Ice on the Moon

moon

“Look here,” he said, rattling the newspaper in her face. “It says here there’s almost certainly ice water on the surface of the moon.”

The look she gave him as she pushed the paper away was equally icy, but he didn’t notice.

“Says here that scientists are analyzing old data, information they collected in 2008, and – blah, blah, blah – bouncing infrared light into caverns and – well, it’s pretty scientific, whatever they’re doing. They can’t tell how deep the ice is because it’s in these dark craters, so it could be the tip of an ice berg or as thin as a layer of frost.”

This information was met with a thin layer of frosty silence. Again, he didn’t notice. Couldn’t he just take a breath once in a while, she wondered, glance her way, see her? With a sigh, she heaved herself to her feet and walked heavily to the kitchen. He kept on reading the evening paper aloud.

“Hey, know what else?” he called.

She couldn’t hear him over the running water and clashing pots and pans, and he had to know she couldn’t hear him, but he kept right on talking. She’d long ago stopped calling back, “What?” It didn’t matter. Talking was what mattered. Monologue was what mattered.

His words woke her in the morning, dogged her days, trailed her into sleep. She believed she knew what it was to be an oyster with a hard grain of irritation growing and growing. Only she wasn’t forming a pearl.

Earlier in their marriage she’d tried to participate, make it a dialogue, but she finally realized he wasn’t interested in what she had to say. So she built a carapace of hardening layers of silence.

Some women, she knew, longed for their husbands to talk. “Just say something,” they’d beg, “carry one end of a conversation.” Not her. She longed for her husband to shut up. If he wasn’t reading the newspaper to her, he was giving a running commentary on the television show she was trying to watch. Or reading unconnected paragraphs aloud from his current library book. Or looking out the window, relaying neighborhood activities. She never got the whole story about anything.

Parts of what he was saying drifted in from the living room: “…Twelve dead and they think it’s from…Social media says that first-born girls are more likely to…two-headed calf born in…The Gerbers got a new car, it’s a big red….”

Chatter no different than usual, but today with an inward thump she reached the end of her endurance. No more. The thought of silence, blessed silence, made the long bones in her body vibrate with anticipation.

She got the suitcase from its place of hiding behind the coats in the hall closet. It had been packed for years. From time to time, she’d update the clothing, replace the toothpaste. In an inside pocket was an envelope containing a stack of one-hundred dollar bills. She’d never been sure she’d actually do it, but she’d felt better just having an escape plan. Now she was ready.

Tearing a page from her shopping list pad, she wrote a line, then quietly picked up her car keys. He was still talking as she slipped out the door. She’d be long gone by the time he came into the kitchen to see what was delaying his dinner, and then he’d find the note on the table, pinned down by the salt shaker.

“You know that ice on the moon? It’s the tip of an iceberg.”

 

 

 

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Lulu

bossy girl

“You can’t have that, Robbie, give it to me right now.”

With her lips pushed out and arms folded across her skinny middle, she was a six-year-old bulldozer. Lulu’s voice carried authority that could not be ignored. At least, not by Robbie.

Obediently, he put the new sand pail and shovel down and stood back while Lulu took possession and began digging. He watched with wistful eyes, but he knew better than to grab the shovel back. Or even to ask for a turn. This was Lulu, after all.

~*~

“I’ve changed my mind,” Lulu said. She didn’t raise her voice. She was stating a fact, not arguing. “Not going after all.”

Robbie nodded, but it was important to him so he dared to press her ever so carefully. “It’s just that it’s too late to ask anyone else; the prom is tomorrow night, and you did say you’d be my date.”

“Nope,” Lulu said with a shrug. And that was that. He’d already paid for his tux rental, but skipped the prom.

~*~

“I need a ride to the frat party,” Lulu said, “and then you can hang out somewhere nearby and wait until I call you to pick me up. If I do call; I might meet someone.”

“But I’ve got a mid-term tomorrow. I planned to study and then get to bed early so I’d be rested. My GPA is going to rise or fall on this test.”

“Bring your books and study in the car.”

“It’s pretty cold to be…” Robbie began. But Lulu had stopped listening.

Resigned, he packed up his books and picked up his car keys.

~*~

“I’m going to marry him no matter what you say,” Lulu said.

“Wait; please listen to me. He’s not a good person. He brags about getting women drunk and assaulting them. He’s got a terrible temper. You’re making a mistake.”

“You’re just jealous.”

~*~

“Come get me, Robbie,” Lulu wailed on the phone. “He gave me a black eye and a cracked rib. I’ve got to get out of here.”

“Oh, Lulu, I tried to tell you…”

“Just come.”

Of course, he did.

~*~

“I do,” said Lulu and “I do” echoed Robbie. They turned to face the congregation and be introduced as husband and wife. Robbie’s face was incandescent with happiness; Lulu looked mildly interested.

Their youth was behind them; Lulu had been through two marriages already. Not Robbie, though. He’d waited – well, not exactly waited because he’d had no hope of ever marrying Lulu. There simply hadn’t been anyone else who interested him. He suspected that Lulu was marrying him now because she needed a safe harbor for old age. If that’s what she needed, he’d gladly supply it.

~*~

Life together was eventful, that’s how Robbie described it to himself. He’d had a lifetime of training in letting Lulu have her own way and he continued to do so. It wasn’t wise to annoy her, knowing that any day she could say, “Enough,” and it would be over. His family and friends thought he was a spineless schmuck. They didn’t understand what it meant to be with Lulu at last.

~*~

“Robbie, can you hear me?”

Since she was shouting directly into his ear, yes, he could. He made a huge effort to open his eyes, to nod.

“You can go on now. I’ll be all right,” Lulu said. “You’ve got plenty of life insurance.”

“I won’t go until you say it,” he said, so weak he could hardly form the words. Part of him marveled that he had the courage to defy her, even now when it wouldn’t matter much longer.

“Say what?”

“You know.”

“Oh, Robbie, you idiot. Do you have to hear the words?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, then. I love you.”

He smiled. He’d known it all along. His last breath was a gentle “aaah” of satisfaction.

 

Scheherazade

 

cabin in woods

 

Marilyn heard the hiss as the air left the tire. Oh, great. Here she was on the road to nowhere, her cell phone had no bars, and now she had a flat tire. Coming to a stop, she peered out into the darkness. The only thing that could possibly make this trip any better would be running out of gas, she thought, remembering that she’d passed the last opportunity to fill up a long time ago. As if on cue, the engine coughed and died. She turned the key again and again, but no reassuring thrum responded. Darn it, how could she have been so stupid!

She’d been on the way to a writers’ conference to receive an award for the latest book in her best-selling Fluffy Bunny series. It was ironic, everyone agreed, that she was so good at writing children’s books when she had no kids of her own. Beside her on the seat was a box of autographed copies of Fluffy Bunny Finds a Friend. 

It had obviously been a mistake to assume her GPS was her friend. Listening to the crisp British voice she called Queen Liz, she’d obeyed directions to turn onto this road even though it looked spooky and deserted. Now she was stranded. Okay, she’d just have to walk. She reached for the handle as the door was yanked open.

Marilyn felt herself propelled forcefully from the car. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. As she’d always feared, she wasn’t able to produce a peep in a crisis, let alone a full-throated movie scream. Struggling against the iron grip on her arm did no good at all. Eyes straining, she tried to see her assailant, but it was too dark to make out anything but a shadowy figure in a hoodie.

“Let me go,” she managed to squeak. “Who are you? Let go of me.”

The hand on her arm tightened. She was half-carried, half-dragged into the bushes that lined the road. He’s going to kill me, she thought, and nobody will ever know what happened to me because no one knows I’m here.

But they kept going. As they scrambled through the woods a faint light appeared, too dim to be powered by electricity. It was coming from the window of a cabin. Maybe somebody would hear her if she yelled.

“Help!” She managed a good, strong shout.

The figure beside her snorted a laugh. He dragged her to the door of the cabin, opened it and threw her inside. She lay stunned on the floor, seeing her captor at last by the light of a single, guttering candle.

Why, he was a kid – big, strong and obviously dangerous, but something in his eyes told her a child lived within. He covered his mouth with his hand and looked away.  Like the dog that catches a car, he didn’t seem to know what to do with her now that he had her.

Marilyn sensed what happened next was up to her. Fighting back the fear that made her legs feel like noodles, she got to her feet slowly and sat on the only chair in the room. Her captor hunkered down with his back against the door, eliminating any hope of her making a run for it.

She tried a shaky smile that felt like a grimace. “What’s your name?”

He shook his head.

“I have a son about your age,” she lied. “Do you have a mom?”

He shook his head again.

She took in their surroundings: dirt floor and log walls, straight wooden chair on which she sat, rickety table, and a pile of filthy blankets in the corner. She saw a life of isolation, a life of aching loneliness. Hunger came off him in waves, but she had a hunch it wasn’t for food. Here was a person starved for human contact.

Then, like Scheherazade, she began to save her own life. She sat up straight, smiled genuinely at the little boy she knew was there, and spoke in her own mother’s voice.

“My name is Marilyn. I’m going to tell you a story.”

Star Man

 

star man

When it was too hot to sleep, they’d climb through the window of their upstairs apartment and lie on the roof to catch whatever breeze was stirring. There in the desert the night was spangled with stars so close it felt like gravity might pull them down to the Earth. Zeke talked about how humans and stars shared the same crucial elements of life: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur.

“They’ve proved it, babe,” he said. “Scientists took a huge sampling of stars and cataloged the very same elements that we have – in different proportions, of course. It’s nice to think we’re all made of stardust.”

Ellen laughed and agreed. They were young and in love. She thought she’d found heaven right there on Earth.

Life happened, of course. The early days of just the two of them gave way to children, mortgages, careers, and worries about aging parents. They left the desert and moved to the city to be available when those parents needed them. Ellen got a job, the kids were in school and sports, and life became a blur of activity.  Zeke found silver strands in his black hair, which he called star streaks.

He laughed about it. “Getting old,” he said. It was true he’d slowed down.

When his weight loss became a concern, he finally gave in to her insistence that he see a doctor.  She returned home from work that day to find him sitting quietly in the backyard. He wasn’t cutting grass or edging or weeding. He was just sitting. It was so uncharacteristic that she felt a thrill of alarm.

“What’s up? What’d the doctor say?” She tried to sound casual as she dropped onto the grass at his feet.

“Oh, babe,” he said, and there was such a world of sadness in his voice that she knew. She knew right then the stars were falling out of their sky.

It took a year. It was a gradual, graceful fading. The children did their best to help, but most of the time it was just the two of them, like in those long ago desert days.

“The word awesome is so overused,” Ellen said after the funeral. “Any old thing is awesome these days. But you know what’s really awesome? Sharing that last journey with the person you love.”

The first year was hard. The first birthday without him, the first Thanksgiving, Christmas. Christmas was the worst. The months rolled on, seasons came and went, children continued to grow, and there were still the everyday chores of living – laundry, meals, errands.  After a while, it got easier. She laughed again, she got hungry, tired, bored.  As if nothing had changed.

Finally, when the last child left home, when his parents and her parents passed on, Ellen moved back to the desert. She bought a one-level condo, made friends, did volunteer work. Life was different, but it was good.

On a night when she couldn’t sleep, she sat outside on her tiny patio, leaned her head back and looked up. The stars went on forever, still flinging out their splendor, still  composed of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur.

“Hi, babe,” she said.