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LIKE DROWNING • by Pam L. Wallace

I’ve avoided showering by using the sonic cleaners, but after this long, even I can’t stand myself. The sonics do a good enough job, but there’s still nothing like plain, old-fashioned water for cleansing, for washing away life’s detritus. My skin is dry and flaking. I’ve taken to wearing a wig to hide my greasy hair. And let’s face it, I stink.

No one’s been rude — or is it brave? — enough to say anything yet, but I’ve noticed the sideways glances and the wrinkled noses.

So here I am, ready to face my personal shower demons, come hell or high water — pun intended. My wig gets thrown in the locker with my clothes. The bathrobe is soft-syn, moisture wicking, light as air. The hallway to the showering chambers looks at least fifteen meters long. My paper sandals slap the flooring, echoing like a prisoner’s last walk.

I can do this. No biggie, Irene. Just a shower. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

The attendant doesn’t look up from the computer screen, just holds her hand out for my ID tag. She gives it a quick swipe, rubs a finger against her lips while waiting for the stats to pop up. “Wow! You’ve banked eleven minutes of water?” She gazes off for a second, clearly imagining herself in a long, luxurious shower. Her expression turns regretful. “I can’t let you have that much all at once,” she says with a sad little shake of her head.

“That’s fine.”

“Five minutes.” She taps the numbers into the terminal, scans my tag again. “Enjoy.”

“I, um, don’t think I need that long.”

She cocks her head to study me. Clearly I’m some sort of idiot. Polaris is still in terraforming stage, and water is a precious commodity. Normal shower time is only a minute every other day.  Her nose wrinkles as she gets a whiff of my aroma. She frowns. Glances back down at her screen. Her eyes widen and I see that she’s finally recognized my name. “Whatever you don’t use will be banked,” she says, keeping her gaze locked firmly on her screen.

I remember Dr. Anderson’s mantra. Shame can’t be caught or communicated by looking someone in the eye. Clearly, this gal thinks otherwise. Can’t say that I blame her.

I head for the showers, my feet dragging. The door to the cubicle slides open. The plasteel walls are sterile white. Empty, like me. The large round shower head drops down from the ceiling as its sensors scan my entry.

I start shivering and turn to leave, but then I catch a wave of my own stench. “It’s only a silly shower!” My voice cracks the quiet; threatens to crack my icy façade. I’ve worn the ice like armor for three months now, kept it tight around me, as if it was all that was holding me together. It keeps me from thinking. Keeps me from feeling. Keeps me from remembering.

I let the bathrobe drop to the floor. I stand there, naked, and it all drops away. Shivering, I can’t bring myself to move. I stare at the button that will open the door and release me from this hell. Dr. Anderson told me to breathe deep and slow if this happened. To remember that I can’t keep locking the memories away like a dirty little secret. “It wasn’t,” I whisper on an inhale, “my fault.” Long exhale. Again. And again.

I know the truth. I was the team leader. I should have overruled Kayla and Nate. I should have made them pack up the dredger and get us the hell back to base before the storm hit. So what if we hadn’t made our monthly quota of ore yet? Sure, Kayla and Nate would have missed their little getaway when we had to go back out to finish. At least it wouldn’t have been permanent.

I sink to the floor, pound my fists on my thighs. “It was my fault,” I whisper.

The storm wasn’t your fault, Dr. Anderson’s voice replies. We’ve had this conversation so many times, her responses have programmed themselves into my mind.

“It was my fault we didn’t leave sooner.”

Your only fault was letting your subordinates have a say in your decision. Some people call that democracy.

“A team leader should be a dictator.”

You came back through storms before, didn’t you?

“Yes.”

You couldn’t foresee the rain being so heavy it knocked out the shuttle’s sensors.

This was the point in our conversations where I always retreat into my silence, wrapping the ice around me.

Except the silence is choking me. The ice won’t bring them back. Nothing can un-make that day.

I turn the shower on, watching the water fall from the ceiling in a steady stream, mimicking rain, but reminding me only of tears. Tears I haven’t been able to cry. I lie on the floor in a fetal position, remembering.

I lay in the shuttle wreckage in a fetal position. The rain battered and banged on the exterior, seeping in through the cracked viewscreen, puddling underneath me. “Kayla? Nate?”

The silence was heavy and deadly. I crawled to the transmitter, the rain pouring through a hole above me, clogging my eyes, my nose, with its fury. I called for help. But there was no help for Nate or Kayla.

By the time rescue arrived, the shuttle was near flooded. I came close to drowning, close to letting go and joining my team. The official report laid the blame on a faulty sensor. That, and a storm that the weather gear had not predicted to be so fierce.

Maybe someday, I’ll come to believe it.

I crawl under the shower. Water sluices through my hair and down my face. Streams into my eyes, my nose.

It’s like drowning.

My tears mingles with the water, slicking down my face, and flow down the drain.


Pam L. Wallace lives in California. Her stories have appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and Shock Totem. This is her third story published by Every Day Fiction.


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GD Star Rating
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LIKE DROWNING • by Pam L. Wallace, 4.0 out of 5 based on 39 ratings
Posted on February 6, 2013 in Science Fiction, Stories
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  • http://flyingscribbler.wordpress.com Justin Davies

    I was intrigued to find out why this person was so reluctant to take the shower and the red herrings you laid out worked, I thought. The gradual discovery that the story is set in space works because it is unexpected, but because the reader is already involved with the character, it doesn’t alter our relationship with them. It is an unreal setting, with real and familiar emotion. One point: your ‘pun intended’ line grated and stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t feel it was needed.

  • http://leehallison.com Lee Hallison

    Very well crafted – the reason for her mental stress plays out nicely, the parallels with the storm and the shower work, and the story pulls us into her mind and makes us care about her. Bravo!

  • http://starvingactivist.wordpress.com AR Neal

    Very nice; I got wrapped up in the story quickly and want to know more!

  • http://www.bethcato.com Beth C.

    Great story. The world-building is just right.

  • JenM

    Simply beautiful! Five stars.

  • joannab.

    This story kept me on the edge of my chair. 5 stars.

  • Rob

    A very well constructed piece. I gave it full marks (Although throughout I was prodded by the fact that water– even sewage– is really simple to filter and re-use even with 20th century technology.) A good character with an understandable/believable problem. Enough details about the ‘world’ without any drudging info-dumps. Nicely done.

  • http://postcardpoemsandprose.wordpress.com/ Dave Morehouse

    A nice mixture of details -real and otherworldly- makes this story familiar yet keeps it set elsewhere. The pace is simply perfect also. Well done.

  • http://jakobdrud.com Jakob Drud

    Great story, convincing tragedy behind Irene’s phobia, and a nice way to show it.

  • Mike Stone

    What a great story! Once I read the opening paras I had to keep going to find out why the MC was afraid of taking a shower. Nice work, Ms Wallace.

  • http://michelle-ann-king.blogspot.co.uk/ Michelle Ann King

    Great slow release of the backstory, to explain her intriguing fear. Good job!

  • http://www.paulfreeman.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    A very well written story.

  • Joanne

    Very good writing — excellent pacing. The character’s voice is immediately engaging. Five stars.

  • Keith Heath

    Interesting story. I felt it was slow to start, but before the end, I really felt for the MC!

  • http://astheheroflies.wordpress.com/ Gretchen Bassier

    Agree with Joanne (#13) and others. Wonderful story, wonderfully told.

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