My story, “Under My Skin”, is one of the stories you’ll find in FLESH FICTION. I hope you’ll enjoy getting a taste of Max and Belle’s story as much as I have enjoyed creating these characters and writing about them.
Still haven’t preordered your copy? There’s still time.
I’ve started working on a new project and I thought I’d share it with you for my first #SundayShare post. I’ve been tossing around the idea of a story set in the future that features a robot who falls in love, a woman struggling with the past and the future, and an astronaut who loses more of his humanity the longer he’s in space. The title of my experiment is Under the MilkyWay. I shared a scene from it with you back in April as Flash Fiction. What you’ll get now are some snippets of scenes which aren’t connected yet. Over the next few months, I’ll share more scenes with you, even some fully developed chapters. Let’s see where my experument takes us.
She gave up trying to sleep. What was the point when too many thoughts were tumbling around in her mind? Sleep was eluding her anyway. She pushed away the tangled covers and turned over on her side. She murmured, “Blinds up…” and the black-out shades retracted, following the curve of the window. A sulphurous glow filled the window, blocking the stars from the sky. The city didn’t sleep. Though she couldn’t hear the traffic, she could see headlights bouncing off the steel and glass facades.
On a night like this, she wished Gus were beside her. Even if he were snoring, his warmth, the solidness of him, would have been enough to quell her thoughts. But perhaps it wouldn’t make a difference this time. Especially since he was the reason she could not sleep. His distance. How his eyes seemed so flat and unseeing the last time she’d spoken to him.
Though she was no longer alone in the apartment, the silence ate away at her. What was it…he..? doing while she struggled to sleep?
She slipped out of bed and put on her robe. The bedroom door slid open with a whisper, allowing her to pass over the threshold and into the hallway. With each step she took, the floor-level LED night lights bloomed on, illuminating her way until she came to the open-plan living room. Here the black-out shades hadn’t been lowered and the orange glow of the nighttime city cast enough light to chase away the shadows.
The robot–she still could not think of him as a companion or by the name he’d been given–sat at the very centre of the sofa. His eyes were open but stared blankly at the wall. He didn’t move, not a muscle flickered.
Belle ventured closer. What was it doing? Why was it…staring at the wall? It didn’t the move. Did it even breathe? She took another step forward. This time, the robot, as if sensing her presence, turned its head toward her and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you, Bellamy?”
From up here earth is beautiful. All the colors the ones on the surface take for granted, all the striations, the crags…the rivers…they all become this hazy pattern like an Impressionist painting. The first time I was at the station, I couldn’t get over it.
Now I barely notice it.
Earth is…insignificant. Sooner or later, it won’t matter. I’ve got my orders. Board the next shuttle. Go further out. Explore. Take samples. Test. Transmit results to Ground Control. They’ll tell me at some point that I should come back to Earth.
Earth. I don’t even miss it.
Sometimes I miss her. But…she doesn’t need me. I took care of that already.
She’ll move on. And then, when they give me more orders, I can head further out.
There’s so much more to explore.
In the morning she shut her mind to what awaited her. Another day without Gus. Another day of opening the bookshop and busying herself, hoping that today she would sell more than three or four books. Sometimes going to the shop drained all the happiness out of her. She loved it so much and yet no one else in the neighbourhood seemed to care about it. No, she was exaggerating. The elders—Mrs. Jankowitz—the octogenarian war widow who always wore a shade of pink as perfect as peony petals, Father Odei from the local Catholic church who always brought her fresh flowers to thank her for keeping the joy of books alive, Mama Sandra who’d grown up with Belle’s own grandmother—they came nearly every day, they told her stories, browsed…bought books even when they probably had far too many to ever read. Seeing them every day and sharing tea with them or sitting outside the shop in the sun…that dimmed the gray plume of longing inside her long enough to keep her from thinking too much about the man who once said he would pull down a star for her, but who now preferred the stars to her.
“I shouldn’t think that way.” She braced herself in the shower, her forearms pressed against the steamed glass. “I need to remember the promise he made to me.”
But she couldn’t erase the bland, distant expression on his face during their last vid call. Or the way Gus tapped his middle finger on the screen’s edge like a metronome counting the beats of their conversation, waiting for the minutes to dribble away.
She tapped the shower controls, increased the water pressure and hoped the hard droplets of water would wash her thoughts clear. There was no point in denying it. She missed him. And he was not coming back. Not now.
The last time he’d been on earth—how long ago was it? A year ago? They had 72 hours together before Gus had to return to the station. That first day, he’d barely given her a chance to speak before he began peeling away the layers of clothing, stripping her bare and touching, reclaiming her. All the motions were right…even now, when she thought about it, her hand drifted downwards, sliding between her thighs as she longed for release. She parted her lower lips until her fingertips brushed the tight bud of her clit. With each slow torturous caress, a moan erupted from her, her breath caught in her throat and her chest strained forward…if only…if only he could suck her nipples now as he did that day, catching them between his teeth and tugging, then teasing with the tip of his tongue until she begged him for more. The thick weight of his erection, pressing into her, filling her so completely…those pale eyes… always watching her, never seeming to get enough of her—was he memorising her? Trying to absorb every detail so that he would not forget?
She slid two fingers inside her, surprised at how wet she already was. At how swollen her clit was and how no amount of fucking herself gave her the release she needed. She picked up the pace, pumping her fingers in and out, trying to hit just the right spots as her knees shook. But the more she tried, the more she wanted.
Even if she closed her eyes and replayed that afternoon in her mind, it was like grasping at stardust.
She couldn’t go on like this.
Belle was still curled in the same tight ball she slept in every night. No matter how many times I tried to massage away the thoughts that troubled her, she curled into herself, one arm tucked under the pillow, the other looped round her torso.
I knew she was not yet accustomed to me beside her. Whenever she announced that she was going to bed, Belle always paused as if uncertain whether she wanted me to join her. Though she kept her expression impassive, her body gave her away. She’d rise from the sofa, her fingers picking at invisible tufts of lint or fussing with the hem of her top. A flicker of her lips was enough to betray her.
Tonight she’d been more certain. She’d crossed the living room and then waited at the mouth of the hall. I studied her, reading the quickness of her pulse, the shallow breaths she took. Tonight she held out her hand to me and said in a hushed tone, “Come to bed, Max. It’s late…”
Once we were in bed though, she did not want me to make love to her or to pleasure her with my fingers and mouth. She asked me to hold her until she slept.
Yesterday, Mel Bynum posted this image in the WRITE Now group on Facebook and challenged us to write a story. This is the flash fiction I came up with. Hope you like it.
Every night she followed the path into the forest and didn’t stop until she was at the very spot where, on his last night on Earth, he made a promise to her. “I’ll look for you everyday,” he’d said. “And hope that you’re there looking for me too.”
And so, from that night on, she searched the skies for him, wondering if the space station was in orbit above her. She tilted her head back and squinted at the dark sky awash with so many stars. She’d learned to tell the difference now between shooting stars and satellites buzzing by.
Sometimes an intense flash of light streamed across the sky and she wondered if that was the station and if he was standing by one of its windows, looking down at earth, looking for her. The communiques were few and far between. When she received them, they were heavily censored. Five years of redacted communiques but what she remembered of any of them was how his loneliness permeated each word. And though he’d told her not to wait for him, he’d told her to move on with someone who could keep his feet on the ground, she waited.
One day he would return. And she would be his again.