When she is rescued, she thinks she’s passing through a blinding tunnel to the afterlife. Her flashlights went out days ago and the black ocean has made her a blind creature, primordial, knowing nothing about time or light. Then she becomes a sliver of herself again and realizes it’s just the spotlight of a submarine circling her and staring her down like the brilliant eye of some ancient god.

Her rescuers cut her out of the suit because it’s ruined anyway. The smells of piss, shit, and sweat will never come out. They ask her if she knows what day it is. They try to make her guess how long she drifted for. She won’t. Four days. That’s what they tell her.

It doesn’t surprise her. No answer could. One day. A week. Two weeks. She would have believed anything. After her light went out and turned the alien world from grainy cobalt blue to blacker than black, she shut off, compressed into some little animal corner of her brain or maybe someplace even simpler, her spinal cord or her mitochondrial DNA.

The suit held up way beyond expectations, they tell her during ascent. It was a pressurized, million-dollar, human-shaped, one-man submarine, but it was still only designed for day-long outings. She doesn’t ask if that meant they thought this was a recovery mission instead of a rescue mission, if they thought maybe she was dead even as they sawed the suit off her, if they were surprised not to find a bloating corpse inside.

She rejects offers of further information. On land, her research team brings her to the hospital, where doctors clean her and pump her full of all the right fluids and translate her bodily metrics into numbers and lines on screens, then send her home, where she stiffly hugs her half-adult kids Hazel and Lily, and pats her unconcerned cat Maggie, and showers with vanilla chai body wash, and sleeps on the silk pillowcases she bought because silk is better for hair health, and tries to make breakfast but has no eggs and settles for an English muffin, and grocery shops for frozen veggies because fresh ones always go bad in the far corners of her fridge, and sweeps the cat hair from under the couch for the first time in a few months, and curls into an orange Afghan blanket with a mug of coffee to watch some new Netflix original with Hazel, and responds appropriately to the emails telling her to go on paid leave for four weeks to recuperate, and finishes that Stephen King novel she forgot to finish last spring, and catches up wishing friends belated happy birthdays on Facebook, and folds up and puts away the rollaway bed Hazel had been staying on until she decided her mother was alright and she could go back home to Houston, and makes a big pot of homemade chicken and dumpling soup to eat for the next week or two, and says “I’m sorry, but no comment,” to a few reporters who reach out to her with questions about her four days drifting alone in the crushing, otherworldly blue, and tries a strange recipe she finds online for homemade cream cheese, and listens to This American Life while she does dishes, and cleans the litter box, and catches up on laundry, and dreams all day and night of a starless outer space where time has no speed and there is no up or down and eyes are neither open nor closed, and all the while, that piece of her that was supposed to climb out of her spinal cord and unfold and recuperate just continues to compress, and compress, and compress.

Jessica Staricka grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota. She majored in Creative Writing at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and earned her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of New Orleans. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Fiction Journal, Ninth Letter web edition, Hypertext Magazine, and elsewhere. When she isn’t writing, Jessica can usually be found drawing or exploring.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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