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art by Tim Stewart

Tonight With Words Unspoken

Jeff Samson makes a living as a copywriter with an ad agency in NYC. He brews Irish stout when hes not writing science fiction, and often drinks it when he is. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and no cats.

I was always the first to fall asleep.
Sometimes she'd have to lay awake with me for hours. Stroking my hair. Rubbing my temples. Reading to me from old books we'd find in stores that smelled of leather and dust. Or singing to me in whispers. Her breath a gentle, sweet current on my ear. Quieting my stubborn head.
"You do all your thinking at night," she'd say, her lips soft against mine. "You're my midnight muser."
"I don't have time to think during the day, baby," I'd say, drawing her closer. "I'm too busy working."
She'd giggle and say I made no sense, and kiss me again. And read and sing until I didn't kiss back.
I was also the first to wake.
In the morning the room would be on fire. Bathed in buttery sunlight. I'd lose myself in the lines of her face. In the rise and fall of her chest. The underwater slowness and grace of her motions, and the catlike noises they evoked. And just as she was there to send me off to sleep, I was there to see her wake.
"You watching me sleep again?" she'd say, playing bashful and drawing the covers over her face.
"I was until you went and ruined it," I'd say, pulling them back down, and over us both.
It was the same way the night we left our world for another. Her sitting on the edge of my capsule, leaning in to me, smoothing the furrows in my brow with her soft hands.
"Try to get all your musing done before we get there, would you?" she said.
"I won't be doing any musing, baby." I said. "We'll be too deep for that. So deep it'll seem like no time has passed at all. It'll be like all we did was blink."
"Oh, I'm sure you'll find a way."
I laughed. "You still love me?"
"You know I do."
"Oh sure, you say that now. But will you respect me in the morning?"
"Hmm, I don't know. Is there such thing as a fifty-year itch?"
"No idea, baby. But if there is, I think it's safe to say we're cheating it."
"Well then," she said, leaning down and kissing me, "I'll see you in a blink."
She stood up and stepped back. I punched the codes into the panel at my side, and the glass canopy slid up to cover me. She pressed her face to the glass above my head, leaving an iridescent echo of her perfect lips. We both laughed. And mouthed, "I love you."
It was that imprint of her kiss that greeted my eyes the morning I awoke. The memory of her face burning fresh in my mind as if not a moment had passed, as the canopy of my capsule slid open, and the ship came to life with a flutter of lights and beeps, and a groan that swelled to a steady hum.
Without grogginess or fatigue, I exited my capsule and started for hers. Ignoring the ship's computer reporting our status and taking inventory in its even, sonorous voice. Barely glancing at the brilliant terrestrial body displaying on the holoscreen.
She didn't seem real. Was too small to be real. A child dressed in her mother's clothes.
Her skin was the color of tarnished brass. Mottled and cracked like the worn leather binding on one of our books. Her face hugged the contours of her skull, taut over its hills and ridges, sunken in its recesses. Her once full lips paper thin, drawn back over ivoried teeth in a twisted semblance of a smile. Eyes two withered beads sitting in hollow slits. Her hands were folded across her chest, jagged ends of bone poking through the knuckles. Their color matched the blackened smudges, spatters, and handprints caked on the underside of the glass.
In a voice too serene, the computer explained. It had received no warning signs from any of its animation suspension systems. No indication of malfunction. But her deep sleep had never come. Her capsule had sealed, and become a tomb. And kept it to itself.
I sit at the helm of our vessel. The world we'd hoped to make our home fills the observation window. The majesty of its land and seascapes far exceeding the promise of the dry geomorphologic data and digital renderings that inspired us to make our journey forty-two years ago. I override the collision fail-safes, ignoring the computer's protests. Feel the weight of acceleration.
I close my eyes and think of her face. Her hands. Her voice.
And wait for sleep.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, February 17th, 2011
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