At Least We Share the Same Sun

<message sent 10:34:04 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> How are you these days?

 

 

<message sent 11:18:23 SST, July 13, 2144: New Alba, PA, UNAS> I’m okay. Busy, as always. You?

 

 

<message sent 12:04:39 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> Busy too.

 

 

<message sent 12:50:08 SST, July 13, 2144: New Alba, PA, UNAS> When do you think you can come visit next? Everyone keeps asking about you. The kids keep growing like weeds. Harris is walking now, you know.

 

<message sent 13:35:56 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> He is? That’s great. I don’t know when I can come back. We opened a new mine last week. The new crew’s a bunch of morons. Gotta keep them in my sights or they’ll end up blowing up the whole moon.

 

<message sent 15:02:43 SST, July 13, 2144: New Alba, PA, UNAS> Yeah. I understand.

 

<message sent 15:49:12 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> Are you mad? Look, I’m doing my best. This is better than Alpha Centauri.

 

<message sent 17:19:00 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> I know it’s not ideal, but I’m literally 99.9999% closer to home than I was there. There are shuttles every month now instead of every three years. You can get a message here in 45 minutes instead of 4 years.

 

<message sent 19:33:45 SST, July 13, 2144: New Alba, PA, UNAS> We just miss you, that’s all. But please don’t feel like I’m judging you. You’ve got a great job there as mine supervisor. You are doing great things, I’m sure.

 

<message sent 20:19:55 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> Actually, to be honest, I feel like I’m in exile here. Europa is fine, but it’s lonely. I moved to be closer, but I feel further away than ever. Now I’m just far away from everything. Also, there are no butterflies here. It’s a minor point, I guess, but you should have seen the butterflies we had on Alpha Centauri. They were beautiful enough to make you tear up. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures, but pictures, even videos, don’t do them justice.

 

<message sent 20:21:13 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> Sorry for that. Just getting things off my chest.

 

<message sent 21:29:51 SST, July 13, 2144: New Alba, PA, UNAS> Sorry you feel so down. If it makes you feel any better, I do like having you in the same solar system. After 4 lightyears, 390 million miles seems like just down the street. Gustav even wanted to get a telescope, so he could see you. I told him we could try.

 

<message sent 22:16:21 SST, July 13, 2144: Europa Station 5> I’ll wave sometimes, in case he’s looking at me.:) Well, even if I can’t come by for dinner every week, things are improving little by little. At least we share the same sun now.

 

<message sent 23:03:49 SST, July 13, 2144: New Alba, PA, UNAS> Yeah.:) Maybe someday we’ll even share the same moon again.

 


My Chipmunk Saga

This is a true story. My office is in the basement of a converted house and it is surrounded by death traps. To be fair, they’re called window wells and nothing has actually died in them, that I know of, but it’s been close. Baby animals especially fall in there and can’t get out.

This afternoon, one of my coworkers came into my office and said there was a small chipmunk in the window well. We both work in the basement so it’s easy to see into the window wells. I never look into them, however, although she does. “It’s alive but it’s not moving much and it’s covered with flies.” Uh oh, that didn’t sound good. She thought it was a baby one. I went over and looked. It looked small, but all chipmunks are small, so I couldn’t tell if it was a baby or not. It looked dead to me and had flies on it, but she said she’d seen it moving. We figured it could have been down there for days without food or water.

picture-of-a-baby-chipmunk

I didn’t think it had much of a chance but I didn’t want a dead chipmunk in our window well and I wanted to at least try to save it. I went outside and climbed down into the window well, while she watched from inside. The little guy was definitely alive but barely. I scooped him up with a piece of bark and put him on the grass outside. He moved feebly, but couldn’t stand up. I went and got a paper plate with some water on it, although I thought he looked too weak to drink it.

So I left, not expecting him to survive, but not knowing what else to do. A little while later, my coworker came back and said, “He fell in again.”

chipmunk

Grumbling about suicidal chipmunks, I went back and looked out the window. There was a chipmunk in there but definitely not the same one. This one had lots of energy and was trying to jump up the molded ladder to get out, but he couldn’t quite make it.

The day was shaping up to be a reverse episode of Chip and Dale, Rescue Rangers, where I was the one rescuing the chipmunks. I went out and found that it had started to rain. The first chipmunk (let’s call him Chip) had crawled about three feet and was still lying on the grass, trembling and getting soaked by the rain. I picked him up with the paper plate and put him under some bushes to stay dry. Then I got a mop and angled it down into the window well so the other chipmunk (Dale) could climb up.

Now that it was raining, Chip probably had enough water, but needed food. “If only we had some nuts,” my coworker said. “I have some,” I said. I have a container of trail mix in my office to stave off mid-afternoon munchies, so I picked out some peanuts and raisins and carried them out and put them next to Chip. He got up immediately and tried to eat but his legs were shaking so hard he could barely stand. I looked down and saw that Dale was gone, so I assumed he had climbed up and brought the mop back inside.

I was just about to go home when my coworker mentioned that there was a chipmunk in the window well, yet again. I was tempted to let stupid chipmunks lie, but I went outside and looked in. Again, I couldn’t see anything. Then, as I climbed in to get a better look, I noticed that a section of siding was trembling. I lifted it up and there was Dale, hiding underneath it. Apparently, he had never climbed out, just hidden. I had a plastic garbage can and so for the next few minutes, I terrified the little guy by chasing him around the window well, trying to get him into the garbage can. I felt like a nurse running after a fleeing patient with needle, shouting, “It’s for your own good!”

Finally, Dale made a mistake and fell into the garbage can. Before he could jump out, I lifted it out of the window well and laid it on his side. A second later, he dashed out and was off to safety. He’s probably still telling his chipmunk buddies about how he evaded death at my hands.

Chip was gone, which I took for a good sign. About half the nuts and raisins were left and at first I felt this was bad, until I realized that, considering that a single peanut would make a good meal for a chipmunk, he had probably stuffed himself. So, hopefully he is off in some hole now, recuperating.

We really need to cover those window wells with nets or something.

chipmunk 2

I just want the best for you, Chip.


One Stop to Hwajang Station

 

Come on, come on. That frantic thought is sculpted into the crowd’s poses and expressions. Some are sitting, but most pace awkwardly.

Far off, they hear the train rumbling. Visible relief flashes from face to face.

It’s an awkward two-minute ride. No eye contact, rocking back and forth, biting fingernails. Come on!

The doors open and people lurch forth, loping crab-like with thighs clenched, men out the right side, women out the left. A moment later, a hundred stall doors slam. A long, protracted sigh.

“They should put these in houses,” someone says.

“Gross! What is this, the Dark Ages?”

 

 

*hwajangshil (화장실) is the Korean word for bathroom. This story does not take place in Korea. You can only imagine the sort of world where it does take place.

 


Dining at Chez De bris

FF176 Ceayr

copyright Ceayr

The pulsing music from the stadium above almost drowned out Sadie’s rumbling stomach.

“I hope it’s a football game,” Daryl said. “Football fans eat the best food.”

After football games, when the last happy fan had stumbled out, Sadie and Daryl would sneak out for a buffet of hot dog ends, dropped nachos, and half-full cups of beer forgotten under seats.

“I’ll go find out,” Daryl said. He came back an hour later with a flyer and a disappointed expression.

Sadie took it. “World Poverty Fundraising Rally,” she read. She looked at Daryl. “What kind of food do they eat?”


A Farm Upstate

The van arrived an hour after the call. It was clinical white with the words A Farm Upstate in large black lettering. Next to them, as if to add legitimacy, was a picture of a red barn and an oak tree.

Bruce got out and ran the doorbell. A harried man answered the door. “Thanks for coming so fast,” he said. “He’s not doing well.”

“No problem,” Bruce said. “What kind is it?”

“Black lab,” the man said. “Come on in.”

The dog was lying in its bed in the laundry room, breathing shallowly.

“Marcus Aurelius,” Bruce read off the side of the bed.

The man shrugged and nodded towards the girls sitting cross legged in vigil with her back against the dryer. “Her mother’s a history prof.”

Bruce knelt by the dog, checking its vitals.

“Are you a vet?” the girl asked. Her cheeks were wet.

“No, but I know a lot about animals. I’m from a farm upstate.”

The girl’s face clouded with skepticism. “Oh, yeah? What’s the name?”

“Sunny Porch Farms. It’s a great place. There’s a huge porch where dogs can lie out in the sun, lots of window sills for cats. We even import butterflies for them to chase if they want.”

“So, you’re taking Marcus Aurelius?” She sniffed and ran a hand across her eyes.

Bruce nodded. “I’m afraid so. There comes a time in every pet’s life when they need specialized care. He’ll be happy up there though. I guarantee it.”

“Can I come visit him sometime?”

“It’s best if you don’t,” Bruce said. There was no point explaining why.

The girl said good bye, hugging the poor dog so tightly Bruce was afraid she was going to kill it right there. Then he picked it up and carried it out to the back of the van.

“Thanks again for doing this,” the man said, handing Bruce a check. “That’s a great marketing idea, by the way. Just to make sure, there won’t be any pain, right?”

“None at all,” Bruce said, pocketing the check. “I’ll give him a quick shot and he’ll be good to go.” They shook hands and Bruce got in and drove off.

“Hang on back there, Marcus, okay?” he said as they got on the highway. “We’ll be there in a few hours.”

Two hours later, Bruce arrived back home. The dog was motionless and Bruce was afraid he’d died until he opened his eyes and licked Bruce’s hand. Bruce carried him in to the treatment room and put him on the table.

“A retriever, I see,” his wife Jane said, walking in. She got a syringe from a drawer and filled it with amber liquid. Marcus Aurelius was quivering with fear and Bruce held him still while Jane stuck the needle into the dog’s leg, pushing the plunger down slowly.

“How was the traffic?” she asked.

“Not that bad for a Saturday,” Bruce said. They watched the dog. He shook his head several times and then took a deep breath. A minute later, he jumped off the table and barked.

“There, he’s doing fine now,” Jane said. “Go show him around and I’ll go get supper ready.”

Bruce opened a door in the far wall and Marcus Aurelius bounded after him. He seemed to have all the energy of a puppy now.

The door led to the wide yard that echoed with the barks of dozens of dogs. There was a porch a hundred feet long, facing south with rows of comfortable pillows.

“This is a popular spot, Marcus,” Bruce said, leading the dog around. “Find yourself a pillow and soak up some sun, if you want. The cardboard box room is over there, although you’ll have to share it with the cats if you want to go play. The toys and bones are wherever you can find them, so feel free to bury them. The elementary kids come on Tuesdays for playtime and belly rubs, so I’d pencil that into your schedule, if I were you.”

A bell rang and feeding stations all over the farm deposited food. The air exploding into barking as the dogs ran here and there.

An hour later, Jane and Bruce sat down for their own supper on the second floor balcony, overlooking the farm. A parrot perched nearby.

“You realize that Marcus Aurelius was the one hundredth animal we’ve taken in,” Jane said. “How many more can we afford?”

“You think we should sell the serum,” Bruce said. “It still only works on animals, though.”

“But it could still do a lot of good. Plus we could make a ton of money.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Bruce said. He watched Marcus Aurelius cross the yard, nose to the ground as he intently followed some invisible scent trail. “I got an idea: let’s expand to goldfish.”

“Everyone has toilets. No one’s going to pay you to take their goldfish away.”

“They might. We could call it A Pond Upstate.”

“You just want the animals, don’t you?”

“Do you mind?”

She shook her head and with a smile, squeezed his hand.


Synesthetic Sundae

The ice cream tasted like Bach, with a hint of rainy day mornings. Alicia savored each snow-day-ecstasy bite and let it slide down her throat like rosy melodrama.

“It’s not your fault, you know,” her father said.

Alicia picked a jazzy green sprinkle out of the chocolate syrup eruption and ate it delicately.

“Honestly, it’s totally my fault. I realize that now.” His voice was blushing, Alicia noticed. She picked out another green sprinkle, this one not quite so jazzy. “Are you listening to me?” She nodded into her sundae.

“It’ll be hard at first, I’m sure. It always is. But we’ll get through it, right?”

She plucked the maraschino cherry from its cozy pillow of whipped cream. It smelled like white clouds in blue skies and bees bumbling through tall grass. She smiled.

Her father smiled back, encouraged. “I knew you’d understand. For now, you’ll stay in the house with your mom. Once I find a place, you can come visit on weekends. We’ll have fun, I promise.”

Alicia’s head snapped up. She saw the sickly-sweet cough syrup look in his eyes. Her stomach suddenly felt pop quiz.

He smiled again. “Eat up, kiddo. It’s going to melt.”

She pushed the sundae away. “It tastes gray,” she said.


How to Make a Suffocake

Well, I’m finally back, I think. I took a few unplanned weeks off for various reasons, including travel, sickness and general busyness. Luckily, the semester is mostly over, so I should have a bit more time in the future.

#1:     Explain to captain that cake would boost morale for space station crew.

#2:     Listen to lecture how flour would clog life support.

#3:     Offer to temporarily turn off life support in galley.

#4:     Wait for him to stop laughing.

#5:     Pretend to drop idea.

#6:     Wait for everyone to sleep.

#7:     Take smuggled ingredients from personal locker.

#8:     Preheat oven stolen from lab.

#9:     Turn off life support in galley.

#10:   Mute alarms.

#11:   Take deep breath and start mixing ingredients.

#12:   Try in vain to clean up flour floating everywhere.

#13:   Start feeling woozy.

#14:   Put cake in oven.

#15:   Faint.

#16:   Get rescued.

#17:   Endure reprimand.

#18:   Enjoy perfectly spherical suffocake with crew.


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