Before the Gravity Stopped
The last green chopper is dragging in another survivor as I float in silence, Girl at my side. She hasn't spoken to me since I told her about my cousin and how I'd watched him drift into the pull of a giant refrigeration fan outside of Saskatoon. Pieces of Benny, littering the evening sky, coating the clouds blood-red. Leaving me, safe. Me, a survivor.
Drifting sideways over the sand, Girl can't form a word. But her eyes speak volumes; she paints the void with looks. Not at me, but not away, her gaze is aimed right through me. Between the hanging ribs, the feet dangling beneath.
"When?" she finally asks.
I don't want to talk about Benny anymore. I want to forget him, it, everything. I want to start again.
She's crying now. And it's funny, it really is. Ever since gravity stopped I've been accepting it—coping with the change. But as her tears break free, bend the lashes, lift off and swirl around her eyes, I realize how truly bizarre this is. Such a pretty girl, such a pretty sky. We should be parked above the cliffs, counting the pinhole stars, holding each other close. Not wondering whether the last chopper will save us or not.
I steady her; the extension cord I tied between us grows limp. It was the only thing I had time to grab as my feet left the lawn seven days ago. Benny and I were mowing the lawn at my auntie's place before the gravity stopped. As we drifted up over the rooftops, Benny hollered: "Tie it around me—it'll keep us together!"
That was a week ago. The end of the extension cord tied through Girl's belt loop is now frayed where it got sucked into the fan with Benny. I just finished telling her about him; she just started to cry. Probably not for Benny, though. Probably for the ones she knew.
I turn around so she can be alone.
I catch a floating chocolate bar and unwrap it. Above me, the helicopter retrieves a baby from an airborne crib. Girl has stopped crying; maybe she'll tell me her name now.
The other day, when I managed to grab onto her right foot, she seemed alarmed that a stranger would do something like that. Then I explained it to her, said we'd have a better chance of surviving if we both held on together. I told her my name. She said she was scared, angry, cold. Thirsty. I gave her a sip of the water bottle I found floating in a stack of low clouds.
After she'd wiped her lips dry, she told me about her mother, her father, her sister, her boyfriend. Her car, her job, her tennis awards, her books.
But I didn't get her name.
It's night time now; we're all alone. The chopper took off a couple of hours ago, its belly full of people. I wonder where they're being taken. Hopefully somewhere with a roof.
Girl told me her name—it's Ashley. I caught hold of a floating soda machine (its cord frayed just like ours) and managed to pull a can out for her. She finished off the warm Sprite as though it were her last, sipping it slowly, gratefully.
That was a couple of hours ago. The chopper pulled away just after she finished.
We haven't said too much since.
"Ashley," I say, nudging her awake. "Look!"
It must have something to do with the earth's rotation, causing us to float not just upwards but a bit to the side as well. We must have floated over a lake during the night. The air around us has turned to water: tiny, turning circles of not-rain.
My hair is wet and so is Ashley's as she says: "I don't think we're going to make it."
"We won't drown up here," I say quickly, fanning my arms to show her how much air there still is. "It's just a little damp, that's all. Look—it's gonna' help us keep cool!"
Ashley looks down at my arms, sees the moisture coating my sun-burned flesh. "Apollo 13 in frame-by-frame rewind," she says softly. "That's what we're gonna' be. Apollo 13 in frame-by-frame rewind."
I grab her arms and yell, "We're not gonna' burn up, Ashley! We're not gonna' die!"
I think she hears me—maybe she even believes me. But if we die tomorrow, then I'm a liar twice. Once because I promised Benny he'd be okay, twice because I told Ashley the same. But it's not all that important anyways. Even if the gravity hadn't failed, we still would have died.
Just not together.
As her tears begin floating again, joining the circling droplets of ground-water, I slowly reach down and untie my end of the cord—putting things back to where they were before the gravity stopped.
"Goodbye, Girl," I say, "I should never have grabbed on."
She begins to say something, but by then there's so much water between us.