He told her about the Russian space station. Like four buses crashed at a crossroads, the force of the impact melding them forever. It’s gone now. Decaying to the graveyard orbit until it burned across the sky, white as foam. The salt crust of the ocean tore its shell in wide wire shreds. She imagines pieces threaded with kelp through her toes. She traces the shore, never more than a mile from home. She is a satellite. Bulging and awkward. Two shapes connected at a cross-section of flesh and sac and heartbeats.
He told her about Ivan Ivanovich who they renamed Mr Smith. A space suit made satellite, nothing but muscles of wet torn wrappers and paper and broken parts stuffed in trash bags then into corners where human fingers once touched. A body within a body. Full but empty. They pushed the suit to a lonely orbit where the emptiness pressed in. People on Earth tuned their FM radios to one hundred and forty-five point nine nine and heard nothing.
She presses her hand to her stomach against the newly stretched skin. She whispers: can you hear me? She hopes to feel the heel of some extremity. But what’s inside is sleeping, still and silent as the night. She nudges a flop of seaweed, bottle-green belly nodules skyward. She’s looking for shards of space junk, worn and smooth like glass. She finds a rusty fish hook, neck broken, curved limbs sheared back. Further along is a nylon fishing net, sun-bleached to pastel peach. It’s stretched like a quilt over warming sleeping seaweed. She imagines the net was once red as wet lips. She looks up to the sky and wonders: is it normal to cry?
He told her there’s a graveyard out there, a spinning disc of marble trash, each centimetre of waste a bullet that could tear a bus apart, one collision creating a thousand more, a waterfall of paint chip deaths. Now, there’s a broadband constellation of six thousand future parents of debris and plans to launch a thousand more. She imagines earth wombed by an atmosphere of waste, too thick to navigate without becoming space dust themselves. All of it trapping her against the ground. She cradles the bottom of her belly. There’s a weight of three hundred and thirty million pieces.
She sees a condom crusted dry inside a seashell. She holds it in her palm. Her toes sink into the sand. Among the grains are micrometeorites from the graveyard orbit. He told her that.
She wishes he would come home. She wishes he would trace the beach for rubbish instead. She wishes she was the one doing it. Colonising space. Creating waste. For him to pick through the pieces.
Kinneson Lalor is a mathematician and writing living in the UK. Her work has appeared in various places and on various shortlists and she’s won some stuff. She’s currently querying for her novel about time-travelling botanists and beasts in Swedish castles. She loves her chickens and her dog. You can find her on Twitter (@KinnesonLalor), Instagram (@kinneson.lalor), or via www.kinnesonlalor.com.
Photography by Casey Horner (@mischievous_penguins)