Atmospheric Escape by Suzanne Samples

We sit on your porch with a Battlestar Galactica lunchbox between us. In the lunchbox, a dead orange kitten. Atop the lunchbox, your astronaut coffee cup. You alternate between quiet slurps of coffee and puffs of a Camel.

The astronaut’s boots ‘ting the lunchbox each time you switch, each time the cigarette dehydrates your tongue. 

His toes turned white, you say. You probably don’t want to know that. Pink to white. Weird things happen once you die.

I want to break up with you, you want to say but don’t. You probably don’t want to know that. Weird things happen when someone loves you more than you love them. I hear everything and say nothing. 

Against the din of some shitty zombie Netflix movie, I found the kitten alone last night, not cuddling with his four siblings, bloody milk pouring out of his carnation-colored nose. I picked him up and brought him to you in bed. You and the kitten breathed at the same intervals, about every five seconds. I couldn’t wake you at first because you had taken some fucking pill. I didn’t blame you; I hated your life too and wanted better for you.

Two weeks ago, you delivered this kitten, the smallest orange one, and cut the placenta because his mom no longer felt like trying. You did this with the dexterity of a surgeon, of a medical professional. Cut, wipe, check for breath. Cut, wipe, check for breath. I marveled at your instinct, your natural aptitude. Last night the kitten gasped like a martian solider, fought for himself on the unknown universe of your chest. I fetched you a warm wet rag so we could try, so we could remind him that if he lived, we would help him. So we could remind him that if he died, we would help him. So we could remind him that we were there either way. Just leave him on me, you said. Touch his head so he knows he’s not alone.

Just leave, you wanted to say but didn’t. I no longer feel like trying. I just want to be alone. I listened for his breaths, I listened for yours. His dying wheezes drowned you out, made it seem as if the effort of your lungs flowed directly into his flopped body, leaving you both nearly lifeless in unrealized zero gravity. 

I counted the space between his gasps. As I counted, those spaces strung out into simple sentences, then compound complex unpunctuated thoughts that I could no longer decipher. One please don’t go like this, two oh my god you’re going to die, three I don’t understand why bad things happen to innocent creatures, four it makes no sense why good things end when there isn’t a reason, five you’re such a goddamn fighter please just give me some kind of clue as to why this is happening because an hour ago nothing was wrong, six you’re so special and innocent and sweet and perfect and if you die then I don’t know if I can keep hoping that anything good still exists. 

After he passed, I wanted to bury him in a cribbage box. I scanned the room for the smallest thing and that’s what I found. You disagreed and pointed to the lunchbox. I knew the lunchbox was your favorite empty container. I knew why you made that decision. I knew why you wanted to capture him there. Good things, even when dead, deserve a spaceship.  

You wrapped the kitten in a towel and dropped him into his new transportation. We crawled back into your bed and held hands. I cried. You did not. We had this joke about crying, you and me. I cried when you couldn’t. This created balance. 

Hours later you woke first. I followed you to the porch.  I had never seen anyone use a kitten spaceship as a coffee coaster, but here I was. Here I am. Here you are. Here we are. Exhausted. Silent in preparation for a tiny creature’s distant space travel. Afraid to let go.

We sit on your porch with a Battlestar Galactica lunchbox between us. In the lunchbox, a dead orange kitten. Atop the lunchbox, your astronaut coffee cup. You alternate between quiet slurps of coffee and puffs of a Camel. The astronaut’s boots ting the lunchbox each time you switch, each time the cigarette dehydrates your tongue. 

We can’t bury him, you say. We have to give him a proper sendoff.

We need to bury this, you want to say but don’t. We have to forget this ever happened and move on. 

I ask you for a cigarette and stare at the lunchbox. The kitten spaceship. I don’t know where you are, but I have tried to look. I have tried to find you. I have tried to bring everything back to life. Perhaps this is just another failed mission.  I let the nicotine numb my mouth. 

I don’t want to feel anything while our dead kitten orbits forgotten moons of things unsaid, his white toes a reminder that weird things happen in the unchartered space of sadness.

# # #

Suzanne Samples lives in Boone, North Carolina, where she teaches English at Appalachian State University. She is a graduate of Auburn University with a Ph.D. in Victorian Lit. In her free time, Suzanne enjoys playing roller derby.

prev
next
Your Comments

Leave a Comment

Name*
Email*
Website