As published in The Things We Orbit
Mick drove their grey Porsche Carrera with a sullen look on his face and dreary eyes. He followed the usual, winding route mostly from muscle memory, functioning as little more than a beleaguered auto-pilot.
He had been itching to get out of that pretentious party. These kinds of insufferable events were always the same. He’d be off in one corner, drinking with his astronaut buddies. And Loretta would be off in another, dutifully socializing with some of the other wives. What followed was hours of inane banter, some nerd-speak with the Squints, and the requisite glad-handing of generals and senators. As soon as he left the party, Mick had loosened his tie emphatically. But now it just hung there, like a limp noose waiting to be cinched.
After years of research, preparation, and missed opportunities, this had been Mick’s maiden voyage. For years he had been like a child’s balloon on a string, just yearning to be let go. And ever since coming back, all he could think of was how it had felt to be un-tied to the world. To finally soar to the heavens and float amongst the stars. The sense of freedom and release was profound, but it was soon met with lingering dread. The escape was temporary. The bubble would soon burst. And everything that was ordinary and unsatisfying about his life was doomed to be even more so upon his return.
As they trudged on in silence, Loretta sat slumped in the passenger seat and stared blankly out her window. Her uncomfortable heels were off and she had pulled back her long, blonde hair in slapdash fashion. The darkness hung over them like a heavy cloak, and the headlights struggled to push through the weight. It was bitter cold outside, but a similar harsh chill resonated inside. Although she sat next to Mick, they might as well be lightyears away.
As they rounded another sleepy bend in the road, a loud “Bang!” shattered their funk, and the nimble car lurched violently. Mick’s eyes widened, and Loretta’s hair was shaken loose from her lazy ponytail. Springing to action, Mick regained control of the off-kilter vehicle and came to a stop at the side of the road.
“What the hell was that!” Loretta cried out. “What did you do?!”
“I didn’t do anything,” Mick protested. “I was just driving…”
“You can go to space and back, and yet you can’t just drive us home already. How many shots did you kick-back with those fucking flyboy friends of yours?”
“No more than you did, that’s for sure. I’m not even close to drunk, alright?”
“Well you must have hit something! Jesus, Mick…”
“I didn’t hit anything! I don’t know what that was about. As much as I enjoy being berated like this, again, let’s just go outside and assess the situation.”
“Yes sir,” muttered Loretta. “Why don’t we assess the situation then,” she repeated mockingly.
They quickly exchange a mutual glance of disgust before gingerly stepping out of the car. It feels like entering into a murky vacuum, and their nervous breath is visible in the frigid night air. The thought crosses Mick’s mind that this is somewhat reminiscent of space, but he is also painfully aware of being grounded by gravity’s clutches.
They spend a few nervous moments scanning the surroundings, and are perplexed to find nothing strange about the road. Mick then runs to the front of the car, and is equally surprised that nothing has damaged his early onset of mid-life crisis.
Scratching his head, Mick then takes a broader look, and slowly starts to realize something. Loretta notices the change in his expression, and, wrinkling her brow, follows Mick’s eyes to where he is now staring. It hits them both at the same time.
While lost in their his & hers malaise, neither of them had noticed where they were. As fate would have it, they were standing in what used to be one of their favorite spots on the planet. A unique little overhang where you could park and get a view of the glimmering cruise ships in the distance, and, if you strained hard enough, the launch site that encompassed so many of his dreams. Their dreams. And the location where Mick had proposed to Loretta.
They looked at each other expressionless, words not coming to their mouths. As someone who lived to explore the universe, Mick was wondering if it was now trying to tell them something. When they had turned that last corner, it was like someone had given them a shove, and now they inexplicably found themselves back where it had all started.
They stood still for a few agonizing seconds before quietly getting back into the car and driving away…