Buoyancy by Chloe N. Clark
Chloe N. Clark’s flash fiction piece “Buoyancy” explores the common theme of grief and loneliness through the unique lens of an astronaut who, while orbiting in space, has been informed about the loss of their partner back home. There is such a beautiful dichotomy drawn between the weightlessness the astronaut experiences as they float high above Earth and the deep, deep heaviness that loss presses upon one’s mind and heart. In Clark’s accompanying author’s note, she says the inspiration for “Buoyancy” originated from a writing challenge to write a piece containing sex and the five senses. The “sweet tang” of lemon pudding, the distant scent of “lemongrass and cinnamon,” the softness of lips against a lover’s bare shoulder—the sensory details in this piece indeed carry weight. They also characterize the couple’s relationship as being distinctly their own, which adds dimension to this dynamic. We hope you enjoy “Buoyancy” and that you’ll also check out more of Clark’s space stories in her collection Collective Gravities (Word West, 2020) and read our hybrid interview from 2020. —CRAFT
I carry her in my fingertips when I’m far from home. Feeling the heat of her skin if I press thumb and index finger together hard enough. I can trick myself into her softness if I brush my thumb against the back of my other hand, just above the wrist. They say in space, there is no sound. But floating in that dark, there’s always sound. The rush of your blood, the beat of your heart, the memory of someone laughing.
On station, everyone feels too close. Six people in a space that always feels narrow, confined, even when we are no longer held by gravity. When I bring up video screens of my wife, she always seems an impossible distance away. She always is an impossible distance away.
A memory of licking lemon pudding from one of her fingers. The sweet tang that made the tip of my tongue ache with it. A memory of tasting her, as she gripped the sheets, moved to meet my mouth.
They give us the choice on long missions, ask us if we want to know if anything happens on Earth. And you can say no, your loves are all young, you don’t believe in accidents, not really. But I’ve always been a realist, felt disaster under my feet from miles away. When they tell me my wife is gone, they speak on a delay. The words have been said but the knowledge takes so long to get to me.
In the dark of space, on an EVA, you feel every movement. Have been trained to know what every turn, slip, motion, can do. I can’t pause too long, thinking I smell the lemongrass and cinnamon of her hair. How I used to wrap a ringlet around one finger as I kissed her shoulder. The scent rushed the air when she turned in her sleep, turned in my arms.
On station, the others speak around me. They want me to know they’re sorry. They want me to know they would never have chosen to be told, but they don’t say that part out loud. They are worried that grief will make me sloppy. They watch me like they would watch the steady beep of a monitor, waiting for the flatline.
Once while training in the NBL, submerged under tons of water, I stared up and could barely see the ceiling lights. I told her about it that night, told her about the way the weight of water never felt like anything until you tried to move after. How everything then felt heavy. She said, how strange to suddenly remember your body. What is it like to forget a body? To know the weight of someone on you, in your arms, and to lose that memory? I wondered if I could practice remembering, teach my body to hold her gone-shape like a phantom limb.
Earth comes into view as the station rotates. I wonder if I stay still too long, if I look like I’m concentrating, if they’ll let me pause long enough to see where she might have been just a week before. Just a year ago. Just some time when I could go home to her. When I could wrap my arms around her, feel her heart beating, tell her I carry her when I’m an impossible distance from her. I carry. There’s not enough weight out here for my arms to feel so heavy.
CHLOE N. CLARK is the author of Collective Gravities, Your Strange Fortune, and more. Her forthcoming collections include Escaping the Body and Every Song a Vengeance. She is a founding co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph.
Featured image by NASA courtesy of Unsplash