Written for the 10/02/15 TerribleMinds Flash Fiction Challenge
Thanks to missalimcd for the title
“You’re going to ovulate soon.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Elf told me this morning—.”
“Babe, who knows my body better? Me or your damn planner?”
The planner doesn’t lie to me, Kerry thought. The planner isn’t prone to confirmation bias.
He sighed. “I’m not having sex with you.”
The soap dispenser hummed in the shower. His wife was silent.
“Look, Carol. If you’d just get the implant like everyone else, we wouldn’t keep having this conversation.” He glanced at the timer ticking away on the sink in their tiny bathroom. Why she insisted on keeping Earth time was beyond him. “You have two minutes.”
“I don’t trust it.”
“Then I have to be the responsible one and Elf says you’re fertile.”
“I thought I asked you not to use that thing on me,” Carol said.
“We are not going through last month again.” I am not going through last month again. She hadn’t been worried. Stuck on a far moon in Glieseyltucky. Not a pharmacy in the solar system. He woke every morning, hoping she’d be bleeding. Five months married. In far space four of those months. Kerry wasn’t ready to have a family. Hell, he wasn’t even sure he was ready to be married. To Carol.
“I told you I wasn’t pregnant. I’m in touch with my body.” The water shut off. “Towel?”
He passed their roughest towel over the screen.
“Ooo, my favorite.”
Kerry backed out of the bathroom into their galley kitchen, giving her room.
Carol swept him off his feet when they met less than a year ago at a destination journalism convention. He thought it was a romantic gesture, trading in his State Room in the Orlando Destroyer for a pocket shuttle. Eloping without a word to his parents. Together, they jetted across the galaxy. Her with her gogglecam, him with his glovewriters. Far away from everything else. From everyone else.
It had been a bad idea. He knew that now.
Doubts compressed into the back of his mind as the shower screen accordioned in on itself. He could argue with her all he wanted when he couldn’t see her face.
“Your coffee,” he said, extending the mug he’d been clutching.
“Thank you.” She gave him that lip-biting smile of hers. Choppy brown bangs clung to her forehead. Blue eyes were shower red.
He leaned in the doorway, watching the miracle of a woman getting dressed. Purple panties with navy edging dragged past her knobby knees. Black cami bra just for show, covering her seckel pear tits. White lace cami. Sparkling leggings. Chunky olive sweater dress. A pilgrimage from desire to innocence.
She patted around the sink.
“I have them.” He handed her the chunky tortoise-shell frames.
“You are too good,” Carol said, placing the glasses on her upturned nose. “Your turn for the shower. I need to upload yesterday’s work into CarLan’s database. And then.” She made a high-pitch squealing noise, clapping her hands silently. “We get to shoot the double moon rise!”
“Could you look at this thing on my back first?” Kerry said as he stripped off his shirt.
“Just leave it alone,” she said.
“Please. It’s been bugging me since we fueled up at Vines.”
“And I’ve been telling you every day for the past four months that I don’t see anything.”
He turned his back to her. “I think it’s getting larger.” He tried to reach his hands around his back, stretching for the expanse of skin he couldn’t reach.
She perched her tiny raccoon-like hands on her hips. “I still don’t see it. Does it hurt?”
“Then leave it alone.”
Kerry turned his back to the tiny cosmetic mirror in their bathroom. It was too small to be of any real use, but if he tiled it at the right angle, stood on the tip of his left toe, he could make out a mass about the size of an eyeball. It had a puffy, pale center, he thought. Kerry grabbed her hair brush off of the sink and tried to reach it.
“Leave it alone,” she said from the study. Study now, kitchen table earlier that morning, rec room last night. The walls were lined with framed five-and-a-quarter inch disks encased in glass, part of Carol’s collection of ancient media. The laser disk wreath hanging on their front door was hers as well, as were the punch card lampshades on the chandelier. Too much in such a small space.
Why had the pocket shuttle seemed so appealing? Because they are fuel efficient. Because it was the DIY thing to do. Because having a bedroom loft so low your wife couldn’t ride you was somehow hip. Because he wanted to impress Carol with his dedication to her lifestyle.
“CarLan’s got another request for work after this one,” she shouted from the kitchen. “That’s four jobs in the next year.”
“That’s great, sweetie.” He kicked off his boxers, set the timer for three minutes, and stepped into the shower.
CarLan. That was another problem for him. She insisted on a traditional marriage instead of a union. She kept her business. Her bank accounts. Her personalized identity scans. She even kept her own name, Carol Lange. At the time, her desires seemed so quaint. So endearing. How could he not love a woman who insisted on being a feminist in the post-binary world?
The hot water felt good, soothing his regrets. His parents expected him to form a union. Hell, everyone formed a union these days. It’s how you protected your partners in the intergalactic world. It’s how two became One. She wanted a marriage, an Earth marriage. She wanted to stay Carol Lang. So, here they were: Kerry and Carol, Carol and Kerry. Individuals.
He lathered and rinsed quickly. A pile of clean laundry waited for him on the fermentation toilet. Carol. Some moments, she was perfect. After dressing, he found her standing by the window behind the padded bench they called the sofa. Twin moons rose over the horizon of the former mining moon on which they’d landed. Unlova Corp hired them to take pictures of the rehabilitated moonscape.
“I can’t believe I’m finally going to get this,” she said. “I’ve waited two months for a clear shot.” The ribbed plateau on which they planned to stage the shoot was a few miles away, looming in the distance.
She gave his butt a playful pat. “Go get your gloves. I’ll goggle up.”
Minutes later, he was waiting for her at the front door, his hands enveloped in wire-mess typing gauntlets. She climbed down from the loft, thin clear goggles strapped beneath her glasses. As she neared him, Kerry saw the tiny metal veins weaving from the goggles’ frame into her eyes.
“Ready?” she asked, giving him that tooth-on-lip smile.
On the plateau, she collected her images, storing them in her goggles’ memory with rapid blinks. The matching red moons loomed over the dry ocean bed beyond. A thousand stars punctured the sky beyond them.
She bent at the waist, exposing the shadow of space where cheek met thigh. Kerry stopped typing, knowing that if he continued, Unlova Corp was going to receive notes regarding his wife’s ass. There was poetry in that place. His hand belonged there.
He crept up behind her.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Feeling up my wife.” He ran his hands along the slight curves of her body.
“Big words for the guy who doesn’t want to bang me.”
He sighed and let her go. “Did you get your shot?”
“Oh, yeah. I got her. She’s going to get us main page placement.” She leaned against him.
He wrapped his arms around her shoulders instinctively. “So, we’re done after today?”
“Yep. On to the hotel job after this. I’ll take the business route so we can get lighter clothing. Is there anything you need?”
“Well,” he said, squeezing her shoulders a little tighter. “We’ve been married for almost half a year. I’d really like you to meet my parents. Do you think we can swing by their place? It’s on the way.”
She shoulders tensed. “I really don’t think so.”
“Please? They’re nice people. My mom is going to love you.”
“There’s not enough time,” she said, twisting out of his arms.
“But we have time to go shopping? Come on.”
“You ditched all your summer clothing before this job. I need to go shopping.”
“And I need you to meet my parents.”
“I just don’t see that happening.” She turned her back and stalked in the direction of the pocket shuttle.
“Look, this hasn’t been easy on me.” He followed her. “Quitting my job. Leaving my friends and family. Running off to the middle of nowhere with you. But, I did it. I just need you to do this one little thing for me. For us.”
She didn’t slow down.
“Carol. CAROL.” He caught up with her, grabbing an arm. “You’re unconventional. I don’t always understand, but I love you for it. It’s just that…” He sighed, loosening his grip. “If you can’t wrap your head around meeting my parents, I don’t think this is going to work out.”
“I agree completely.” She turned around and blinked one.
“You’re taking my picture?”
“I want to remember this,” she said. Opening her arms, she gestured for him to hug her. Kerry pulled her close, feeling her bony arms wrap around his torso.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“I am, too.”
“Ow. Carol, stop that.” Her fingers massaged the growth on his back. “What are you doing?”
She dug her fingers into the yielding mass. He writhed, trying to get away. Her small arms were surprisingly strong. “Fuck. Stop it. It really hurts.” Her nails poked the protrusion through his shirt. “Carol. Car—.”
Bio-gel poured from his back, pale and sticky. He tried to ask her what was happening as existence leaked from the hole.
“Damn it,” she muttered, kicking Kerry as he deflated. The sack of skin oozed. “Damn it. Damn it.”
When he was mostly empty, she rolled him up, starting at his feet, working the remaining fluid from his body. She paused upon reaching where his sternum formerly existed. Tearing at the opening in his back, she removed a silver five-and-a-quarter inch drive housing Kerry. She tucked this and the loose roll of skin under her arm and headed back to the pocket shuttle.
Once again, she’d failed when writing his family programming. Orphan Kerry was too depressed. Child of divorce Kerry hated women. Absent mother Kerry had mommy issues.
She dropped him on the table as she entered the shuttle.
Stable family Kerry was responsible. Stable family Kerry was reliable. Stable family Kerry wanted to take her home to meet his nonexistent parents.
In-laws. There were always complications.