Saturday, July 19, 2014

Outside the Orbit of Jupiter

Here's what I came up with for Hannah Tinti's first One Story short story class. (Will Allison did an editing one previously will be doing another soon--check out their website for details. I believe they aren't quite up yet.) Hannah put fashioned a little space story as an example to show the process and it began with two astronauts stepping outside the orbit of Jupiter. For some reason this gave me a germ of a story, and I decided to riff on a couple of her elements, though in a completely different genre. Here's the result.

Outside the Orbit of Jupiter

by Seana Graham

We had just stepped outside the Orbit of Jupiter, the little club where John and I liked to spend Saturday nights that summer, when we noticed a big, scruffy looking guy sitting with his back to us on my Ford Fiesta, apparently not bothered at all that his weight was probably making a major dent in the hood. It was around one in the morning and still so warm that everyone had drifted outside for air before the last set. The great planet glowed on the neon sign above us, and from within a revolving palette of desert colors escaped through the doorway, perhaps not unlike the gaseous clouds of the king of planets itself. John and I had been hitting the club scene together for about three months now, which was long enough to have learned a few things about each other, but not nearly long enough to know everything. Certainly not long enough to have opened up all the sad and sordid baggage of the past.

“Buddy, do you mind?” John asked, in his typical assertive, non-violent and at the same time somehow totally macho way. He walked slowly towards the car holding his hands out to his sides in a gesture that signified he was unarmed and a person of good will. We had met in a training session for a peaceful protest we’d participated in, and John had proved to be something of a star when it came to pacifist tactics. Despite this, what I found myself saying was, “John, I think we should call the police.” “Just let’s give this a chance, first, Mary,” he said to me in that soothing, dismissive tone that men do use with women when they are getting in the way of some manly act of bravado.

I stopped in shock as the man on the car turned and gave John an all too familiar half bleary, half belligerent look and then bounced his massive bulk up and down on the hood in an act of deliberate provocation. I remembered many such looks, although the bouncing up and down on the hood part was, of course, new. What was the bitter acrimony of divorce for if your former husband was just going to track you down and sit on your car in the end anyway? “John, that’s Pete, my ex, and being pleasant to him isn’t going to work.” I was speaking from long experience while simultaneously rummaging through my purse for something that would be more effective—like mace, a copy of the restraining order or, at the very least, my car keys. It took John a few more steps to awaken from whatever fantasy of masculine prowess he was currently living out, and when he stopped and turned in bewilderment, the pepper spray I was holding was unfortunately pointing toward both of them.

“John, drop the Gandhi pose and have the good sense to get out of my line of fire,” I said. I wasn’t really paying attention to him anymore, if the truth be known. I was focused on the now fading blue squid tattooed on Pete’s right bicep, a token of his days as a heavy weight high school wrestling champion.  That’s what they’d called him back in the day, “The Giant Squid”, because of his size and the way his arms wrapped around his opponents like two lethal tentacles. He still had the weight but his wrestling glory was far behind him— or at least I hoped it was.  John must have picked up on the fear beneath the bravado in my voice because we now advanced on Pete together, somehow hoping that between us we could take him. I felt that we had never been more of a team than we were at that moment, and might not ever be again.  “How’s it going, Pete?” I asked, pointing the pepper spray directly at his face.

“Janie’s dead,” Pete said. He gave me a baffled, half malevolent look, as if it were all my fault, and then burst into tears.  It was clear that he’d been drinking. John looked at me, more than a little baffled himself, unable to follow the sudden turn of events. “Janie’s his dog,” I said, lowering the pepper spray, and then, “his baby.” The golden retriever he had raised from a pup and whose pride of place I had never been able to usurp during our brief and bitter marriage. From inside the Orbit of Jupiter, we could hear the band tuning up again, and people were putting out their cigarettes and heading back in. John caught my eye, making motions that we should return as well. Clearly his enthusiasm for this adventure had waned.

“You go,” I said. “I’ll be all right.” “You’re sure?” he asked. I nodded. I could see he was relieved. Guilty, but relieved. I watched his narrow back retreating and then I looked at Pete, who was still weeping copiously. I took a deep breath, though the air was full of smoke. The night is dark and I am far from home, I thought. Then I sat down on the car hood next to him and, taking his hand in mine, said, “Tell me all about it.”

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