Look at him, chasing those eggs around with his fork. Such a child. Nearly cried when he realized he’d forgotten Valentine’s Day. Did cry when I forgave him.
You’d never know he was a prize-winning “genius.”
“But he loves you!” you’ll say. As if you knew anything about it.
If he had just taken my criticism gracefully when I fixed his miscalculations, I might have maintained the awestruck humility that led to our marriage, but he always had to make me feel small. For example, I helped him avoid embarrassment in his paper on naked quarks and depressurized space. As usual, he loudly insisted he was right, and I guess the guys in the lab heard us arguing, because they were high-fiving me later.
He got me back, all right. It was the end of the day, and we’d had a few drinks to celebrate one of the guys’ birthdays. We were having an innocent conversation about the lab Halloween party when I said I’d go as a charm quark, and he said I should go as a naked quark, since I was such an expert. The next thing I knew he started the whole lab on a chant of “Take it off! Take it off!” I didn’t, but after that the guys just looked away from me, kind of embarrassed.
Same thing with this voyage. He let the press know I was nothing but his lowly lab assistant, lucky to be going at all, and they drew their own conclusions based on our age difference. While they were snapping my picture, with their knowing leers, he pinched my bottom on the sly, and I just smiled and smiled. I never let him know he’s gotten to me, and I wasn’t about to leave him and miss out on a chance to study particle entanglement in a binary black hole and possibly invent time travel!
Still, I didn’t plan to kill him. He was the one who set the levels for the shields on the control room too low, even after all his warnings about space radiation, cancer, and long-term nerve damage (as if I couldn’t understand the ship safety protocols just as well as he could). When I discovered his mistake, it was late, and I wasn’t up for another delivery of mathematical first aid to the Great Brain. Then from day to day I just put off telling him while I processed data in the lab and he sat in the control room, pondering his Theory of Everything.
One day, I noticed he was slipping. Before long, even he noticed. I do feel remorseful, but he would want me to complete the mission, and it’s kinder to let the cancer get him than preserve him in this infantile state. I even tried to explain what was happening to him, because I thought he’d want to understand. I pretended I was seeking a cure and showed him the scans of his nerves. Poor thing. They’re like trees after a forest fire.
All he can do now is push the button that keeps us on course to the probe launch site. The computer actually does everything. If we need to recharge solar cells or plug in new coordinates to take advantage of stellar wind energy, it automatically sets us in the optimal direction, taking into account our ultimate destination. But pressing the button makes him feel useful, and the computer will alert me if he gets up to any monkey business in there.
So you see I’m not a monster. I even made him his favorite breakfast, bacon and eggs, for Valentine’s Day. It’s nice that he can still enjoy it. I’ll be back later to clean up. He makes such a mess now, but I never complain. I’m surprised at how maternal I can be.
Breakfast in bed! And the other day I was so angry I left myself a note: “Confront M. about shields.” Eggs delicious, if a little slippery. I won’t be angry, but maybe it’s important. Shields. Must remember.
Bacon easier — just pick it up. I used to get angry more. She was always showing me up. But she always forgave me, too. She can be tender — so patient when I make mistakes. Like forgetting Valentine’s Day.
Here’s why I forgot. I woke up feeling alert for the first time in days and checked my list right away. “Shields” at the top, then “Course coordinates,” and “Valentine’s” at the bottom. While I was puzzling about the shields, she brought the breakfast, and I remembered Valentine’s Day, and when I finished apologizing, she was gone. I was back to the shields, and the eggs.
Coffee helpful, though less and less… I have it! I need to fix my mistake about the coordinates.
I don’t remember how it happened, exactly. Oh yes. It was on that good day, sometime last week, when I found out the thing I’m trying to remember about the shields. I checked everything else after that, and something looked off about the course coordinates — by then it was getting late. I started fixing them, but I got worried about dinner, so I just fixed the computer to stop it alerting her and wrote “course coordinates” down on my list for later.
But if she sees it, she’ll be upset. On Valentine’s. Whoosh! Press a button, and it’s gone. I’ll fix it when she’s in her lab.
Lab! That’s why I was angry. In there she has extra shielding against radiation, so it doesn’t interfere with experiments. She’s known all along the shields were low on the control room, so I was getting too much radiation while she was safe. It hit me when she showed me the scans. I could see all the branching dendrites on my “before” neurons, and the withered stalks “after.” She wasn’t seeking a cure, she was mocking me.
Won’t be laughing so hard when I tell her about — the other thing.
Lorna Wood is a violinist and writer in Auburn, Alabama, with a Ph.D. in English from Yale. She was a finalist in the 2016 Neoverse Short Story Competition and the SHARKPACK Poetry Review’s Valus’ Sigil competition. Her fiction has appeared in Mysterical-E, Deadman’s Tome, Between Worlds Zine, Dark Magic (Owl Hollow Press anthology), No Extra Words, Wild Violet, Blue Monday Review, and on Kindle. Lorna is Associate Editor of Gemini Magazine and has also published poetry and scholarly essays.