‘Beyond These Stars Other Tribulations of Love’

Bari flicked back to the breakfast table, the taste of chocolate bitter and chalky on his tongue. “I suppose it is,” he told Mari.

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They made love on the third day of their meeting, and on the fourth, but the second time Bari was distracted. Ma had aged 13 years and had suffered a fall that nearly fractured her pelvis. He still couldn’t believe he forgot to secure the living room rug. Which reminded him he still needed to install the bathroom handholds. Sensing his mood, Mari pulled him close and whispered, “Stay. Don’t go” but, mid-thrust, he was already in Saddar Bazaar with a human escort, arguing with a vendor about the price of aluminum fixtures. He couldn’t have been away more than a few ship-seconds, but when he blinked, he saw Mari had rolled away from him.

“What?” he said.

“Your pupils,” she said, watching him from the end of the bed. “They dilate, you know.”

He didn’t know. “I wanted to make sure she was safe.”

She nodded, eyes distant. “I understand.”

They remained friendly, but didn’t make love after that.

Bari began to have headaches. As a child he had migraines with a premonitory phase: his mood changed before the onset of a headache. This was followed by numbness in his left arm and finally the eruption of pain in his occipital area. These interplanetary headaches, though, were different. They occurred after each trip and were succeeded by throbbing behind his eyes, fatigue, and brain fog. He felt at once caged and uprooted, as if gravity had given up on him and he was floating inside a balloon. Chronically jetlagged, he thought. His mind felt stretched like taffy. Sometimes he couldn’t remember whether he was about to go to Ma’s or had already been.

Mari noticed it. “You don’t look so good,” she told him in the exercise room, where he was trudging after a soccer ball.

He kicked the ball to her, and the movement made him dizzy. “I’m fine. Just not sleeping too well is all.”

“Well, you are up with her half the night, aren’t you?”

“My sleep hygiene is pristine here.”

“You think your brain cares?” She tossed him the ball. “Bari, I can’t imagine the kind of strain your mind’s going through living in virtually two dimensions. You need a break. Take a day off.”

Sure, absolutely, he told her. Excellent idea.

But of course he didn’t.

As days/years slipped by, the boundaries between here and there grew porous. A blink and he’d be in Ma’s kitchen taking the roti off the oven. Another and she’d be sitting in his cabin chair aboard the starship, rocking back and forth, whispering longings about his father and their childhood home. She was by his side when they strolled along the graffiti-painted sea wall of New Karachi, and with him before the ship’s porthole, gazing at the darkness beyond.

Beyond these stars glitter other worlds, beyond this trial other tribulations of love.

Some nights he gasped awake, sure that his mother was dead. He’d flick to his mother’s bedroom and stand in the dark, watching her chest stutter, frail like a flattened dough pera. When the morning light yawned into the room, it was he who was lying in that bed, or another bed in a different place, being watched by himself.

When he told Mari about the nocturnal episodes, she recommended he talk to the ship doctor, get a sleep apnea study.

Bari learned that if he took melatonin before sleep, the hypnogogic osmosis tended to dissipate. No longer would Ma sit in the chair in his cabin, murmuring to herself— nor would he suddenly find himself by her side when he hadn’t intended it. He could close his eyes and not be pulled, like a restless tide, to the moon of her existence.