By Tara Isabel Zambrano
I used to be an astronaut, he says, seated next to me in a down-town bar, sipping beer. I turn my head towards him. I am dressed in black tights and a red cardigan, thick, black curls and a heavy mascara. He is tall, his face lost to a poor lighting. I eye his hands, trimmed nails and wrinkled knuckles, he reminds me of you minus the tattoo of Reaper on his forearm.
He offers the next round of drinks. I am not so sure, but I go along. So how does it feel to be in space, I ask. He stares at me, then gulps the rest of his beer.
It’s like mixing with the night, the darkness numbs the image of colors in your head, he answers. The gravity tricks your body about what it has known all along.
Yes, he says, that’s what it is, space is poetic.
I buried my husband a month ago, I say. I shouldn’t be here.
Outside, on the sidewalk, he follows me. Listen, he calls out and grabs my arm. It’s warm, firm. His eyes are sad, compassionate. We kiss, wander towards a deserted parking lot, the thin ribs of florescent light above us, flickering. I hear his zipper, my fingers in his wild hair, my tongue swirling in the dark of his mouth, numbing my senses. Then he stops, and says he wants to take me home.
How far? I ask.
Around the block. He points to a high rise.
When we pass by a restaurant, I see couples kissing, swaying to light jazz. I never saw this side of night when you were around. We always slept early, got up early. Yoga, meditation retreats. Understanding the way to live, to die. Now, here on the sidewalk, is a world I haven’t witnessed in a long time. It’s careless, alive. He pulls me close. I slightly bite his ear. His head is leaned in, a light chill settling on our exposed cheeks.
His apartment is filled with piles of books. Posters on the walls—the surface of the moon, craters. A heap of clothes on the side. He presses his face against my chest. I interlace my fingers with his. Soft, yielding. Suddenly, he lifts his head. Did you love him, your husband? I avoid his eyes, glance at a dark corner. I make a mental list of all the things I’ve left behind: my wedding ring, my sleeping pills, my phone because I no longer need to text you that I’m running late. I’m supposed to be still in love with you but I’m here. He plays with my curls. I’ve been in love, he says. It felt like as if I was in a reduced gravity chamber, my insides tumbling. I laugh. Never heard that before. The lightness in my voice surprises me.
My tights and cardigan are off. He is in his boxers: little rockets with blazing trails. The bed is small for both of us. I’ve become used to being in cramped spaces, he says. The rain gently taps at the windows. He kisses my bare breasts, licks my navel, my clit. He digs his tongue deep, until I am spent, until I can’t move anymore.
I don’t tell him that you and I slept in separate beds. I don’t tell him that I cared for you like a mother takes care of her child. Hours ache by as I dream about being lost in darkness, my body spinning in space, naked.
When I wake up, I hear the breaking of shells, possibly eggs crackling as they hit the hot oil. I feel hungry and sad. What am I doing. I push my curls behind my ears, I put on my clothes. I am ready to leave when he holds my hand, squeezes it.
Come, eat with me, he says. Stay.
For a moment, he sounds like you, luring me, showing me, this is the life I need, this is the life. In the meantime, the rain keeps coming down, a satisfying sickness in my stomach, as if it’s filled with fog. I’m thinking of you, your gentle, cautious voice, Stay. A clink, a swish. We’re flying in darkness, the air cooler, a strong fishy smell. We’re escaping gravity, my insides tumbling. A kiss. I’m moving my tongue. Your hands moving to my waist. Stay. Then lower, lower.
Tara Isabel Zambrano works as a semiconductor chip designer. Her work has been published in Tin House Online, The Southampton Review, Slice, Triquarterly, Yemassee, Passages North and others. Recently she served as Flash Fiction Editor at Newfound.org. Tara moved from India to the United States two decades ago and holds an instrument rating for single engine aircraft. She lives in Texas.
Art by Michelle Johnsen, art editor
Michelle Johnsen is a nature and portrait photographer in Lancaster, PA, as well as an amateur herbalist and naturalist. Her work has been featured by It’s Modern Art, Susquehanna Style magazine, Permaculture Activist magazine, EcoWatch.com, EarthFirst! Journal, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, and used as album art for Grandma Shake!, Anna & Elizabeth, and Liz Fulmer Music. Michelle’s photos have also been stolen by AP, weather.com, The Daily Mail, and Lancaster Newspapers. You can contact her at mjphoto717 [at] gmail.com.