The Home Office
?:?? AM, Tuesday
She was tall and thin, with watery eyes and fishbelly white skin. Her mouth and nose were obscured by a clumsy breathing device. Four veined and iridescent wings hung quietly from her back. Her hands and feet were clawed and webbed. Her blue hair floated lazily away from her head.
Christine Lanford leaned back and rubbed her eyes. The alien woman, Duchess Antonilla of the Unmoored Planets, stared out of the screen she’d drawn her on. This was the closest she’d gotten to the picture in her head—much closer than she’d gotten writing about her, at least.
She stood up and grabbed the note she’d written herself earlier: “Romance Brent.” He’d gone to read in bed. She imagined him grinning as she walked in, dropping the book without marking the page, and turning off the light as she slipped into bed.
4:32 AM, Tuesday
The glowing numbers on the clock were the only source of light. “Baleful,” Christine thought. No lamplight to see by. No grin. She found the bed by touch and settled onto the corner slowly, trying to work her way under the blankets without moving them.
“You finish it?” Brent asked between breaths just short of snoring. Only years of intimacy allowed Christine to interpret the mumbled syllables correctly.
“For now,” she whispered, knowing he wouldn’t remember her answer, let alone asking the question.
Some Fancy New Cafe That Hasn’t Taken Down the Old Cafe’s Signage
6:02 PM, Wednesday
“And you haven’t seen her since before you went to bed last night?” Annie asked.
“No.” Brent shook his head. “Well, I saw her when I woke up and while I was getting dressed and before I left for work, but she was still sleeping.”
Annie took a short sip of some mixed drink she’d ordered. It was her third, but she lived down the street. “I would not stand for that. How can you stand for that?”
Brent shrugged. “She’s always worked a lot at home. I knew that getting into it. She put it out there on our first date. Since she’s been working on this sci-fi thing, though, it’s been different.” He sighed and leaned back. The sun hid behind its brilliance; the moon idly smudged the opposite horizon. “And I guess I just have to deal with it?”
“What you have to do,” Annie said, “is get another drink.”
Annie was tracking the waiter with her eyes. “Because I’m getting another drink, and you have to keep up.”
Brent hung his head back even further and groaned. “It’s not fair,” he said. “You used to be a dude. You still have, like, dude strength. Dude tolerance.”
“That is some transphobic bull to be directing at the lady buying the drinks. Besides, you still are a dude.”
“I can’t get drunk,” Brent said. “I have to work tomorrow.” He dragged himself upright.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t get drunk,” Annie said, wiggling her fingers at the waiter. “It just means you have to get drunk fast so that you have more time to sleep it off.”
The Home Office
after-dark o’clock, Wednesday
The sound of the front door falling clumsily shut pulled Christine out of her research. She assessed: dozens of tabs open, two albums downloading, and an in-progress interlibrary loan request list. There were two notes this time:
- Brent is very good to you.
- Get stuff for breakfast in bed.
“Sorry!” Brent yelled from the other room. “Hey, I’m drunk. Sorry.”
“That’s okay,” Christine said. The clock read a bland 11:32. “Need help getting to bed?”
“No,” Brent said, drawing out the word. “Need help getting me into bed?”
Christine faced him now as he leaned against the wall, one foot in his hands as he wrestled with his shoe. “I thought I stopped needing help with that once you agreed to marry me.”
“Yeah, well,” Brent said. He yanked his shoe off and teetered, his eyes going wide. He regained his balance and said, “I need to use the bathroom.”
12:04 AM, Thursday
“Christine,” Brent said, “are you coming?” He was laying on his face on top of the blankets.
“I’m going to sleep on the couch,” Christine said from the other room.
“But I didn’t puke,” Brent said. His stomach wavered and his throat turned to battery acid. He tried to keep quiet as a slurry of food and liquor dripped out of his mouth.
“Babe,” he said, “I puked.”
Your Tinny Computer Speakers
“Well,” Christine Lanford says, “there are worse reactions. I hope I reach some new audiences, sure. The press can’t hurt, and if it brings some casual readers around to my more academic work, you won’t find me complaining.”
“Sure,” the interviewer says in an earnest, feminine voice. “And it can’t be keeping you up nights that you won the Ursula K. LeGuin Award, huh?”
Christine almost restrains a laugh. “Interesting choice of words, ‘keeping me up nights.’ I mean, don’t get me wrong; I am honored—really touched—to win, and I respect those judges, but it’s still sort of a ghetto, right? ‘Best Science Fiction by a Woman of Color.’ Not that I’m advocating we get rid of the award. You do that, and you run the risk of losing that recognition, that publicity. I mean, I’ll put any female author or author of color up against any white dude any day, and I can pick the best based on, you know, the purity of the work. But I can’t trust a group of likely older, likely white, likely dudes to do the same, you know?
Headline on some trashy website: “Christine Lanford Doesn’t Trust Men, White People, or the Elderly”
Christine Lanford’s Office at the University (Office Hours M-F, 11:45-2:00, 4:45-5:45)
9:13 AM, Thursday
Christine sat in her chair (upholstered in a ’70s technicolor palette) having just revealed the visceral details of the fight she’d had with Brent that morning: made you breakfast, you should get up for it, you shouldn’t have been out so late drinking; and then the other side, how she needs to make an effort to get on his schedule sometimes, and she didn’t tell him she was making breakfast, and maybe he wouldn’t be out drinking if she paid attention to him instead of some empty-eyed naked alien who didn’t exist.
“Oh, and then he threw up again,” Christine said.
Phillipa Bertrand, a junior who wrote her sociology papers about steampunk and who would probably be dropping out after this semester, stared at the ground.
The clock ticked some, and Phillipa inched her chair back, causing her backpack to slip loudly to the floor. “Yeah, that’s rough,” she said, propping her backpack up against her chair again. “Hangovers are rough. I’m always saying things I don’t mean. When I’m hungover.”
Christine glared past her as Phillipa continued to fine-tune her backpack’s posture. “Christ,” Christine said, “what am I doing?”
“You’re making a universe!” Phillipa said with unexpected piety. “This stuff you’re working on—kids in high school are going to read it, and it’s gonna change the way they think about race and culture and everything. You’re basically changing the world.”
The Bedroom, a Pile of Vomitous Sheets on the Floor, A Fresh Blanket on the Bed
11:57 AM, Thursday
“That’s the thing, Mom,” Brent said into a phone. “It’s not even—it’s not a book. It’s just an idea.”
“Yeah, from her last book. Yeah, it was nonfiction, but it was just an example, you know? A thought experiment. Everything is a social construct, so it was just a hypothetical—what if there’s no society to do the construction? So they’re unmoored, and no one’s reinforcing these—”
“Right, these ideas from the past aren’t being reinforced ‘cause they’re all focused on the future, so what does that do to them? It was just a fantasy thing. Just a game.”
“Yeah, but it’s what people liked. It’s what everyone was talking about after it got published.”
“I know people don’t have to do what other people like. Mom. Mom, you didn’t like her.”
“I know. I know. And I did it anyway because it made me happy.”
“No, she didn’t ‘used to’ make me happy. We’re happy now.”
“She made me breakfast, Mom. Omelets with bacon. The works.” He sighs. “No, I didn’t eat it.”
“Yes, because I feel like shit and I would have thrown it up. Jesus, I didn’t call for a diagnosis.”
“I know you love me. I love you too.”
“Yes, for real. And don’t worry.” He grunted. “This is me getting up. Getting up to eat and work and take care of myself.”
Christine’s Journal Pages, Frantically Scrawled Upon
11:29 AM, Friday
Just got off the phone with mother-in-law. She’s worried, as usual.
'What's it all for, anyway?' she asked at one point. I had one of those big pauses where I want to argue my point, and I want to say, 'Well, fuck you' and hang up, and I want to sigh and say, 'You're right. I'm sorry.' Has she ever been late to something because she had to finish the chapter she’s on? Has she ever turned the last page and had her room made unfamiliar by a glaze of tears?
[alien date stamp based on a time-keeping system with no sun or moon]
Duchess Antonilla had a story due that night. Hers would be the voice that rose from the machines inside each of the Unmoored Planets. Hers would be the story that comforted and challenged her people as they hurtled through nothing, seeking a star to anchor their homes to.
As her wings fanned the precious warmth around her, she imagined the tale of Christine and Brent Lanford. It unfolded through her body: the story of a slothful king and a mad, addled queen, both cursed and trapped in their small kingdoms.
Antonilla sighed, a burbling noise that chattered through her breathing device. It was a mediocre story, and the closeness—the claustrophobic proximity of the two—would ring untrue to her people. The vastness of space was no place for boudoir drama writ small.
The Living Room
1:01 PM, Sunday
The sunlight slanting onto the furniture made it all look new and clean. The dust was running scared, hesitant to touch down.
Brent only looked over when he made himself. He’d lost the place in himself that told him things would be okay, and he couldn’t figure out how to ask for help.
Christine tried to sit up taller than him so that, when he looked up, he didn’t see the tears in her eyes. She was afraid to say sorry and afraid to tell Brent that he needed to say the same.