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The Wild Blue Yonder by Laura I. Miller


THE BLUE-HAIRED GIRL ESCAPES.            
     
She sits at the kitchen table, opens her laptop, scowls. Oh dear god it’s the smallness, the squareness. The hardness opening up in her chest, torrid and thick like a book. And the binding is tight. And she can’t breathe. When she looks at the computer screen, the book is her lungs and she has no lungs.

     The blue-haired girl is at her parent’s house. Yellow brick with pinecones bombing the front yard into sand. How did she get there? Where is everyone? She opens her inbox and drowns in the metal casing and electricity.

     Reflected in the screen, her hair is a lake of blue soap. At least she has her hair. It’s the thing she did for her future self. The femme fatale she’s on her way to becoming. Blue is the color of oceans flapping open and shattered glass. She is so close to becoming that calm, broken galaxy.

     There are one hundred new emails in her inbox.

     The blue-haired girl sighs and pulls her knees to her chest. Her lower back hurts. There’s an inkling of ache in her brow. Good. This is how life is. This is how her day begins. She clicks RE: Deadline extension and reads the passive-aggressive text. She has only five sets of survey questions left, but she has lost all motivation. Her questions are becoming more and more suggestive.

     Which of the following stains are you most likely to remove using FlowKlean® brand laundry detergent?
     a. Red Wine

     b. Taco Sauce

     c. Vomit

     d. Mascara

     e. Shame

     She types her reply, hovers over “send,” scanning the message for typos and undercurrents of despair, and notices an error:

From <single_female_31_blue-hair_freelance-writer_@email.com>

     Clearly, that’s not her email address. Her email address is simple: leglass@email.com. It’s been that way since she was twenty-two. She squints at the screen. Weren’t there one hundred emails in her inbox yesterday? Hasn’t she seen those modern cat homes, the one shaped like a dinosaur egg with leopard-print upholstery?
     She looks up and around. The lightbulb is out. Cobwebs hang like doilies from the ceiling fan blades. The fruit bowl is a menagerie of pits welded together with hardened fruit-slime. Photographs, bleached and moth-eaten, hang from the refrigerator like bits of flesh. Ant bodies are upended in the empty cat-food dish on the floor. Are those bones beside it? Tiny cat teeth? Even in the dark, she can see the inch-thick layer of gray fur. She can smell the dry-metal stench that comes long after decay.
     This isn’t right this can’t be right. Not here not now not like this. Anything but this.

     Her fingernails scratch the chair bottom as she slides it out from underneath her. No no no no no no no. She is so close and this isn’t fair and couldn’t she have just one more year? How could they trap her in this day of all days? Single_female_31_blue-hair_freelance-writer. Those fucks. That is not who she is. She has a date! She has the first chapter of her novel! She is an Aquarius for fuck’s sake! She will change! She is changing!
     The blue-haired girl opens the front door to the front yard. The pine trees have grown taller and spread their cones like a thick blanket over the lawn, the house, and her once-red now faded-to-pink car in the driveway. The cones are waist deep in places, and she grabs fistfuls of them and tosses. They make a noise like ping-pong balls. Their sharp tips bite through her skin, leave teeth marks on her legs and forehead. Small ones catch in her net of blue hair.
     The road in front of her parent’s house is black and crumbled along the edges. Her feet hit the pavement and she runs toward the woods, toward the shortcut to her best friend’s house. She sees two figures on either side of the street, closing the distance between them and her and the forest. Fuck those guys. They can’t stop her. They can’t make her stay. They don’t know what’s good for her.
     
 

THE ALIENS HAVE STOPPED TIME.
     
The aliens sit around a table that is a perfect sphere of steel. They are tadpole shaped but many-limbed and human-sized. Their skin is elastic and translucent like the skin of jellyfish. Their hearts beat visibly beneath their chests. They are the color of fish scales and hungry ghosts. Their single, embedded eyes blink in unison.

     These are the blue-haired girl’s aliens, assigned to maintaining order on her block. Every day it’s the same: the blue-haired girl is activated, the blue-haired girl begins work, the blue-haired girl is angry, the blue-haired girl is restless, the blue-haired girl is suspicious, the blue-haired girl is enraged. It is exhausting.  The aliens have tried moving her to her apartment, to her best friend’s house, to her ex-boyfriend’s couch. They do this sometimes, when someone’s suffering is as the blue-haired girl’s is. They cannot manipulate her thoughts, though. The same patterns emerge.

     They’ve sent the singing dark-eyed woman and the river-faced old man to talk to her.

     “What should we have them say this time?”

     “The meaning of life?”

     “The illusion of free will?”

     “The infinitude of the universe?”

     “The annulet of time?”

     “The interdependence of everything?”

     “The deficiency of human emotion?”

     “The joy of complacency?”

     “The key to all knowledge?”

     “There is no evil?”

     The aliens want to care for the blue-haired girl and swaddle her anger in rooms of blue cotton. They want her to bloom. They want her suffering to matter. They want to place her in a bell jar and let her tinkle and spin out her days. So they took away time, grasping for food, for money, for others. They took care of all that and suspended her in the moment most resembling joy. They gave her existence in the eternal now. Or at least they tried. They do not make mistakes, but humans are unpredictable and hard to please. They did their best.

     They blink and make squishy sex sounds and the world greens and scuttles with life.
     
     
THE PARTY IS MERMAID THEMED.
     
The thirty-year-old single mother has two daughters, and today is the quiet one’s birthday. The single mother is hanging new party streamers and taking down the old. She inspects the orange crabs with metal joints crawling the walls; she unscrews a tiny blue bulb from the Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling; she replaces the paper mermaid’s faded scales. When she reaches the food table, she smiles because every morning, the lobster tail is fresh. Lobster tail! For six year olds! Of all the ways she squandered her paychecks, surely this was the most needless and irresponsible. And yet, every morning the lobster tail is fresh, and without her having to lift a finger.

     The single mother pushes shrimp around on a bed of lettuce. She tries not to think too much. About her daughters’ father, for example. About how and why a thing becomes unforgivable. About the possible paths her life could have taken. About never wanting any of this.

     Those are the single mother’s old thoughts. She no longer thinks this way. She thinks instead about the lobster and shrimp. Her quiet daughter’s inexplicably copper hair. Her loud daughter’s flat nose and punchy fists. The mermaid costume in her closet and how good her curves look in it. The guests will be arriving soon.

     The single mother isn’t surprised to see the blue-haired girl walking up her driveway, plowing through dandelions, pinecones interrupting her blue hair.

     She opens the door and lets her guest inside.

     “Oh shit. The party,” the blue-haired girl says. She can smell the fresh lobster. She wonders how much the single mother knows. “I would have been here sooner, but I was intercepted,” she says, fishing for recognition.

     “What was it this time?” The single mother asks, and the blue-haired girl understands that they have lived this moment over and over again. She understands how a person can know everything and nothing.

     The blue-haired girl doesn’t answer because the doorbell rings and the single mother’s children run inside. The quiet one holds a tinfoil trident. Her hair is not copper like the blue-haired girl remembers; it’s a nondescript shade of brown. The loud one has hairy legs and breasts that sag beneath her Spongebob t-shirt. They are all three greasy-skinned and overweight from the seafood.

     The single mother hugs and pats her children.

     “No no no no,” the blue-haired girl shakes her head, her face a red moon. She begins to pull the streamers down, and the single mother ushers her children to their bedroom.

     “Fucked. Everything is so fucked!” she says, fists full of blue paper.

     “Come here,” the single mother says then adds, “I know.”

     The single mother checks under the bathroom sink for hair dye and finds a fresh box there—as ever. Bad Girl Blue. She unscrews the cap of cream developer and empties the packet of powder lightener into it. The two women wrinkle their noses at the smell.

     The blue-haired girl nods and stares at the PVC floor, the place where it curls up and exposes the black underneath. She sits on the toilet seat.

     “How can you stand it?”

     “What?”

     “Repeating this day. It isn’t fair!”

     “Oh that.”

     In the bathroom light, the blue-haired girl looks shriveled and malnourished. The lines around her mouth have hardened into a scowl. A deep ravine rests between her eyebrows. Only her eyes and hair twitter with traces of rebellion and youth.

     “They took everything.” The blue-haired girl says this and knows she has said it before.

     The single mother squeezes the bottle of hair dye onto the blue-haired girl’s graying roots. She has been down this path many times. She has asked the right questions: What has been taken? How much time do you think you need? Where was your life going? Haven’t you suffered enough? Haven’t we all? The blue-haired doesn’t understand about being an adult, a human. About living and letting things go. All she knows is longing for things just out of reach.

     “Not everything,” the single mother says and hands over the box of dye.

     The blue-haired girl’s roots are covered with a white paste and the air is hot and sour, her eyes bloodshot and teary.

     “They didn’t say anything,” the blue-haired girl says, looking now at the single mother’s reflection in the vanity mirror. “The aliens,” she says. “They were singing. A lullaby, I think.”

     The single mother smiles, her front tooth slightly askew.

     “My baby blue / my greatest joy to comfort you / take care of you / my miracle come true.”

     “And?” the single mother asks, raising an eyebrow, hoping to god something has unloosed in the blue-haired girl.

     “I pushed those old fucks into the ditch and kept running,” she says. They catch eyes and laughter tumbles out of them. The pain of the universe passes between them. They are stars birthed and forgotten moons. They are extinguished comets. They are wizened, old suns. They are exploding and utterly empty. They are vibrating molecules in stasis. They are laughing at those old fucks and the blue-haired girl’s strength. They are endless, terrified, hopeful.
     
     
——————————
Laura I. Miller writes tales about miscommunication and magic. She is an MFA candidate at the University of Arizona where she serves on the editorial staff of Sonora Review and Fairy Tale Review.