be friendly’?” He meets my eyes and holds my gaze and I feel blood pumping to my cheeks. He is not quiet. I’m not willing to look away; I have to keep his gaze. “Well?”
“I didn’t want to be friendly with them.”
“So what makes me special, peacock?” My brows come together and I don’t worry about frown lines this time.
“What did you call me?”
“Peacock. Like the bird. Or a man who flaunts his beauty and expects to get everything he wants.” He has not broken my gaze, and as he talks he puts his arms on the table and leans over them, closer towards me. His voice does not lower and I feel myself slumping against the chair. “Let me be clear. I’m not interested in your friendliness because it isn’t genuine. You want something, and I don’t want to give it.”
“Fine.” The word is clipped, and we rise at the same time. I have to turn around to go to my seat but that would mean breaking eye contact. My hands clench at my sides and I realize they’re shaking. He approaches, close now, well within my space after rejecting my invitation. My nostrils flare and my breathing gets shallow.
“You’re in my way. Move.”
I finally break eye contact and turn so he can get past. After he does I follow after him, and several other patrons get up, I keep my eyes down, head back to my stuff, and grab them. By the time I get to the street, he is nowhere to be found. I make it to the nearest alley way before I slump against the wall.
I wake up the next morning at my usual time, before dawn, naturally. Sheila groans and rolls over as I climb out of bed. I walk to the shower and turn the water on lukewarm. I can’t shake the dream about him from last night. His presence, placement, unavailability, all conspire against me, even in my sleep. The running water doesn’t help clear my thoughts either, like it usually does. When I’m done, I put on some shorts and head into the kitchen, grabbing some pre-made parfaits and some cookies. A simple breakfast for a simple day, although the frozen fruits aren’t quite as good as fresh ones, peaches are out of season while apples, though always available, are a pain. The blinds are open and the neighbor is outside, smoking a cigarette and texting, again. I wave, and he puts out his cigarette and goes back inside. I smile, finish breakfast, clean up, and put on my work clothes. Sheila has gone back to sleep. She hates being left here all day, but I won’t give her a key and she refuses to get up when I do.
By the time I get to work my coworker has already bathed Jason. I look over the log of what’s been done and am thankful to find an easy day ahead of me. Jason isn’t quite old, 64, but an accident a while back left him too disabled to care for himself. The family doesn’t want to do any of the dirty work, so they hire caregivers. It pays well and Jason is easy to care for. His mind is still sharp enough to engage the people around him, which make dealing with the physicality of the job easier. Considering the heat today though, it’s likely I’ll have to give him another bath before the end of my shift.
“Good morning, Jason. How’d you sleep?” I turn on the TV and set it to the Science channel. He claims it keeps his mind sharp, though before long we’ll be doing crosswords, which is probably better for him.
“Well enough. This heat makes it hard to sleep, I end up sweating most of the night through… assuming I don’t piddle on the sheets. How was your night?”
“Alright. Strange dreams though. One-track mind recently.”
“Still dating that Sheila girl?” His eyebrow is arched, and the corners of his mouth have pulled gently downwards, which almost gets lost in the wrinkles of his jowls. Behind his brown eyes I can see the lecture formulating. I smile.
“Yes, actually. She’s at home right now.”
“Have you given her a key?” His expression doesn’t change.
“No, of course not.”
Jason’s sigh whistles from between his gum and his dentures. I pull back the disgust that comes up without my consent. Just part of the job.
“Listen, I like you well enough, but you’re practically keeping her in a cage by actin’ like this. You know she doesn’t like being stuck at your place. How do you know she don’t got things to do with her day? Did you even ask last night? It’s not a fit way to treat a lady, and in my day, you would’ve been beaten for it already by the other menfolk in her life. If she’s gonna stay with you as much as she does, you gotta give her a key.”
I nod, frowning. “I’m not ready for that yet. I need to be in control of my space; I hate coming home to, ‘Surprise, came over without telling you.’”
His eyes go wide and the cord for his oxygen tank jumps a little bit from a muscle spasm in his back. “What, you don’t trust her? Then why you dating her? You already talk to her all the time on those gadgets you youngsters call phones.” Before I can answer, his jowls shake as his chest convulses, the corners of his mouth lost as the folds of his cheek cover them up. Spittle makes its ways to the edges of his mouth; I wipe it off, trying not to think about it. “I get it. Nevermind then, sometimes I forget how young you are.” When he’s calmed down a little bit, he continues. “Listen, someday soon though, you gotta start thinking about forever. You won’t stay young, and you’re already startin’ to get past your prime.”
My chest puffs up reflexively and I get up to go get the paper. Jason calls after me. “Damn it boy, I can’t believe your ego is still that sensitive at your age. Leave the paper. Go do whatever while I watch TV. I won’t have you sulkin’ around bein’ all offended.” He stares me down from the corner of his eyes; my chest puffs up more and I step onto his balcony and start planning the rest of my day on my tablet and generally ignoring him. I know he’ll call if he needs me.
I unlock the door and walk inside.
“Hi honey!” Sheila comes around the corner from inside the kitchen. I hope she hasn’t decided to do any cooking while I’m gone. The last time she tried I had to get a new stove; that was less than two months ago.
“Hi. What are you up to?”
“Oh just making some cookies.”
I exhale and realize I’d been holding my breath. “I see you’re sticking to things you know for sure you can do?”
“Yeah, I still feel bad about the last stove.” She pauses as I walk down the small hallway and into the bedroom. I strip down till I’m naked and when she comes around the corner into the hallway I’m heading into the bathroom.
“Oh. Why hello…” She smiles, and I watch her eyes slowly grazing over my skin as she looks down, and then slowly taking me in as she looks back up. I can feel my heart slowly beating faster as blood starts moving towards my groin. Her head stays low while her gaze travels back up to my eyes. I turn into the bathroom and call over my shoulder. “Showering. Just got back from the gym.”
“I just popped the cookies into the ov—” I close the door and flip the switch for the bathroom fan. My groin continues to receive blood as I rinse off the sweat, lather myself up, and rinse off. I think about what I saw at the café to avoid thinking about what’s going to happen after my shower. Thinking about him doesn’t help what’s going on below the waist.
When I get out of the shower I barely dry off. I know Sheila likes seeing me wet. I let myself start to think about what’s to come and grab a condom from the drawer in the bathroom. I palm it, and keep my hand behind my back as I open the door, turn off the light and the fan and step into the hallway.
I round the corner into the kitchen and Sheila puts down her phone. The text message screen is visible from where I’m at. We have sex in the kitchen against the counter-top. A seagull lands on the patio railing of the apartment across the street. The person smoking over there shoos it away, then snaps a photo of us with his phone and goes back to whomever he was texting as he heads back inside. He shuts the blinds after him.
After we’re done, I take another shower, thinking about him. I’m already planning a return to the café so that I can watch him again. Lesser men would treasure it as one might treasure seeing the Mona Lisa once: something beautiful once gazed at, but never to be seen again. I know I’ll see it again; I just have to be patient. I begin thinking about how best to approach him, to keep it untainted and preserve its beauty. I put on some shorts and a t-shirt, then go into the kitchen, wipe down the counters, and start making dinner while Sheila showers.