Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Sheets - 490

Sarah Van Name

Albert was my first love. As soon as I saw him in the containment facility, my breath caught in my chest and I got dizzy. Later, Yvonne would tell me that it was the lack of oxygen combined with the chemical fumes. But I remain convinced that it was love that struck my lungs and legs that evening.

I was put in charge of his feeding, which was difficult at first because we didn’t know what he ate. I would step into the outer room, put the food material into a drawer, and slide it into his cage. Each time, I hoped for some hint of a reaction: a swirling, perhaps a palpitation in that sultry orange core of his. But not once. Upon my approach, he withdrew to a corner and swirled into himself like a pouting child. Even after we figured out what he liked (dust and mashed bananas was concluded to be the favorite), he still wouldn’t come near me.

At first I thought it was just a general aversion to humans, and I began to resign myelf to the idea that no matter how much cardamom I put in his breakfast, he would never care about me the same way I cared about him. But then, one night, I saw him with Yvonne. He surrounded her body like a blanket. Through the mask of her Hazmat suit I could see her blushing.

Between my starched sheets that night I put on my headphones and did not sleep. All I could picture was the color of him, yellow and red like a sunset, the way he reduced when he was hungry. Everything I had done for him: I relived every time I selected the petri dish for his dinner so carefully, how I had chosen the ripest bananas. And still, the way he withdrew whenever I came near.

If you love somebody, set them free, the music told me as I listened to the same song over and over again. I woke up early that morning, when the lab was deserted. He didn’t want to get into the smaller box. I tried to soothe him the only way I knew how, with food, but I could tell he was unconvinced.

But I took him to the airlock and let him out. I placed the box back where I found it, went back to bed, and slept soundly.

The scientists were all aflutter – so much so that they didn’t even notice when I walked into the lab hours late. I had to pretend to be surprised. Yvonne, that traitorous whore, was crying. I took some satisfaction in seeing the stain of mascara on her cheeks.

“Alien Spirit Swallowed By the Universe,” the newspapers proclaimed. I cut out the clipping and taped it above my bed, so that every night, I could dream of Albert flitting in and out of star systems, my love happy and alone once again.

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