Karl’s hand landed solidly onto Lola’s cheek.
She woke up abruptly.
“What was that?”
“Nothing. There was a fly on you. I wanted to get it before it bit you.” Lola sat up in her chair and rubbed her face.
“There aren’t any bugs in space, Karl. They can’t survive out here. Nothing can survive out here.”
“We can,” he said. More so to convince himself, than to keep the rebuttal afloat.
“Barely,” she whispered. Lola eased back into her seat and looked at her reflection from her window. She looked the same. Well, she thought she did. How can you really tell something has changed when you look at it all the time? The subtle differences in her face were imperceptible. Unlike Karl’s receding hairline and thick jowls that made him look like a prize bullmastiff more and more each day. But she wasn’t going to tell him that. What difference would it make?
Lola touched her red cheek again and watched the stars flitter by outside her cabin window. Or were they meteors? That’s how everything started. How her once sleepy and uninteresting life in Wapello, Iowa all unravelled.
The meteorite showers began ten years ago. They started out as charming light shows that people with advanced telescopic instruments would watch from their balconies late at night. Nobody worried about chunks of meteorites landing in jungles, or in the ocean. That was normal. But as they became more frequent, the residual matter—‘space debris’ they called it, was soon landing in places where it wasn’t supposed to land. And as the frequency increased, so did the probability of getting your car crushed by one. It became a game of Russian roulette and eager Insurance companies—sensing a great business opportunity for paranoid citizenry, allowed policyholders to update their contracts to include Acts of God, which infuriated everyone, but the atheists. This new policy, however, was short-lived as Insurance companies began losing their shirts on pulverised ranches and shopping malls. Things spiralled rapidly. Within a short span, space debris was taking out small villages in India and damaging Polynesian Islands at a prodigious rate. NASA began to pay particular attention when a World Series game was rudely interrupted. The United States was not going to tolerate this. They were willing to condone incompetent Presidents and the loss of their animation studios to South East Asia, but they were not willing to accept this onslaught of uninvited projectiles. Surely they could resolve this predicament.
NASA, and some newly forged international partners, immediately sprang into action. First on the agenda was a new name for the organization. After much debate, and the loss of the continental shelf in eastern Canada, Okay United Transport, or OUT for short, was created. Second on the agenda for the greatest space minds on the planet was to come up with a decisive plan. Their solution? Get the hell off planet Earth. Within years they pulled together a strategy to transport all of Earth’s citizens into space. To where exactly was not determined; that would be considered Phase II. Phase I was to build enough space carriers to move everyone off the orbiting rock before catastrophe occurred. Wave after wave of nonplussed Earthlings left the planet in aircraft vessels into the Milky Way. What first started off as a new adventure, a new life, a new beginning, soon became just a long road trip. In space.
“I wonder how she’s doing?”
“You know who.” After eighteen years of marriage she knew exactly who he was talking about.
“Yes. Raven.” He had to calm himself. He hyperventilated whenever he got excited, and oxygen was at a premium where they currently were. He didn’t want to be called out as an ‘oxygen-pig’ at the next Town Hall meeting; he hated having to wear the faux snub nose all day. How he hated those stand-up meetings to update the passengers of Vessel 918. He dreaded the meandering, useless gatherings that provided little to no information of their current predicament. He knew they were still in space—he could plainly see that when he looked out the window. Everybody could. He wanted real answers to his questions. Where were they going? How long would it take? Why couldn’t Movie Night be every night, instead of Fridays only? And why bother keeping track of days of the week when time was irrelevant? It’s not like anyone had to be at work Monday morning. These were the things that occupied his mind when awake.
“I’m sure she’s fine. We left her a lot of food. All over the house. If she rations it, she should be good.” God, was he still worried about that stupid parrot? She’d do anything to switch places with it. At least it could eat when it wanted to eat. In this glorified soup can everything was rationed. And served in a tube or hermetically-sealed cylinder. How she wished she could pop something open and spill it. Or wave it around, splashing everyone. She was tired of pumping pasty fluids into her body; she felt like her bones were turning to mush—like the meals that squirted into her mouth. She would kill to hear the sound of her teeth crunching a cookie. To hear the echoing sound it made as it rebounded within her eardrums, like footsteps on a gravel road.
“Raven was never good with rationing was she?” Especially when she hid all the food! Parrots can’t open cupboards. How many times did he have to explain this to her? Parrots don’t have hands! Their claws were formidable yes, but flying and pulling open a cupboard door? Impossible. Raven would starve senselessly trying to get to her food pellets thanks to her.
“No she wasn’t. But she tried.” Who names a parrot Raven? That would be like naming a dog Cat. And never once, not once, did that parrot speak. And wasn’t that the point of getting a parrot, as opposed to an eagle or pigeon? At least an eagle would be able to feed itself. Each day she had to listen to Karl repeat small sentences to the mute bird. Raven want a cracker? Raven want a cracker? Obviously not! What a useless exercise. He would have had an easier chance to teach it to ride a bicycle. Or open a cupboard door.
Karl and Lola smiled at each other. There was no need to get into any deep and profound discussions. It had been fifteen months since Take Off. Fifteen months of careening through one galaxy to the next. They watched the same holograms and nourished themselves from the same coagulating tubes. Nothing new happened, and everything else—their past together on planet Earth, was exhausted of its nutrient rich stories.
The lights above them flashed off and on repeatedly; it was feeding time. Hoses bounced down from the compartments above them.
“I wonder if we are having fried chicken again today,” said Karl. Of course we are! We always have friend chicken on Wednesdays! Where have you been?
“And rhubarb pie for dessert,” she added. He hated rhubarb. Why not eat wood instead?
A ship warden smiled as she walked by. What a lovely couple she thought.
Karl and Lola pulled down their feeding tubes and inserted them into their mouths. They waited for the second set of lights to proceed. To start sucking.
Karl closed his eyes and drifted away momentarily. He then awoke abruptly to a loud smacking sound. He rubbed his face.
“What was that?”
“Nothing,” she said. “Just a fly.”
Banner Image: Pixabay.com