Flash Fiction by Sara Sirk Morató
Interplanetary It is easy to lose track of space and time at Marie’s apartment. By midnight, only blacklights and the glowing carb of a bong light the living room. Three of us - queerer and paler than beluga skin, all except me, the shadow - perch on broken couches or settle amongst trash on the floor, snickering as we pass weed above troves of empty liquor bottles and dresses. Random documentaries play on Marie’s busted television. Incense smoke pours from the kitchen. The apartment is a claustrophobic, glittery glass-trap not meant to hold us all, but we make it work. There is no other place to be young, queer, and trashed in Laramie. So we craft the oasis ourselves.
I am already soaring. I huddle on my portion of the mangled couch with Marie and Jim. On occasion, my friends chortle at me. I take them in anew. Marie is plump, dynamic; her opinions and flesh overflow from her purple tracksuit in a supernova of confidence. Jim is a bespeckled collection of rectangles that ambles through life with a vape in one hand and a magic trick in the other. We are waiting for our fourth friend, Avery: a kind, neurotic mantis obsessed with astrology.
Palla, I ask myself, why did you smoke the last bowl? That was a bad idea. I curl in on myself. The world blurs as attachment to my body becomes optional. I do my best to remain present. Jim scoots closer to me right as the door swings open. Behind the bead curtain, we hear clumsy footsteps. The door slams shut. Marie laughs.
“Oh my god,” she says, “Avery is trashed. Mama, what gives? You said that food run was going to be short!”
Avery pushes through the beads. Their shaking hands almost rip down a string of them. My first thought is, They’re so pale. I didn’t think they could get whiter than they already were. A line of thimble-sized bruises blossoms across their knuckles. Sweat plasters their bangs to their forehead. A blotch the shape of a strawberry glows on their neck. Within seconds, their knees cave. Our laughter turns to cries of alarm. Avery sprawls on the floor.
“Are you okay?” Marie says.
“I need a drink,” Avery says. “I need a drink. You won’t believe the experience I just had.”
As Marie fetches Avery a cup of everclear, I hear Jim huff in disgust. His baked gaze is fixed on the television. I look up to see a familiar sight: an 1800s illustration of an American soldier subduing a native man. This documentary is slinging us back to a settler genesis. No one changes it. Avery rambles about strange lights trailing them out of town.
“Our history is disgusting,” Jim says.
“I know,” I say.
Jim adjusts his glasses, flushing with indignation. A rant is coming. A dull ache settles into my bones. I know every point in this upcoming conversation. As Jim’s spiel begins, as Avery raves, I daydream about the sword that Francisco Hernández thrust into my great great grandfather’s kidney. Since then, everyone in my family has been born with wounds in their sides - albeit invisible ones.
Marie squints at Avery. “Are you on drugs again?”
“No! When I heard the voice, I pulled over,” Avery says. “I didn’t know what else to do. I was quivering. The voice got louder in my head. Come with us, it said. I got out of the car.”
I tune back in to hear Jim cease railing about America’s sordid history.
“Fuck colonialism,” he says.
“Absolutely,” I say.
Jim fumes, simmering in his righteousness like a mantis striking at the walls of an overturned glass. It’s almost endearing.
“At least the Spanish treated the natives better than the Americans did,” Jim says. “Someone had to.”
Everything slows. My tongue melts in sudden pain. The words ooze over me, blood spreading on sand. Despite all my previous efforts, I dissociate. I hear Avery vomit onto the floor, feel the fine spray of vomit on my shoes, but I can’t respond. I draw my feet up, helpless. Jim warbles out an apology. The world spins. Marie hands me paper towels while yelling at Avery. She cleans up the puke.
“Palla, are you okay?” Jim says. His glasses are soulless.
The cluttered room chokes me. I am an albatross entangled in a net of plastic. Drowning. I wipe the flecks of puke from my sneakers.
“Yeah,” I say. “Yeah.”
Avery downs the rest of their everclear, mouth damp with vomit. They rant about the lights again. They gesture in ways I don’t understand. It feels like I am trying to read crop circles. The pain in my tongue grows stronger. Jim’s eyes focus on nothing.
“Jim.” It takes an eternity to touch his shoulder. My brain is foggy. “The Spanish were awful to native people. They murdered millions of them.”
“Oh.” Jim blinks several times.
Is Jim looking at me? Probably not. My grip on his flesh means nothing. I release him.
“I floated in the beam of light,” Avery says. “There was nowhere to hide on the prairie. I was scared, but I was ready. And I went - up. Then...”
Too much is happening. My anger rests on a faraway isle I can’t reach. My disbelief takes over instead, filling every cranny of my evacuated body. Marie prods the horrible lump on Avery’s neck. I can’t move. The pocket of quiet around Jim and I engulfs us. A thousand corpses choke my mind. Jim sits there dazed.
The conquistadors destroyed our culture, I think. They destroyed our people. Not yours, but mine. Millions died. Thousands of indigenous people are still dying in Central America. How did you not know?
“The ship was beautiful,” Avery says, their skin shiny with sweat. “In a horrible way. They invaded my body, but I saw the cosmos. I traced the meniscus of our universe. It was an amazing new world. If they abduct me again I’ll kill myself.”
Marie’s swearing distorts the documentary’s audio. Again, I think, How did you not know? The blacklights saturate us. We sit in a rich purple hell. Nothing looks real. A metallic taste floods my mouth. Jim scrambles closer to Avery. His motions look foreign. Isolation twists my heart. How could you not know?
“I can’t believe I was abducted,” Avery says. “I can’t believe I was abducted.”
Marie’s hands shake as she pours them another glass of everclear. Illustrations of native women being beaten scroll across the TV, fading like shooting stars. I want to hurl myself through the roof and die in outer space.
“That’s fucking crazy,” Marie says. “How are you feeling?”
Jim glances at me. I see a penumbra of shame in his gaze. The five hundred year old wound in my tongue closes, taking its ancient blood clots with it. I swallow the hematoma made of my ancestral screams. It carries far too many recent ones. It slides down far too easy. It is a dense lump made of suffering, and it leaves an aftertaste - shame coats my throat.
“They tagged me.” Avery’s laugh is a nasal whinny. They press a finger to the fevered lump on their neck. “They’re tracking me. They might be coming back.”
“How are you feeling?” Marie repeats.
Avery struggles. “Violated isn’t the right word. It was so much bigger.”
“Colonized,” I say.
Avery knocks over a lamp as they whirl to point at me. It crashes on the floor. Marie swears, diving for the mauve pieces.
“Yes! That’s it! The Earth is being colonized,” they say, and I tremble. Does Avery truly know what that word means?
“Jim, help them rinse their neck,” Marie says.
While Avery stumbles to the bathroom - flanked by a bewildered Jim - Marie takes my hands. Hers are white doves that fold around my fingers.
“Are you alright?” she says. “This is a lot to process.”
Marie looks more scared than me. Her features are waxy. One of her rings has a meaningless pattern on it, which she insists is a Navajo design. The rest glows with patterns of UFOs and stars. They hold a different meaning now.
Marie was always a believer, I think. At least in some things.
“I’m alright,” I say, squeezing her palms. “I guess we’re all a little shaken.”
They are discussing the potential of an invasion outside the bathroom, now, while Jim hyperventilates and Avery’s eyes brim with enlightenment. I don’t care at all.
“Jesus.” Marie looks away. She shudders. “I don’t want to be invaded.”
I think of the countless blanks in my family tree. There is a mass grave in Nicaragua somewhere, one full of strangers I love, and it seems more alien than the furthest solar system. Undelivered justice hangs over my family heavier than a dropship.
“Not again,” I say.
“What?” Marie says. “What do you mean, again? Palla Cooper, explain!”
Sara Sirk Morató (she/they) is a Latinx writer and scientist. They ponder trauma and joy a lot. Some of Sara’s work can be found in Sink Hollow Volume IV and Prismatica Issue 6. They can also be found on Twitter as @bolivibird and on Instagram as @spicycloaca.