Wednesday the 11th, Lunar 3, Luka 16
The Dimensional Divide
Onboard the Neptune’s Rhapsody
By the time Jane led me back to the other side of the ship and to the open room kitty-corner to her own, I could have passed out standing. The room was small, probably a repurposed closet, self-explanatory without a tour — just enough room to fit a dusty cot with no sheet, smaller than my bed at home, and a desk built into the wall with no chair. There was also a private toilet with a leaky sink, separated from the rest of the room by a plastic curtain partition. The pull string overhead light was burned out. Once Jane left and I shut the door behind her, I was in total darkness, the kind that might’ve creeped me out a little if I wasn’t so damn tired.
Even without a blanket or pillow, my body was ready. My head itched. My scalp was tingly and cold once I took off the baseball cap Jane let me borrow, and exposed in a way I still wasn’t used to. It felt as though the razor-burn was beginning to fade, and the cuts scabbed over. I rubbed my temples while I laid there, trying to adjust to everything. My hair. This room. These people. This… new life.
Legato’s words echoed in my mind —You might never imagine the ways another person suffers unless you stop and look very, very closely, and try to imagine the Worlds from their point of view — I listened to the sink faucet drip slowly in the background…
That day was a Wednesday, which meant tomorrow would be swim practice again, and I would have to stay late to get in some laps before the meet. I would see Fisk again. What in the Worlds would I even say to him? ‘Sorry about the hand; please don’t cut my hair again’? It was impossible to imagine someone raised in the lap of luxury like that suffering, and more impossible to imagine life from his point of view. Why should I bother, anyways? It’s not like he tried to understand me.
We’d been in school together since we were children, and because of the spelling of our names, neither one of us was ever able to forget it. He sat behind me in every class, every grade, since we were little kids. Never once had he been remotely kind — er, well maybe just once — always pulling my hair, or writing nasty notes on my back, or sticking gum to my chair. It started way before I figured out I was different, too. The weirdest thing was that his parents were kind, older people, so friendly to me and my sister at school festivals and on field trips. Ian was just a born asshole. Asshole or not, I was starting to feel a bit bad about what I’d done. I didn’t mean for it to happen, even if he had been a jerk… I still thought he deserved it though. My hair would grow back, but his hand…
There was exactly one time when he was nice to me.
We were probably seven or eight years old at the time. I was still afraid of deep water, even though I was already a pretty decent swimmer. His parents invited my family for a day out sailing on one of their new yachts. Portia and I went diving with Ian while our parents sunbathed on the deck, my mom pregnant enough then that she was difficult to hug.
The three of us were competing to see who could dive down the deepest, hoping for a glimpse of some ancient ruins deep beneath the piers we’d learned about in school. Breathing underwater wasn’t a problem for us, but rather, stamina under the pressure of the depths.
I could feel my legs growing weaker with each dive, but there was no way I was saying that to either Portia or Ian. I made myself keep going, deeper and deeper. My ears were popping, and the water around me felt heavier than usual. Turning back toward the surface, I could see nothing but the still darkness. My heart was pounding, but I could barely move. My eyes slammed shut. Thrashing around in the deep, a hand locked over mine, and began to drag me up.
I never saw him, only knew it was him because when my palm touched his, there was a brief moment when I saw inside his heart. We were too young for a proper palm swap, but just old enough to share what few important memories we had. I saw his mom holding him. Him reaching for his dad. Him falling off a bike and scraping both knees bloody. Images I didn’t understand. People I didn’t know or recognize. Scents: cookies baking, campfire smoke, school erasers, plastic toys, playdough, lavender. And then there was me, the back of my head from the desk in front of him. He whispered an apology to me for a prank he’d pulled in front of his friends.
“I didn’t mean it, Petra,” he said, in his little, child voice. “I just don’t want to be alone.”
I asked him about it when we got to the surface, but he pretended not to know what I was talking about. His face said otherwise, but I never bothered him about it afterward, and I never found out what he saw of me. I mostly tried to forget that he’d saved my life once, especially now, when I had to wonder if he’d ever see in anyone else’s mind again, or if I was the only person who he’d ever share that with — and the person who took it from him, too.
A deep, deep sleep took me before I could ponder it for long. I didn’t dream, rather, fell asleep trying to parse out what things I still had to worry about: definitely not swim practice, and definitely not Fisk.