Fiction: Daniel J. Cecil’s “The Stages of Orbit”

-1-

Jonathan was drawn back by a force when the airlock opened. It was the vision of the kitchen floor, which was another opening, and another loss of air—something he wasn’t quite expecting the weight of. That day was like this one. The lack of oxygen was what he felt.

When his friend returned home on the “night of kitchen floor,” when gravity, like a leaden robe, was lifted from Jonathan’s shoulders—this after all the shouting and the hot water bottles and the blankets—Jonathan’s friend didn’t recognize the downcast eyes and the crying, that a something had happened, so it was Jonathan’s obligation to do the hard work of telling.

-2-

The satellite solar panel, hit by some debris, was damaged and needed repair. Jonathan had volunteered. Dyer hadn’t of course—he didn’t have the energy for this kind of thing anymore. But it was Dyer’s turn, so he joined in the reconstruction. All Jonathan wanted was to get out of the confinement of that cabin in any way possible, whoever might join him.

-3-

Jonathan’s nonplussed nature was his way of showing concern. A lack of emotion was him being an atypical “man” even though a) he had little idea what that meant and b) he was not the kind of person to think in such black-and-white measures. But he knew that a deep and incomprehensible depression was a chasm for them to fall into, and even with his safeguards in place they fell in, because that’s the way of nature and gravity. Inside the chasm was something unknowable, dark and depthless—an infinite sprawl of ceaseless vacuum.

-4-

“Say” she would say, lying her book down on the floor, next to the couch. Then “Say” she would say once more, this time with difficulty. Then he would say “say,” or “sorry,” or some such thing and do some work. When his bags were prepped she finally seemed worried he was going away. “Where are you?”

-5-

When in this kind of orbit you have one of two options:

In the first, you may look down and see the bluest of blue, or get a glimpse of Ohio below the Erie—because you know the shape of the heart, and from there you can pinpoint where you’re really from.

In the second, you may see nothing but darkness. The Earth becomes a black sphere, and the only reason you know the Earth is there is because it blankets the beauty of the stars, the body of the Earth on top of the universe makes it appear as though there is an absence in space.

-6-

It’s easy to get lost when walking in orbit. It’s easy to become distracted when you don’t focus on the work at hand. In one scenario you can get turned upside-down. But even worse is if you get to spinning—then it’s possible that the void will swallow your vision and you then become a part of it, because all you can see is the sprawling universe before you, and you must wipe off your helmet to understand that it, and you, are there—there are no longer any points of reference.

-7-

When calling her in orbit from inside the capsule, the connection was always bad. Solar flares and the universal winds that carry hydrogen to the moon, where it mixes with oxygen to create water in the dust, kept them apart. The very nature of the universe was enough to disrupt.

The panel would let Jonathan connect with her again. So, even though she was far away, he thought of her and welded and bent metal to create a device strong enough to communicate at a great distance. The work was dangerous at this altitude.

Jonathan, while working, had come under the foolish assumption that they had all the time in the world for the repairing of things. There was a cry of shock, because time was up for Dyer. Dyer was bigger, fatter in the chest and buttocks—in short, he was a heavy breather. He had used up all his oxygen. He pointed to his helmet to indicate he was through. When Dyer’s oxygen scrubbers stopped working, his hand twitched, and he held it out to his companion. Jonathan couldn’t bear to look at him.

In fright, Jonathan tried the airlock to get back in the craft, but logically he knew that would have been the first thing Dyer would have tried, and obviously Dyer hadn’t succeeded. Of course it wouldn’t move.

Jonathan’s logic turned to desperation, and he banged the door with his hands until he found the problem: a separated bit of plastic that kept the lock from matching the pressure of the universe. Jonathan used Dyer, stripping him of his suit, stuffing the holes in the door as best he could, until at least he could get the door open and make his way inside.

Jonathan was quick to realize this wasn’t the airlock he had exited from—it was different and dreamlike. It didn’t lead back to where he was from. However, it was a place Jonathan was familiar with—there was a bed he had slept in many years ago, before he had jettisoned. There was familiarity in that quant bed, the walls a place he had decorated with fragments.

Jonathan’s oxygen was running low and his helmet fogged. He had to spit to see. With each purse of the lips, every wad of water running down the helmet visor, he was able to see a bit more of the whole, a whole which expanded out into the universe around him.

Above the bed, between bubbles of water, Jonathan could see a portrait of her. It was a photo from a time in her life he recognized but couldn’t quite remember, a flash of light in a dark and empty room. In the picture she wore a pinafore dress. Jonathan pulled together a shadow of a memory, in which he said that the cut of the dress made her look like a martian from a low-budget science-fiction flick.

In this movie—he’s sure of the memory now—she would meet him in space. There she would ask him in a monotone voice why he didn’t seem to comprehend love. To that he wouldn’t have an answer, because he always thought he did understand. So they would continue floating in orbit, staring at the Earth without a word passing between them, watching as the sun moved behind the world in a thousand, rapid sunsets.

***

Daniel J. Cecil is a freelance writer living in Seattle, currently finishing his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Washington. He writes fictions, essays, and reportage. His work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Plant, Bookslut, and Heavy Feather Review, among other notable publications. He also works on Versal.

Photo credit: seriousfun, morguefile.com

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