A Morven Glass story by Emma Geraghty.
It gets harder around this time of year. I guess it’s tradition. Things have changed over the years, but this time of year never gets easier to deal with. It doesn’t get cold out here. I know they have artificial snow and ice and all that shit on some of the more populous planets, but nobody bothers about it in Blokk. Heating bills are expensive enough without digitally induced weather.
I’d love to say I spend Christmas volunteering, that I give my time to those who actually would benefit. They’re always looking for help around Nep1 and the smaller settlements. I want to be a decent person, I’ve had enough Christmases that I could do it. But I don’t. I donate a large chunk of credit to a few places to assuage the guilt I’m supposed to feel, and then I leave. I’m inactive. And that’s fine.
I spend Christmas day in the space station that orbits Tanaka. My home planet, if I even have one of those. It’s primarily used as a hotel, a stop gap for interplanetary business people, so it’s relatively quiet around Christmas. I rent a room for three nights. I spend Christmas Eve asleep. I wake up early on Christmas day and order room service, I read in bed until mid afternoon, and then go to the restaurant. I sit alone and eat. The bottle of whiskey goes up in price every year, but it’s tradition, it’s all tradition now, just like the armchair nearest the observation window in the station lounge is always my place to sit with my legs tucked under me and my tumbler balanced on my knee. I look at the planet I grew up on. The thick clouds of dust, the cracks in the skin of the world where water runs in fast currents searching for a sea that isn’t there, and ocean that doesn’t exist. And the sky around it. The infinite darkness of space, the void, the emptiness, and I know there are hundreds of planets and hundreds of peoples and but I have lived out here for so long and it doesn’t go away. I let the homesickness overwhelm me. I drink more. Sometimes other people try to talk to me, other lonely souls looking for someone to raise a glass with, but most of the time I turn them away.
I tell Allory a half truth. She knows I don’t have family, but I tell her I spend Christmas on my home planet with some friends I grew up with, the one time we get together in the year. Which would be difficult, given the whole not-aging thing. There were – are, presumably they’re still alive – others like me, other Children of Lazarus, but I don’t know where any of them are. Maybe meeting someone like myself would make me feel better. Maybe they’d be insufferable.
Tanaka is sand and stone, hard living, bad wages, difficult. A lot of people never leave, and even if they do they come straight back again whether they mean to or not. It’s a dustbowl, a sink hole, a non-place. It’s home. Was. My stomach drops and I knock back another gulp of whiskey. I miss it. I miss them and I dampen it down most of the time, but now, looking at my home planet, the longing comes back fierce and fiery, forcing it’s way through my veins. I indulge. I indulge in the emptiness in my chest, in the memories that slip over my eyes like old films.
The last Christmas I spent with them was the best, and maybe that’s just nostalgia, but it was the best. I didn’t know I wouldn’t spend another one with them. I was in my fifth and supposedly final year at the Institute and I was allowed three days off for Christmas, and I was home with my mum and my little sisters. I wasn’t well. They were trialling a new drug on us, I can’t remember what it was supposed to do but the side effect of insomnia was taking it’s toll. I slept for all of Christmas eve and took enough Klaxxon pills the next morning to match the energy of my sisters and help Mum in the kitchen. It was crowded in our tiny house. Hot. We played music from Ea1 that Mum bought on the black market and we opened presents and drank the wine we’d been saving all year and ate until our stomachs hurt and Astrid and Henna complained about there not being enough chocolate as if there could ever be enough chocolate for them, and Mirry got cranky because she’s five and is always cranky past bedtime, and Mum tells me off for spending too much money on a bracelet for her but I see her smile when I fasten the gold clasp around her wrist, and I can already feel the dread of going back to the Institute but I push it back and play games with the girls and watch films on the VirtuVid that Gran gave us last year and Mirry falls asleep on my knee and Henna and Astrid climb into their bed and Mum tells them a story and when they’re all tucked in, we sit together on the sofa. Mum asks me how I am. And I tell her I’m happy. And it’s true.
I should have stayed.
The whiskey burns my throat as I finish the bottle. I should know by now that drinking just makes things seem further away. I am so lonely. I don’t admit it, but it’s this time of the year, the time of the year when everything is about togetherness and family and love and sharing time with one another and it just reminds me that it’s gone, it’s all gone, all of what I used to have is gone and the loneliness seeps into my skin and I drink more, but it doesn’t help. I feel removed. I feel one step away from everyone. Like I’ve lost the sense of touch. The lights in the lounge are ambient, colours melting across the ceiling, and I miss Allory like mad. But not just her. I’m a million miles away from everyone I’ve ever loved, and it’s melodramatic, but it feels so true. If I was someone who cried then the tears would be coming now, but all I want is another drink and to be held. So maybe, when I’m sat at the bar, that’s why I let someone buy me a drink. He sits on a stool next to me and talks, and it’s clear that he doesn’t need any response to have a conversation, and this suits me fine. He puts his hand on my leg and I don’t push him away. We finish our drinks. I let him lead me to the lift and once the doors close he presses his lips to mine. He slides his hand under my shirt. I let him push me onto the bed and in my head I apologise to Allory, knowing that she won’t find out. And when I get out of his bed hours later, dressing silently so I don’t wake him, and walk back to my room, I know I should feel bad. I should regret this. But I don’t. I never do.