The last person Brett would have liked to go on vacation with was his wife.
But, as she tended to remind him, they were reaching their twentieth anniversary and he’d had more than sufficient time to ‘pack his bags and take off without a note like a fucking coward.’
She was right, of course. Brett had not packed so much as a set of nail clippers when his wife, overshadowing the bedroom door and watching him coolly, radiating unbelievable powers of silent scorn caused him to zip up the suitcase and stow it under the bed before his insides turned to indistinguishable matter.
She’d never say anything—not even when Brett lumbered back into the kitchen, poured himself a glass of fungi water (it was all the rage now, his wife had unfortunately read somewhere), and went to the living room sofa alongside their ancient Labrador, both arranging themselves into identical positions of slumped defeat (the Labrador had peed in the plants, again. She was almost as old as their marriage, after all, she couldn’t help it).
His wife didn’t laugh at him anymore, not like in the first decade, or nag him, like she would five years after that. No, her latest tactic was to compare him to his cousin Kyle who was far more ‘successful’ and ‘charismatic’ (Brett hated that word. Charisma. It sounded like a poisonous tea or a tantric sex worker). Did you hear that Kyle ‘just took his wife and seven children on a first class cruise to that new pinkish planet--whatever it’s called—like it was nothing’? Did you see Kyle’s commercial on TV yesterday? His sales are ‘through the roof’.
“Tretinia,” Brett muttered.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“That’s the pinkish planet. Tretinia.”
He heard it was nice. Mild temperature all year round, with a lot of waterfalls and giant palm trees with pink fronds and no hostile wildlife. Well. There was that one guy who was attacked and eaten by a ‘freak alien crab.’
But shit happens. Especially since inter-galactic tourism took off. It was so sudden, too. One day people were raving about Disney World on the Moon and next they were teleporting to more interesting solar systems and throwing down sprawling resorts on whatever planet they could land on first.
“Why don’t we just go to Florida?” Brett asked his wife, as though what he said had any sway on the itinerary.
“Florida is full of alligators.”
He didn’t want to mention that Tretinia among others was likely to have more than alligators (freak alien crabs!) but he didn’t. Not this time. He was tired but most of all he’d heard how easy it was to get lost in space. You jump on the wrong spaceship, you oversleep in the terminal, you misplace your nametag, you get off on the wrong stop…it could be lightyears before you’re reunited with your family.
“You know we can’t afford Tretinia,” Brett told his wife, or rather mumbled the statement, over their routine Tuesday salad dinner. He’d also given up mentioning that no one honestly liked eating salad—they had no right munching lettuce and radishes like they were woodland creatures or farmland pests. But that had just been another argument he had lost—her victory now lording over the circular dining table like an invisible, dusty trophy.
His wife stabbed a heirloom tomato, probably picturing it was Brett’s soft body. “Well. Maybe if you didn’t spend half our savings on repairing the car, Tretinia could have been an option.”
True, Brett had wrecked the car. But it was her fault, too. She’d brought up Kyle again. How he’d upgraded to a hovercraft because cars were ‘so last year’ and if Brett was only as ambitious in his sales job as Kyle, they could maybe be looking into a hovercraft right now, too. Brett had swerved abruptly into a ditch just to change the subject.
“We don’t have to go anywhere,” Brett reminded her, crunching into a raw carrot. “We can just stay home.”
In the end they went to Dolphinia.
All-inclusive packages HALF OFF this month only! Price includes spaceship travel AND travel guide! Stay in OctoStar--our underwater submarine hotel! Coral facing views! Fresh seafood buffet, all-you-can-drink fungi water, and indoor swimming pools! Feed the three-headed dolphins! Watch alien sea life procreate! Name an exotic shell after your loved one! *Conditions Apply* ALL PASSENGERS MUST SIGN WAIVER: BudgeTravel is not responsible for sudden and accidental death/ injury/dismemberment once on planet Dolphinia.
The space terminal was more crowded than an airport on earth during the Christmas holidays. Brett dodged this way and that for families with overflowing luggage trolleys, shrieking trains of children, caged birds, and over-enthusiastic ticket scalpers. The terminal itself was dirty and cramped. The smell of mold and sweet popcorn infested the stuffy air. Unwanted gum and crumpled wrappers littered the linoleum floor which a lone Sweeper Bot was ineffectively attempting to clean.
They hurried down a long hallway with a strip of window displaying outer space pronged with ship portals.
“We’re platform seven,” Brett’s wife declared over her shoulder, flinging back her yellow scarf and forging ahead with her rolling suitcase.
Sweat formed on Brett’s upper lip as he hurried behind her. It’d all seemed so simple and straightforward that morning when he awoke on the sofa (he wasn’t allowed in the bed anymore, not after he had called his wife names in his sleep).
He eyed the platforms they passed, the screens above highlighting the destinations: Fortune Island, Devil’s Fare, Leonidas…how hard could it be to slip inside a ship, blend in with an unsuspecting party, and find himself on a cruise to who-the-hell-knew where?
But now that his wife was leading the way and expecting him to follow, he was back to doing just that, like a trained pet. Like the Labrador trotting willingly beside him. As though he really didn’t know which way to go unless he was following.
Brett’s hand tightened on the leash as they approached platform seven.
There was already a line of bedraggled families and elderly couples with tired looking suitcases and second-hand snorkeling gear waiting to pass through the decontamination booth. An excruciatingly slow-moving Security Bot was scanning nametags. Brett could see the spaceship to Dolphinia parked just outside the tunnel. It was one of the older models and looked as though it had been through a wormhole too many.
“Next,” deadpanned the Security Bot. It was their turn. Brett’s wife stepped forward and into the booth. The Security Bot closed the airlock and steam hissed inside.
“Next,” the Security Bot ordered. This was it. Brett hesitated, feeling suddenly nauseous.
The Security Bot repeated the instruction. Brett couldn’t move. The line of passengers grumbled behind him.
He could see his wife’s anxious face through the second airlock. She was already on the other side, out of the booth and on the walkway to the spaceship. She was gesticulating wildly and mouthing something he couldn’t make out but had a pretty good idea.
“I forgot the fish bite spray,” he yelled.
He didn’t wait to see her reaction.
It was only when he was in the main terminal by the popcorn stand did he realize the Labrador was still with him. Oh well. He was pretty sure she wouldn’t have cared about three headed dolphins anyway.
He spent the next few minutes wandering the confusion of intersecting hallways, ducking into book stands and looking over his shoulder to make sure his wife wasn’t behind him. He hid in the bathroom stall for another ten minutes, crouched on the toilet seat with the dog in his lap, half expecting a violent knock on the door. ‘I know you’re in here!’
But he knew that she had passed the point of no return. No one was allowed to turn back once they had passed through the decontamination booth. Even the Security Bot had confirmed it.
He found a bar. Get your last ICE COLD beer on earth! Brett ordered himself one, found a stool in a dark corner, and looked down at the Labrador.
“It’s just us now.”
He wasn’t sure what emotion to feel. Maybe it hadn’t really sunk in yet. The beer was definitely not ICE COLD. He looked at the screen above the bar. Dolphinia announced FINAL BOARDING CALL. The ship was taking off and he was not going to be on it.
At least the tickets had been cheap. Half off!
Brett thought about going home. Back to his sofa and his foot rest. Back to his favorite documentary about extinct tribes and archaic masculinity. But his bag was already packed; he’d even remembered to bring nail clippers. He was set. But set for what, to go where? He hadn’t thought this far ahead. The mere fantasy of escaping the orbit of his wife was all that had driven him to this point. The concept of freedom, hours ago a forbidden and dangerous fantasy, felt like sudden foreign oxygen suffusing his lungs. He sipped his beer and the Labrador looked at him expectantly: “This is what you wanted, isn’t it?”
Brett could do anything now. Go anywhere. Be anyone. But who was he now and what had he become? His wife had stripped away all his capacity for decision making, for independent thinking. Almost as though she had taken him apart over the years and hidden the essential pieces in tiny nooks around the house. Almost as though she had ensured he’d be useless without her around.
She’d never even let him change a light bulb.
A cut of laughter rang out. It was as though his wife was still here, condemning his faults even from space. ‘DEPARTED’ stated the screen above the bar. But she had still found a way to stay behind, in his head.
Brett peered into the beer foam at the bottom of the glass. His wife was right. He couldn’t change a light bulb. His hands were too big, too clumsy. ‘You’ll break it!’
He couldn’t even feed himself unless it was reheating leftovers. Even then he had found a way to set off the fire alarm. ‘You’ll burn the house down!’
Fresh panic scrambled in his stomach. What was he thinking? He couldn’t do this, whatever this was—he didn’t even know which laundry detergent to use. He didn’t even know where the dog food was stashed. He didn’t even know what day he needed to pay the car bill.
The Labrador shook her head at him. “That’s what I thought.”
Brett jumped off his chair and grabbed his jacket. He needed to find his wife. He needed to go after her. He’d catch the next spaceship to Dolphinia and then—and then--
His wife laughed again. But this time it was louder, closer, and just a little too real.
A blast of familiar aftershave soaked the air and Brett turned around.
Leaning against the bar was a man in a suit with crisp gelled hair and a blinding gold watch.
“…You really should let me take you on a ride in my hovercraft,” he said to the woman with a yellow scarf beside him. “It’s crazy fun.”
“I don’t care about your hovercraft, Kyle,” she interjected. “Just take me to Tretinia.”