Saoirse and the Man Who Went to a Moon by Laura Pavlo
“A NASA man might turn up at your door if the item you send isn’t approved,” Finn said to Saoirse over a heavy plate of chicken biryani.
Their waiter filled her water glass for the umpteenth time. Saoirse snowplowed basmanti rice around her plate. This was the same restaurant where Finn told her he’d been selected for the trip. He was pale with excitement as he sorted through the details between large sips of wine. After a certain point, he was unable to articulate the technical details that had excited him most at the beginning of the conversation. Their waiter nervously eyed Finn as he scrawled numbers on a cloth napkin to depict the distance between point A—the Earth—and point B—Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons—divided by the selectees of the trip was equal to the amount of years it would take to reach the earliest stage of colonization.
Dinner waned on. He touched his plate only once after she urged him to balance out the wine. He fed her spoonfuls of information, one fact after another. She smiled and nodded and said “wow” and kept her eyes on his as often as she was able. She thought about how brave he must be to end his life on Earth.
Three weeks before the launch they spent their last night together, although neither realized it was their last night; they expected an over-the-top romantic goodbye at the launch-center just before the T-minus. That night his mind was unsteady for the hour. It was just after dinner and she was looking over a sheet of information about sending NASA an item for him to take to Europa. He was hardly a stone’s throw away from her, seated in the far corner of her living room and repeatedly yawning. He said something to himself, probably reading aloud a newspaper headline to make better sense of it. His voice was consumed in a soft flame, fireplace air closing ’round his face. She wrote out a grocery list and paid extra attention to the items to weigh their worthiness for a moon.
No fire on Europa. Maybe she’d send him matches—a naughty tease.
Saoirse was in the bath reading the newspaper when Finn called to say he wasn’t going to see her again. Suddenly the house was leaning to its side. He explained that NASA knocked on his door without warning and told him it was time. He hadn’t even packed a bag.
“I’m in the back of a van with no windows,” he said, his voice crackling over cellular data debilitated by a bulletproof van. She pictured him in the back of a S.W.A.T. van, a slit of light across his eyes painting him as a villain.
“Are you scared?”
“No. Mostly surprised. Excited too.”
The men in the van would dispose of his phone once they arrived at the base. His last word to her was “sayonara,” a tiny inside joke they shared about her name and the word having the same unusual combination of vowels and consonants.
She sat still in the lukewarm water, her elbows propped on either edge of the tub holding the limp newspaper. Time drifted long enough for the newspaper to dip beneath the leveled suds and paint translucent acrobatic squids in the lilac-smelling bubble bath water.
Hazily, she pulled herself out of the bath once it turned gray. The cool air dragged her into a memory of a post-first-date morning, everything fresh like cotton towels. New smell, new body, new voice, new stories, all wrapped in a new heart. Finn draped his arm over the swoop of her hip and traced words of a made up language on her skin. A plain of skin erupted into goosebumps as a gazelle of nails ran across it, four fingers leaving azaleapink tracks as they traveled into a shallow valley of muscle.
The bathmat grew damp beneath her feet. The housekeeper left an empty bottle of bleach on the bathroom counter earlier in the week so Saoirse added it to her grocery list. The list always stretched longer, she thought, but the days are getting shorter.
How long is a day on Europa? she wondered. There wasn’t enough time in a day on Earth to use all of the things on these grocery lists she wrote, especially when the housekeeper silently added items to the list by leaving empty bottles and wrinkled sponges around the house.
With a towel loosely slung over her, she paced around the house to find something to mail to NASA. Sneakers? No, everything will be government-issued. Food? Not allowed. A photo? Too sentimental and a buzzkill: he’d be procreating with the female selectees in order to colonize their new extraterrestrial home.
Will there be gravity where they fuck? she thought. She felt carsick.
What story would grocery lists tell if they never left the refrigerator door? If eggs could speak. If milk wouldn’t spill. If all she listed from this day forward were chocolate-covered things or ice cream accoutrement, what would turn out differently?
She wondered if Europa would eventually feel like a house Finn knew well, a place in which he could be blind and still find every cabinet handle, faucet turn and doorknob. Or in the case of a moon, every oxygen-tank twist, laboratory lock, and extraterrestrial circuit breaker.
Saoirse imagined all the things she could give Finn laid out in front of her like a garage sale on an empty street: brown bags of summer-fresh corn, a replica of Wyeth’s Christina’s World, the hair ribbon he always asked her to wear, the housewarming pot of nightshade flowers from his mother, a worn hotel keycard, a box of ticket stubs, their bed, her shampoo, an angry broken plate, a grocery list.
Laura Pavlo is a designer and writer working in New York. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Fat Magazine, Four Chambers Press, District Lit, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Menda City Press, Anomaly Literary Journal, 99 Pine Street, Stylus Literary Journal, and The Walrus. She won first prize for the Jimenez-Porter Writers Prize for her novella “Ellipsis.” She has two BAs, one in English and one in graphic design, from the University of Maryland and is a proud two-time conqueror of James Joyce’s Ulysses.