Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Future of Work: “ Beyond These Stars, Other Tribulations of Love ”, by Usman T. Malik

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Bari returned to the breakfast table, the taste of bitter, chalky chocolate on her tongue. “I guess so,” he said to Mari.

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They had sex on the third day they met and on the fourth, but the second time Bari was distracted. Ma was 13 years old and had suffered a fall that nearly fractured her pelvis. He still couldn’t believe he forgot to secure the living room rug. Which reminded him that he still needed to install the bathroom handles. Sensing her mood, Mari pulled her against him and whispered, “Stay.” Don’t go there ”but, halfway through, he was already in Saddar Bazaar with a human escort, arguing with a vendor over the price of aluminum fixtures. He couldn’t get away from the boat for more than a few seconds, but when he blinked he saw that Mari had moved away from him.

“What?” he said.

“Your students,” she said, looking at him from the end of the bed. “They dilate, you know.

He did not know. “I wanted to make sure she was safe.”

She nodded, eyes far away. “I understand.”

They remained friendly, but did not have sex after that.

Bari started to have headaches. As a child, he had migraines with a premonitory phase: his mood changed before the onset of a headache. This was followed by numbness in his left arm and eventually a rash of pain in his occipital region. These interplanetary headaches, however, were different. They occurred after every trip and were followed by pulsations behind his eyes, fatigue, and brain fog. He felt both caged and uprooted, as if gravity had abandoned him and he was floating inside a balloon. Chronically jet lagged, he thought. His mind was strained like taffy. Sometimes he couldn’t remember if he was about to go to Ma’s house or if he had already been.

Husband noticed it. “You don’t look that good,” she told him in the exercise room, where he was dragging around after a soccer ball.

He kicked her the ball and the movement made her dizzy. “I’m fine. Just don’t sleep too well.”

“Well, you’re with her half the night, aren’t you?”

“My sleep hygiene is perfect here.”

“Do you think your brain cares?” She tossed the ball to him. “Bari, I can’t imagine the kind of strain your mind goes through living practically in two dimensions. You need a break. Take a day off. “

Of course, absolutely, he told her. Excellent idea.

But of course he didn’t.

Over the days / years, the boundaries between here and there became porous. Wink and he would be in Ma’s kitchen removing the roti from the oven. Another and she would be sitting in her cabin chair aboard the ship, rocking back and forth, whispering desires about her father and their childhood home. She was by his side as they strolled along New Karachi’s graffiti-painted seawall, and with him in front of the boat window, gazing into the darkness beyond.

Beyond these stars sparkle other worlds, beyond this trial other tribulations of love.

Some nights he was gasping for air, sure his mother was dead. He went to his mother’s room and stood in the dark, watching his chest stutter, frail as flattened dough pera. When the morning light yawned across the room, it was he who was lying in that bed, or another bed in a different place, watched by himself.

When he told Mari about the nighttime episodes, she recommended that he speak to the ship’s doctor, do a study on sleep apnea.

Bari learned that if he took melatonin before sleep, the hypnogogic osmosis tended to wear off. Ma would no longer sit in the chair in her cabin, whispering to herself – nor would she suddenly find herself next to her when he hadn’t planned on it. He could close his eyes and not be drawn, like a rough tide, to the moon of his existence.

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