In Low Orbit by Margaux Emmanuel
He was developing the pictures of her, naked against the sheets worn out by many before him. She was there, like a promise at dawn hidden behind the tattered curtains that just sat there in the solution, the saturated colors shattered like a stained glass mural. Her mouth was pink, her breasts, purple, her eyes, blue. Her body undulated in the liquid, her mouth almost seeming to move, forming the words she used to say. She seemed to sway in dance, free from the lines of her body. His reflection was superposed on the rippled surface, so pale, looking only half-alive in the white light. He lifted the soaking picture into his hands- she wasn’t looking at him. Even there, she was away.
She was smoking, ash lining the windowsill scattered like dust. The setting sun drowned the small room in shades of orange. Behind her was an unmade bed, a wooden table with cigarette burn marks and ink stains. A small television sat on the floor.
Someone rang at the door. ‘For fuck’s sake,’ she muttered.
She threw the cigarette out into the street, ember still glowing red, and made her way across the room.
‘Oh it’s you,’ she said as soon as she opened the door, laughing when she saw him. She immediately turned her back to him, and sat down at the table. She left the door open.
He made his way to the table and sat uncomfortably, his legs too long, the table too low. He looked at the bed, the white sheets ruffled, and wondered if she had slept alone that night. She had a framed picture by her bedside table of people he had never met.
She rolled up her sleeves and reached for the cigarette pack at the center of the table.
‘Want one?’, she asked, looking at him in the eye.
‘You know I don’t smoke.’
Ignoring his answer, she took one and lit it. As she let a puff out, she slunched back into the chair, and laid her bare feet on the table.
‘How many a day do you usually?’
She laughed, almost mockingly, with a slight cough.
‘If my mother asks, none.’
He let out a small, weary laugh. A short silence interspersed between them.
He dug into his pocket and laid the envelope of developed pictures on the table. She smiled and grabbed them. She suddenly got up and turned the television on, and sat on the floor. She held the pictures in one hand, the cigarette in another.
He peered at the screen from afar: an astronaut was floating around in a space station, a monotonous voice narrating every movement in the background. And she stared at this in wonder.
‘Yeah, there’s some space thing going on today,’ she said, noticing he was watching the TV. She was looking at the pictures at the same time. ‘These turned out great by the way. You can barely recognize this room, or me. That’s why they’re great.’
He looked around, noticing how different this room was during the day. Maybe that’s why he went there in the first place, by curiosity, to see what all this looked like bathed in fleeting light. He studied her, the way she watched the television so intently, the picture laid down on her thigh.
The astronaut gripped onto the space station. The backdrop was boundless darkness, his white spacesuit drifting against the blackness, defining itself in emptiness. He wondered what type of pictures he would take of space, if he were up there, too. The astronauts drifted out of the camera, away.
He turned towards the window, saw other people, their lives framed by windows, from afar, like shape-shifting shadows.
He hard a few loud successive thuds.
He turned around and saw her hitting the static television with her hand.
‘Guess that’s not working anymore. I’ll be right back, gonna use the phone.’
She left the room, floating in a space of her own. She drifted out of his view, away.
He looked on, impotent, unable to truly capture the moment, filling in the haunted spaces where love would never be, with color.
Margaux Emmanuel is a French-American 18-year-old poet and short story writer currently studying at Cambridge University. She grew up in the U.S., Denmark and Japan, travels that often influence her writing. Her work has or soon will be featured in the Glass Mountain Magazine, Canvas Literary Journal, The Under Review, Journal of Erato, Olney Magazine, The Cambridge Student and Varsity Publications. She is also a book blogger. She is currently the creative writing editor for The Cambridge Student. You can find her on Twitter @senoritamargaux