by Thomas Kearnes
She watches the cheapo flicks about mutated terrors and unwelcome visitors from outer space. She awaits the new film about interactive game players sucked into an alternate universe. Like a lover shedding clothes, she drops posts on Facebook raving about the new episodes of Galaxy Hunters and Dr. Shivers. Past forty, she spends more evenings alone than she admits to her married sister.
As Dr. Shivers hurtles toward its conclusion, a blast of pale orange light streams through the blinds. She races to the window and finds a vessel of some sort hovering inches above the parking lot, like a mirage. He has come for her, whoever resides in this floating structure.
After pulling a quilt around her shoulders, she ventures into the lot. She notices the contented hum emanating from the ship. It reminds her of the chirping music she hears when on hold to report a cable outage.
A rectangular door lifts from the ship’s front like a magician’s playing card rising from the deck. Once this door slides away, she sees him. After all these years, after her heart condensed into a hard black stone. She calls his name, and he gazes her way. She cannot read his face. A late autumn breeze slices through the quilt, and she shudders.
He departs the spacecraft by stepping downward through the air as if walking down stairs. During the descent, his eyes never leave her. She had hoped for this, written letters, made awkward inquiries of mutual friends from college. There, they enjoyed their longest and most sustained bloom. She has photographs stored in a shoebox, stored high and far.
She becomes acutely aware of how her appearance has unraveled over these two decades. She keeps her strawberry blonde hair in a sexless bob. She wears a dull grey sweat suit two sizes too large, like most of her clothes. And the weight... she thought she had accepted the new curves, the expanded waist. What she wouldn’t give for a moment to collect herself!
“I’ve searched the galaxy for you,” he says.
“I’ve lived here six years.”
“So much has happened,” he says, his tone apologetic. “Time simply vanished.”
“Did you get my emails? The letters?”
“I read them all.”
She doesn’t know how to respond. She had forced herself to forget the foolish outpouring of loss and devotion in those long-ago messages. She swallows and says, “I meant every word. I still do.”
“Show me your home,” he says. “I want to see where you live.”
“It’s just some boring apartment.”
“No, my love, it’s your home.”
He stands mere inches before her. Crow’s feet creep out from his eyes. Grey flecks his trimmed beard. Yet he dresses as he did during school: the flannel work shirt rolled to the elbows, the denim pants loose and ill-fitting, the pocket chain dangling like a streamer at a party.
“I need to tidy things up,” she says. She begins back toward her apartment. He follows her, yet she cannot hear the sound of his heavy boots against the asphalt. She cannot hear the delicate rattle of his pocket chain. This cannot be real, she tells herself. She replays an old episode of Galaxy Hunters in her mind and ponders the hero’s actions when he, too, faced a reunion with a lost love.
Inside, they sit across from one another in two recliners opposite the flat-screen television. When she moved in, it seemed senseless to arrange her living room as if expecting guests, but her ceaseless optimism would not be denied.
He watches her with the detachment of a doctor delivering bad news. She has waited so long. She would have waited forever.
“One night,” he says, “I will tell you about my adventures.”
“I’ve missed you so much.”
“Perhaps you will join me on my next mission.”
“Where are you going?”
“That cannot be known until we arrive.”
The television airs the end credits of Dr. Shivers. A synthesized bass beat, quick and ominous, pounces from the speakers. There are no rules for a reunion like this. Why not tell him what he needs to know?
She slips from her recliner and kneels beside him. She bravely places a hand on his knee. After all, he found her. He must want her. He must want again to learn her habits and shames. Why else cross the universe?
“I’m so happy,” she says, her eyes shimmering. “But there’s something I must tell you, something you may not want to know.”
“You can tell me anything, my love.”
“There are creatures outside,” she says. “They will find me if you leave again.”
For a moment, he neither moves nor speaks. Then he gently places his hand over hers. He does not otherwise respond. For her, this is enough. She will follow him deep into endless space. They will spend the years somewhere unknown.
Copyright © 2011 by Thomas Kearnes