His glove scraped across the metal of the spaceship as he gripped the next handhold, pulling himself further across the ’ship. The sound was muffled by his helmet and rang tinnily in his ears. This job was dangerous. It was the only time they had to be outside of the ship and exposed to all of the dangers inherent within that – the cold, oxygen depletion, getting lost or cut off. He always volunteered for it.
He grabbed another hold, feeling his wedding band pressing hard into the metal through his glove. The rope wrapped around his waist tugged again as it unspooled, reassuring him that he was still safe; that he could still find his way back home.
His throat tightened. He swallowed, and grasped for another handhold, pulling himself across.
He tried to ignore the tiny blue-green planet that spun inexorably beneath him.
That was the spaceship now, though his colleagues were merely colleagues beneath their veneer of friendship and teamwork. No one here knew him. No one here wanted to know him. His shoulders felt so light, and his mind so clear. Right now, it was just him and the void. He could float away into it right now and no-one would miss him.
The rope tugged again.
He was there, at the external part that needed to be cleaned. He got straight to work. He was sure his colleagues wouldn’t be too happy if the ship shut down. They wouldn’t so much like the idea of rotting slowly away in a hollowed-out metal coffin, even if they were already doing so. They just didn’t like to think of it that way.
He looked steadfastly at the part as he scrubbed. Not behind, and definitely not below.
And yet, somehow as always, he ended up with it in his view.
Home, a part of him whispered, though he tried to silence it.
And yet, was a home really a home when you had no one left in it who knew you? When it was filled with echoes and ghosts and slow, horrible, creeping silence?
He cleaned firmly, scrubbing more roughly than was really necessary.
It didn’t stop the thoughts though.
The bitter sting of tears as his mother slammed the door in his face, spitting insults he couldn’t bear to repeat, not even in the safety of his own mind.
The cold biting into his bones as he huddled on freezing concrete in a thin sleeping bag for warmth of the streets. He remembers barely sleeping; ever-watching, ever-wary.
The joy of a waiting list finally reaching his name. A warm bed, a duvet. Heating. A safe place to leave his stuff. Then, by some miracle, a job. Then a stable job. Then a man – bright and wonderful, with a gorgeous smile. His family, so welcoming and accepting that they took him in without question and treated him like a son. His father taking him out on fishing trips, his mother who taught him how to cook one day when he confessed he could barely boil water. His sister, though a teenager, never complained about his sudden presence in her life.
But, as always, life came crashing back into his joy right after the wedding. The death of his father-in-law from an unexpected heart attack at forty-nine shattered them both, and they never quite managed to make themselves whole again. His husband grew distant and uncommunicative in response to his need for support, which only made him clingier and his husband more distant. And thus, the cycle repeated.
Walking in on him with another man was barely a surprise when it happened. Just another dull ache in his heart to join the rest of his gaping wounds.
The divorce barely registered. He threw himself into his career instead, avoiding people at every opportunity. Most got the point and drifted away.
A few people stayed though, and they forced him to stay tethered to society. To life.
Two sharp tugs on the rope. He realised that his oxygen was running low. The filter was clean – it was time to go. As he grasped the first handhold, he contemplated just… taking too long.
But only for a moment.
And as he stepped back into the ship, Alexis, his colleague, was waiting for him. She looked harassed. Stressed.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.
She looked surprised, but answered. ‘Just everything to do and no time to do it in.’ And a crooked smile crossed her face.
He smiled back tentatively. The distance between them felt more finite.
She became more businesslike. ‘I’ll let you go. Your call with… Jennifer? Is soon, right?’
He nodded. ‘My mother-in-law. My ex mother-in-law. She stuck by me after… you know. Anyway, thank you.’
She nodded sympathetically.
There was an awkward pause before he nodded clumsily at her and hurried away.
The video link loaded slowly but surely. Jenny’s face was already set in a smile as she finally appeared on the screen.
‘How was your day?’ she asked.