Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

I stand in the doorway, an invisible force for the moment stopping me from going any further.

Arthur, ever the watchful companion, lifts his head and looks right at me, ears perked up, tail wagging, gently thump-thump-thumping against the bedspread.

She sleeps.

With feet like lead, I manage the distance from the door to the edge of the bed, where I stop again, rooted.

This is as close I will get.

I thought I’d forgotten the gentle curve of her cheekbones, her hair absently tucked behind her ear even when she sleeps. The slow, rhythmic rise and fall of her chest, the way she tucks the duvet in between her knees.

I can almost smell her hair.

How long can this last?

Arthur lays on his back now, looking at me upside down, his jowls giving in to gravity and his teeth exposed in a funny inverted smile.

He huffs, and she stirs, eyes opening sleepily.

I’m lost in a sea of amber-flecked green.

Please, let this last.

The expression on her face changes. I’m not supposed to be here, I’m a million miles away. I recognize the look of sleepy confusion, and I know, tomorrow, if we could sit on the balcony drinking coffee together, she’d describe that space between waking and sleeping where she tries to hold onto the dream, to write it down on some non-volatile part of her brain to deconstruct later.

But I won’t be here in the morning.

This is as close as I’ll get.

“I love you”, I say.

She can’t possibly hear me, but still, her mouth moves in reply and I can almost hear her voice as she says, “elephant shoes too.”

It’s a private joke.

I feel my heart breaking first, then a tug at the base of my spine and I’m yanked backward through the doorway, then the wall in the hall into the living room. Arthur rounds the corner at a gallop, he can sense the terror I’m feeling as I leave him at the patio doors, out and up, the grass receding, the giant sycamore tree in the yard.

Then the clouds.

The edge of the atmosphere.

The sucking void of space.

The rest is a blur, the distance we covered as a crew so carefully, so patiently to end up here, gone by now in an instant.

I wonder as I’m pulled through the cockpit windshield and snapped back unceremoniously into my body if the rest of the crew shared the same experience.

I’d ask them if I could.

But I can’t.

I close my eyes, the blinding fireball of the star that’s caught us in its inescapable grip searing into my brain.

My last thoughts are of a sea of amber-flecked green, of elephant shoes.