Tara Isabel Zambrano — Two Flash Pieces

 

Exchange Student

Mayo is an exchange student from the moon. He arrives in our classroom: disheveled, silver hair and orange-shot eyes; introduces himself as someone who has been drifting in the cosmos.  He sits next to me, his tight posture wrong and upsetting, making me believe he has no bones. His clothes are snug, as if stitched to his skin. He smells like cardboard.

I extend my hand. He looks at me and blinks continuously like transmitting Morse. Then he rubs his forehead. I ask him if he has a headache. He tells me he walked all night. Pressing his temples, he slowly hums. A transparent device on his wrist shines.

After the second class, he shows me a detailed map of the moon. Bubbles of artificial atmosphere inhabited by celebrities and billionaires. Chemical plants to create water. His home next to one. It is the most astonishing thing: tiny grids thriving with life despite lesser gravity and atmosphere. There’re no holidays on moon, Mayo says. There’s no God.

The teacher is deep into calculus when Mayo asks to be excused to go to the bathroom. I can’t stop looking at his long legs and firm butt. The way he walks: calculated strides cutting the arcs of light, staying there for a moment before moving again. When he comes back, he’s wet all over his pants as if he peed on himself. What happened, I ask. Release, he says and sets a timer on his device.

During the lunch hour, we buy two pizzas and a bottle of sparkling water. He talks about the mining expeditions, dead volcanoes and oceans of lava, all along his eyes watching the bubbles in the bottled water.

I like to be wet, he says. It’s like going through summer and winter at the same time. If it was up to me, I’d stay wet forever.

After the classes, we buy coke and sandwiches and sit on a park bench.

Why’re you here? I ask.

It was my turn, he says and shrugs, a drop of ketchup drying on his cheek facing me. Then he turns on the device, logs into the Deep Web, sends an email to me.

I’m not sure if it will work, I say, looking at the message, a strange mix of characters.

It should. Deep Web is like outer space.  There’s no surfing and stumbling upon things. If you know where you’re going, you’ll find it.

I nod my head.

When the day ends, Mayo shakes my hand.

You came all the way just for a day? I cannot hide my disappointment.

He looks at his device. I should be home at least a few hours before the plant opensI still have about twenty nine earth days to make it back there.

We stand close. His lips are shining wet; his pants are not dry yet. The cardboard smell is filling inside me. As he blinks, I see slivers of moons inside his eyes. I wonder if I smash his nose will there be blood? If I kiss him, will he stay wet forever? The sky is stuffed with clouds. He moves and sails away like a ship, cutting light and air, pretending to look at me and I pretend to look away.

 

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We’re Waiting to Hear Our Names

We’re kissing in the back seat of his ’86 Chevy. Two country songs down and we’re still locked in each other’s mouths like lightning and thunder.

We’re leaning against our Chevy, its front hood up. Cars, freight trucks slam by, weakening whatever honeymoon excitement still holds our dust-dimmed minds in caucus. We’re waiting for the AAA, roving the radio dial: Keep the Baby hotline, punk rock and weight loss pitches. We’re getting into an argument. We’re looking at the horizon where the light scatters and fills the stars.

We’re rocking our twins, a boy and a girl. We’re dreaming with them, without them, swimming in a space where we’re popular names scuba diving in Hawaii and writing our love song in Bali.

We’re spending Christmas with my in-laws, we’re buying a thirty-year-old two-bedroom home that needs a clean carpet and a washer. The choices offered and the choices made, the No Man’s Land between them where we stand. We’re standing next to the lawn mower, arguing whose turn it is. We’re our hurried sex and laundry inside out. We’re Children’s Motrin in several flavors; we’re bunk beds withering into nights too short.

We’re still dreaming: riding bicycles: hair blown by the wind, cheeks red with sunlight.

We’re walking to school, driving our kids to games. We’re trying a new hair color, getting attracted to other men and women.

We’re baking cookies and cleaning the grill. We’re welcoming our kids and their fiancés. After they leave, we’re sitting on the couch together in silence. We’re going up and down the stairs. There’re only crumpled sheets and time waiting in every room.

We’re yoga in the morning, lumpy fried potatoes and meat with greasy throats in the afternoon, TV’s blank face in the night. We’re fixing the roof, changing the wallpaper. We’re growing stingy with love. We’re thinking of getting a divorce.

We’re waiting for the doctor to tell us how bad it is. We’re lying in the bed nestled with a drip. We’re asleep on the rocking chair next to the bed, an unread novel latched to our chests. We’re getting used to the sound of heart monitor, the sight of life flickering against time, the growing knots in our stomachs. Sometimes, we’re trying to laugh, laugh really hard.  We’re lighting candles, thanking God for all we have, thinking we never really had a chance.

We’re waiting for our turn to speak at the funeral, to talk about those moments of intermittent joy. Signing the paperwork, we’re lonely below the dotted line. We’re moving into assisted living, our kids, and grandkids waving at us, belted and secured in their SUVs, eager to leave. Wheel-chaired outside we’re talking to ourselves, watching the onyx sky lit with smoking streetlamps.

We’re lying in our graves separated by five years. The dirt is full of answers. Sometimes, we’re whispering each other’s name, and the dry flowers above us stir. And we’re dreaming and waiting. We’re waiting to hear our names.