By Jack Finger / Contributor || Edited by Victoria Vega
Blake’s favorite part about woodcarving was how solitary it could be. Using all of these crazy machines, he could build anything out of the logs he chopped down outside. The forest gave him everything he needed, and with the tools in his woodshed, he could build anything. His house was full of self-made furniture he’d lovingly slaved away on: The kitchen table, all four chairs, the cabinets, his bed. He’d even whittled a fork; his favorite creation, since he always felt like he was using it. Blake liked useful things. He loved making them, and especially little ones since they gripped his attention so forcefully. Building bigger stuff was nice, but there were so many long slabs of wood that were too simple to make. The joints could be fun, but there was always so much time spent on mindless sanding and log splitting. Blake was trying to build a rocking chair, but each individual piece had to be cut from its’ own strip, which meant he was going through a lot of wood. Too much, because now he had to grab more logs and split them down the middle. It was busywork, mindless drivel that stole precious minutes from his creative process. Blake hoisted a log up onto the splitter and flipped the switch beneath, fighting the urge to cover his ears as the saw whirred to life. The noise was just as sharp as the device, cutting into his eardrums and pushing out any silence in the room. The noise reminded him of what happened, and Blake hated that.
Two years ago, Blake was in space. He was a mechanic, specially trained in every kind of gravity there was, from zero-G to triple earth’s average gravity. He’d been in orbit for six months preforming basic maintenance on nearby satellites for the phone companies on the surface. Blake thought of himself as the world’s most important handyman, the first line of defense in protecting global cell service. Him and Maria were quickly aiming for the most spacewalks any astronaut had ever preformed, routinely leaving the station two, even three times a month. Maria was just as good as he was, and it was nice to have someone to rely on all the way out here. He knew Ray was waiting for him down on the surface, but calls were always short and fuzzy and never private on the station. He could be alone with Maria, just floating and staring at the greatest sunrises humankind had ever seen. Maria didn’t like spacewalks as much as he did: She often asked if he could handle repairs on his own, which he probably could, but they both knew mission control was far too dedicated to the buddy system to let that happen, so she’d jet out alongside him all the same. She said she didn’t like how cold it was out there, but Blake always thought that was funny since she claimed cold showers were always best after getting back to solid ground. Maria said it was a different kind of cold: Not an icey one, but a cold that comes from nothing.
“Not a chill,” she said, “a lack of one.”
The sound of his husband’s 2001 Chevy pulling into the driveway broke Blake out of his stupor. He blinked and looked up, realizing that the log he’d placed on the splitter hadn’t moved an inch since he turned the saw on. Blake had lost himself in thought again, but he’d need to return later to actually get the job done. He left the shed, swinging open the doors to catch Ray’s eye who swung back and waved, then headed inside. Blake stood for a moment, then turned back around and got back to work.
Two hours later, Ray had finished his Etouffee and Blake sat down with him to eat. Their chairs creaked as they took their seats, and Ray groaned as the table tilted off to the left, spilling the dish out onto the placemat it had been positioned on.
“Oh, hang on, I was working on something for this!” Blake shot to his feet and ran to the closet, fumbling his hands over the uneven shelves in search of the wedge he’d fashioned earlier that day.
“Babe, can we just eat?” Ray called out, leaning around to get a better look at his husband as he rooted through the closet.
“No seriously, this is perfect, just let me…” Blake backed up, holding the wedge aloft in victory. “I made this after the quiche incident last weekend, should fix the table right up!”
Blake bent down beneath the table and pushed the wedge into place, only for the leg of his table to slide right off of it.
“Blake, please. It’s gonna get cold.” Ray tilted his chest to see his husband beneath the table. “You look like a racoon.”
“Hang on, I’ve almost got it…” Blake was slamming his palm up against the wedge, trying to force it into place.
The plates on the table rattled more and more as Blake’s large arms pounded on the leg of the table, causing Ray to stand to the side and tap his foot impatiently. Finally, Blake let out a grunt of frustration and the leg gave out entirely, dumping Etouffee onto his back and the floor beneath.
“Come on! I spent an hour and a half on that! I’ve been so excited to make seafood Blake!” Ray shouted, throwing his napkin to the ground.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry! I thought I could fix it! You always hate how the table slopes!”
“Oh, yeah, and this is so much better. Can we please just go to IKEA before the rest of the furniture in this house falls and kills us?”
“I’m sorry! I just need to replace the leg with something sturdier. This is actually better! Now I can make a leg that doesn’t wobble, I just have to—”
“Why do you have to make it Blake? Can you please just spend some money on a real table!”
“I’m sorry! My table is real! It just needs a new leg, and then it’ll be perfect!”
“Jesus.” Ray threw his hands up, then let them drop to his sides and stared up at the ceiling. “Fine. Fix the table. Who needs furniture that’s any color besides brown anyway? Brown is great. I love brown.” He muttered to himself, giving in to his husband’s desperate eyes.
Blake bent down to start cleaning up the mess, but Ray quickly turned and shouted: “Don’t! I can get it. Just go fix the table. We need a table.”
Blake stopped, then grabbed the broken leg and slowly headed back towards the door of the house, returning to his shed. “I’m really sorry, Ray.” He turned and whispered, staring expectantly.
Ray sighed again. “It’s fine. It’s okay. I don’t mind. There’s enough in the bowl to have some reheated. Just please go fix the table.”
The door of the shed closed behind Blake, and he was finally alone in his work room again. The silence was nice after an argument, but he was worried Ray would still be mad when he came back. Blake walked towards the log-splitter to get back to work, running a finger across the device, then quickly drawing it back to him as his fingertip was cut on the sharpened saw sticking out from the board. He hissed, bringing the finger up to his face and popping it into his mouth to suck off the blood. The cut was deeper than it looked, and blood was starting to run down it and onto his right palm, still red from slamming off the leg of the table. Blake rushed and grabbed a dirty hand towel, already covered with wood shavings, and covered the finger quickly. He frowned as he held the towel onto his hand, using one end to wipe off the excess blood. Finally, the towel had soaked it all up. No more blood came out of the cut as he finished wiping, and he sighed in relief.
He looked down at his right hand, then tilted his head to the side and lifted the towel off, releasing pressure from the fingertip and bracing for another crimson stream coming off his hand. To his surprise, there was nothing. Not even a scar remained on his fingertip. Blake picked up the towel, looking for blood, but it was already blackened and soot stained and he could barely tell one stain apart from another. He shrugged. The cut must have never happened. He headed back to the log splitter and began work again.
Two years ago, his hand had slipped during a basic training exercise on the space station, and he’d cut his finger open. Maria had scolded him for being so careless: A slipup like that in their suits could be so much more disastrous than simply cutting skin. Even the smallest cut in their suits would open them up to the endless vacuum, certain doom. Maria made sure he knew that because that’s what kept her up at night. The thought of being completely alone, just waiting for the remaining oxygen to leak out. To have nothing and nobody around you for support. To die without the comfort of the ground, the sky, or the breeze. To die in nothing.
They received a request at 06:00 to check on Vetricom. satellite number 12. Apparently, the service had been buggy for two days, and the company had narrowed down the issue to a satellite in their maintenance area. Blake was surprised when he learned Maria had refused the request before. She’d asked if there was any other possible reason, to which they’d responded that the science was all pointing in their direction. He found her crying to herself as their station slowly drifted towards their new destination.
“I can’t do it,” she said, “I’m losing my mind.”
Blake finished the leg of the table. It had taken him hours as he lovingly crafted and sanded down each side, smoothing down and setting in place. Satisfied at last, Blake headed up to bed, but was surprised to find Ray on the couch. It was the only thing in the house he hadn’t built, and as such, looked like a bright blue spot in a sea of wooden brown.
“I, uh, fixed the table leg.” Blake stuttered.
“Oh, good. It’s getting late. I wanted to wait up for you if that’s alright.” Ray sat up from the cushion and looked towards his husband.
“Yeah, thanks. I appreciate that. I can put it on in the morning.” They remained silent for a few seconds, just absorbing the tension. “Do you… want to come up to bed?”
“Actually, I was going to stay down here tonight if that’s okay.” Ray looked nervously to the side, avoiding Blake’s eyes.
“Oh, yeah, sorry. That’s totally fine.” Blake started, then turned to head upstairs, but he was stopped as Ray called out.
“You scared me earlier. Banging on the table like that.”
Blake’s back remained turned. “I… I’m really sorry about that. I didn’t mean to.”
“I know. Just… you did.”
Blake stood there, motionless. He drew in a shuddering breath, and Ray called out again.
“Is something wrong? Have you been thinking about Maria again?”
“No, no. I really try not to.”
“Just because you can’t tell the media doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it, Blake. I know she was really important to you.”
“It’s not… it’s not that.” Blake stared down at the hand on his right arm, studying each detail in his fingerprint. “I think I cut myself earlier, working in the shed.”
“Are you alright? I can get you a band-aid if you think it would help?” Ray started to stand up from underneath his blanket, but Blake stopped him.
“It’s alright, I… I didn’t hurt myself? If that makes sense? There’s no cut.”
Ray’s brow scrunched, confused. “Uh… you said you cut yourself though?”
“I don’t… I don’t know. I think I’m just tired. I’m gonna go get some sleep. See you in the morning.” Blake started walking towards the stairs again, lifting himself up each step to his ramshackle bed.
“I love you!” Ray called up after him, but Blake didn’t hear and continued on his way up the stairs to sleep.
That night, he stared at his fingertip until stuffing it under his pillow. Blake couldn’t sleep when he could look at it.
The next afternoon, he was back in his work shed screwing the table leg into place. It was his third attempt, since the first two didn’t fit in the hole he’d carved, but this one was looking much better. He couldn’t stop thinking about when he’d cut his palm shaving in the dark. At least, he was almost sure he had, but again his open palm was empty, lacking even a scar. Blake dragged that hand across the newest leg of the table, testing whether it’s smooth surface would allow the palm to glide seamlessly down the side, but recoiled back from a splinter. It stabbed into that palm, but it had barely pierced skin. The stick poked out fully and Blake tugged it out, then studied the point where he’d hurt himself, waiting to see if the tell-tale red spot would appear. Blake watched the palm of that hand, breath held tight and eyes open wide. The log splitter whirred impatiently as he stared. And stared.
And stared and stared and stared and stared and stared and stared and stared and stared
The sound of his husband’s car pulling into the driveway freed him again, and he quickly dashed out of the shed, the saw still screaming behind him as the doors swung shut.
“Ray! Ray, look!” Blake thrust his hand towards his husband, causing him to jump back.
“Hey! Woah, calm down, what am I looking at here?” Ray chuckled nervously to himself, grabbing Blake’s arm and trying to push it back down, but his husband held it up insistently.
“Just look! Look at the hand! Tell me what’s wrong with it!”
“I… Nothing? I don’t get it. Is this about your palm this morning? It was dark, babe, you probably just spilled something on it—”
“NO! I mean, yes, there’s nothing, but that’s my point! I got a splinter!”
“Do you… need my help getting it out?”
“No I pulled it out, but do you see?”
“Do I see the splinter you pulled out?
They both stood there in the driveway for some time as Blake continued to stammer, but eventually he gave up. There was nothing there, nothing to show. He was a blank canvas.
“Can you please turn that saw off? It’s loud. Oh, and is the table finished?” Ray changed the subject, starting back towards the house again.
“Oh, right. Sorry.” Blake returned to his shed, looking back on the log splitter as it cried out. He didn’t remember turning it on.
Dinner that night was Shrimp Scampi since Ray hadn’t gotten over his seafood craving. The chairs creaked again as they sat, but the table held steady; no rocking, no spilling.
“Babe! You did it!” Ray grinned as he set the Scampi down.
“Yeah… definitely… sorry…” Blake muttered, eyes locked on the palm of that right hand.
Ray frowned, took a bite, then looked up and smiled: “Oh, this is good! This is exactly the seafood I needed. I was literally dying for this. You like it?”
“You haven’t tried it yet.”
“BLAKE!” Ray called, fighting to get his attention.
Blake sat back up, eyes jumping across the table to see his husband’s desperate face. He shoveled a bite of scampi into his mouth, then nodded: “Oh, wow, yes. This is good! Way better when it isn’t reheated, right?” He picked up his glass of water with the hand and drew it to his lips.
Ray didn’t laugh at the joke. “What is your deal lately? I feel like every conversation we have is between a wall and a robot. Are you seriously still freaking out about your hand?”
“I’m telling you, something is really wrong with it!”
“Because it’s fine? Because you AREN’T hurt? What does that even mean?”
“YES! That’s not right! I should be hurt!” The hand gripped down.
“Blake, if this is about the station, I need you to tell me. NASA assigned you a therapist who’s authorized to talk about this stuff, why don’t you go talk to them?”
“I don’t need therapy, I need… scientists or something! I need someone to look at this and—” A crack formed in the surface of the cup, but neither of them noticed as their voices raised louder and louder.
“What? Study you? Dissect you? What the hell are you asking for Blake?”
“THIS HAND ISN’T MINE!” The glass he held shattered, sending glass fragments scattering across the table.
Ray leapt up and backed against the wall, eyes wide and chest heaving. His pupils darted back and forth, first to the doorway and then to the window. After a second, he headed towards the door: “I’m going to a hotel. You need to see your therapist.”
“Ray, please, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to—”
“Get your shit together, Blake.” And with that, he was gone.
Blake’s breathing began to pick up, drawing in rapid, shallow mouthfuls of air. He felt a piece of glass drop to his right, and slowly, he picked his right arm up into view. Glass pieces jutted out from his skin, sharp and shining with painful twinkles. Blake, without a thought, grabbed a notably long piece with two fingers and yanked it out, gasping from the sharp pain it brought. The pointed jolt to his nerves didn’t stop him: He grabbed another piece and pulled it out, letting it fall to the ground with a high-pitched ring. Blake pulled three sizable, bloodied chunks, the pain dulling with each one, and to his horror, there were no more he could see. He touched that right palm, pushing on the skin, feeling for something. As his fingers softly probed along the surface, they came across something hard. Not bone, or flesh, or blood.
Two years ago, Blake and Maria were floating out in the void, accompanied only by each other and the Vetricom Satellite number 12. They worked wordlessly, maintaining as much precious oxygen as they could. Clinging to the side of the satellite was their only point of leverage, which they were using profusely while they reached in and fiddled with wires and steel. Their ropes tethered them to their home, a single lifeline in the infinite depths. Blake screwed a panel back into place and stopped himself from reaching up to wipe the sweat off his brow, laughing at himself into the communicator. In response, Maria asked him to check the other side and make sure the wiring was continuous all the way around, and Blake began to pull his body around; handle to handle, hand over hand.
As he moved around the side, Blake saw something there where there should have been nothing. In the vacuum of space, joining them, was a thing. He narrowed his eyes, asking if mission control could see what he was witnessing, but there was no response. Another tug, and he was mere feet away from the anomaly, almost as if it was pushing him closer. Blake reached out his right hand, stretching out from the hold of the satellite, coming closer and closer to the unknown. And then, just when he almost had made contact, it vanished. Once again, there was nothing: No thing, no cold, no sound. Blake asked again if anyone had seen the image, but the silence continued. He frowned in confusion, then shook his head and turned back to the satellite. The wires looked okay, so he moved back to the other side. All that accompanied him now was the satellite, the station, and Maria’s rope; floating free, tethered only to their home, clean cut.
Ray left. Blake was alone. He shouted in disgust as he felt the hard lump in the right hand, then fell onto his butt on the floor, breath shaking. He slammed his right arm into the ground, then punched the floor more intentionally. The pain was almost a relief, but as it faded, the terror returned. He punched the ground again, again, again, again, again, but he could only prove it from the dull, disappearing pain in those knuckles. He was crying now, heart beating hard, threatening to bump straight out of his chest. He stood up, shouting to himself, and ran out. Ran to the woodshed.
The log splitter was already on, its’ saw spinning, ready. He looked at it, then back at that hand, then back towards the log splitter. How quickly it cut, how cleanly it split, how easy it looked. Blake took a slow step forward. Then another. He moved his body over to the log splitter, watching its’ hypnotic whirl, the saw dancing and twirling. Blake grabbed a stick off of the table, then slowly clamped his teeth down around it. He could taste the sawdust falling off of it and onto his tongue, drawing out a cough. The blood in his head pumped loud in his ears, finally drowning out the noise of the saw until only its’ image could sear into his mind. That’s all it became to Blake: An image, a door. He gripped the right wrist in his left hand hard, holding it still and steady, and held it up over that saw. His breathing grew even faster and his head swam from the lack of oxygen. His nose sucked in air, struggling to pull in a lungful of air through his tightened nose. Hot tears still streamed down his cheeks, but it was no longer time to be afraid. He would save himself, his family. His body was his own. He could not be afraid anymore.
A loud, muffled scream could be heard outside of the barn over the noise of the log splitter.
The following day, Ray sat tapping his leg in a hospital waiting room. The doctor finally entered, and Ray stood quickly, running over to the man in the lab coat: “My husband! Is my husband awake?”
The doctor looked up, smiled and said: “You must be Mr. Grose. Yes, that’s what I was coming in to let you know. He’s all ready for a visitor, asked for you specifically.”
Ray breathed a sigh of relief, then as they began to walk, he asked: “Is he alright? Do you know what happened?”
“We believe your husband had a psychotic break. It’s actually quite common in former astronauts. We recommend he start seeing a therapist to help him re-adjust: It can take years for the ones who were up there so long to get used to life on the ground again.” The doctor mentioned, leading Ray down hallway after hallway until they reached the door marked “Grose.” “He’s right inside. Visiting hours continue all day, so please take your time. Time with loved ones is the best medicine right now.”
Ray stepped into the hospital room where Blake laid on the bed.
“Babe…?” Ray whispered questioningly, but his husband’s attention was held elsewhere.
Blake just stared up into the sunlight, where he held up that hand that was his.