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The Newest Normal

by Hope Onstad

 

Tonight, the sky is full of stars. I haven’t seen them since I was a little girl. Back when I was still home. Little beams of light clustered together, freckling the sky with their beauty. I haven’t seen the stars since we came to Alteria. Apparently, they come out every 30 years for one night.


I am 29 years old.


 I turn on the TV in our shuttle and the weatherman speaks about the stars. Through static, I hear his words “if… y-*fshhh* planning on seeing the stars to-*shhhhch* please remember to wear your masks as *chshhs* precaution.” A smile spreads across my face and I excitedly run across carpeted floor to our bedroom. The lights are off because I put Celine to sleep about two hours ago. But the stars are out, and she is already stirring, so I want her to come out on the patio with me. I curl my hands around the soft wood of her crib and peer in. Her violet eyes stare up at me, lit by the moonlight cascading through the curtains. I carefully pick her up by her armpits and lay her against my chest. She coos at me.


“Hello, my sweet angel. Did you sleep well? Mommy wants you to see something. We’re going to go to the patio together. Does that sound good?” I whisper to her in the floating atmosphere of our room, and she sucks her thumb, and she doesn’t say anything back to me. She is only a baby, after all. I guess I’m just excited for the day she will be able to respond to me. I can’t wait to hear her little voice. Sometimes the shuttle gets lonely, especially since my mom moved cross-planet, but I will always have Celine and she will always have me.


I set Celine down on the changing table as I prepare the oxygen mask. Three drops of the pink solution, five of the blue, into the yellow bag. Attach the tube to the mask and turn it until it locks in place. Adjust the strap of the mask so it doesn’t hug her head too tightly. I remove my own mask from my bedside table drawer and repeat the same process. Drip. Drop. Screw. Lock. Adjust. I lift Celine and carry her to the patio door. This will be the fourth time she has gone outside. She is 6 months old.


When I arrived on Alteria, I was 11. The people on TV, everyone around me, even my own mother, told me I would adjust. That this was my new normal. My new home.


I have never called Alteria home. But it is Celine’s. She deserves to see the planet’s beauty, as scarce as that beauty is.


I slide open the door and step out, barefoot on the concrete. I tiptoe to the blue frayed deck chair and gingerly sit down. Celine begins to cry, soft and sniffly.


“Hey, sweetie, shhhshhh, you’re alright. Are you hungry, baby girl?” I say as I shimmy her mask slightly and touch her lips with my pointer finger. She latches on, eager.


“Ok, ok, that’s what I thought.”


I tug on the strap of my camisole and lean her closer to my chest.


She begins to eat, grasping the moon pendant dangling from my neck in her tiny, chubby hand.


She eats and I sing to her. A song I grew up with my mom singing to me. A classic earth lullaby. More pure and beautiful than any Alterian lullaby.


You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
You make me happy, when skies are grey,
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you,
Please don’t take my sunshine away.


I lean down to kiss her forehead and see that she has let go of my breast and is dozing lightly.


I look up and the stars smile. I smile back to them. I hope they know that I have missed them.


Tonight, the world is filled with light. Me and my baby are together. The purple, star studded galaxy is gazing upon this moment.


I look at Celine’s sleeping face, and for the first time in 18 years,


I am home.


🌙🌙🌙


Today, the sky is full of ships. They started descending when the stars were once again cloaked in a smattering of rainbow gas and smoke. I watch them land through the window, miles away from our shuttle. The steam billowing out from under them as the heat touches the rocky surface of Alteria. Sounds I haven’t heard since I boarded the Kingston when I was eleven flood my ears. My eyes are big, but my forehead is etched with wrinkles. What does this mean? What are they coming for?


The baby starts to cry in the other room. Maybe because of the noise. The noises are making me want to cry too.
I make my way to our room and pick up a crying Celine to try and soothe her. Hot tears flood down her little face and I wish I could take the pain away and tell her that everything is going to be okay and nothing strange is going to happen. But I don’t know that yet, do I?


She is still softly weeping when I hear a loud knock on the front shuttle door. I continue to hold her in my arms while tentatively going towards the door. I unlatch the panel covering the peephole and see a man in a suit standing there. A real, office suit, not an oxygen suit.


He is not wearing a mask.


His mouth is moving, but I haven’t yet pushed the red button on my speaker device to hear him. My thumb lightly presses in on the machine. His voice is hard to hear over the gusts of air, but I can make out words.


“Hello? Are you Miss Mavis Delta? My name is Henry Dirks. I am here from earth, Miss. We want to take you home.”


What a load of rubbish, I think to myself, and I begin to close the peephole when he stammers, “Wait, wait, wait, I can prove it to you!” He seems determined. I don’t feel like entertaining this man and his delusions. As strange as the circumstances are. The ships in the air. His suit. No mask.


But then he starts singing.


You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,


My body is frozen for a split second. And then in one swift move I slam the peephole shut and press the button to stop audio transmission. Celine is still crying in my arms.


I walk us back to our room and sit softly in the rocking chair.


My eyes glaze over the metal fastenings of the shuttle wall. My gaze shifts to our window. The sky is full of ships. I sit and wait.


Until the baby is asleep and the sky is full of nothing.
 

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