In Sickness and In Salt

Anat Deracine
21 min readJul 4, 2018

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

I stand in front of the mirror on Monday morning, getting ready for work. When I close my eyes I’m back in the doctor’s office. I imagine my insides, shriveled and discolored, recoiling from the thick biopsy needle. The image that comes to mind is a grotesque apparition, not quite a Dorian Gray portrait, but close. A bloody dish-sponge, soaking up my sins.

I open my eyes and see glowing, perfect skin in the mirror. I’m thirty-two and look better than I ever have. A serenity about your features, a pothead date told me on Thursday. That’s rockin’ that you manage fifty people.

His own serenity seemed to me an unforgivable lethargy in a boy of twenty-seven. He protested that he wasn’t threatened by my success at all, by my age or my ambition. And he swore he wasn’t the jealous type. He worked in a record store, did some filming, loved indie music and “all art, whatever the medium, just people expressing themselves fully, you know?”

His jeans were tighter than mine, covered in paint. His dishevelled plaid shirt was rolled up past his elbows, showing the hint of a Japanese tattoo.

“Mind like water,” he explained.

“Why do you need one?” I asked.

“I just realized one day that I’ve had a hard life, hard childhood you know, and I don’t need to be unhappy anymore. It’s the striving, the wanting, that’s what makes you unhappy. But when you take a step back from all that…”


He blinked, drowned his sentence in his cocktail.

San Francisco runs on anesthetics and anti-depressants. This is a city of souls muted by overstimulation, where Awareness is abundant but real concern is rare. A bright pink poster on the BART train to work promises that two days of walking will allow Avon and Komen to find a cure for breast cancer. Beside it, two young men whose jeans ended three inches above their ankles agree vehemently that Komen’s decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood is part of the Republican war on women. Next to them a homeless woman who smells of urine screams “Haargh!” at regular intervals. Nobody pays her any attention.

I’d planned to tell Chris about the biopsy while we were in wine country this weekend. I didn’t. We stayed at a quiet bed and breakfast with a pool table and a hot tub, read Fitzgerald and drank Chardonnay in the buzzing sunshine, ate truffled things with raspberry-jalapeno mustard and other hyphenated aiolis at fancy diners where everything is local-grown and organic and the chickens have led lives so leisurely they probably committed suicide out of existential angst.

I buried my anxiety as I buried my desire, among the desiccated vines lying in a bed of wildflowers. I told Chris I loved him. He said he loved me, and I believed him. Amidst hugs and chaste kisses we told each other jokes and ate oysters. We passed the Domaine Carneros winery without slowing down, without even remarking on the fact that it was a year ago to the day that we made love for the first time, here in the sloping shadow of the castle, drunk on their sparkling blanc de blancs.

“Are you okay?” Chris asked. “You’re unusually quiet.”

“I’m frustrated,” I said. “This was an incredible weekend, but I still want more. And I know that’s greedy and unfair.”

“I’m sorry,” Chris said, reaching over to hold my hand. “The anti-depressants have pretty much killed my sex drive. What happened with the guy on Thursday?”

“He was an idiot,” I said, squeezing Chris’ hand tightly. “I couldn’t do it.”

“We’re okay,” Chris said. “It’s normal for couples to go through a dry spell.”

I didn’t believe him.

I enter the converted bakery that is our SOMA office to the march of keystrokes, a satisfying snip, snip, like scissors cutting hair. And, since the builders are here, there’s the sound of pliers snapping off the rubber insulation from wire, leaving the angry copper crackling in the air.

Elise Navarro meets my eyes. When I hired Elise eight months ago, I found in her an honesty bordering on career-ending naivete, particularly when she said, “I’ve heard that it’s harder to prove yourself when you work for someone who’s on top of everything. I’m not aggressive, and I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but I’m great at my job and I don’t want to be passed over because I didn’t shout loudly enough.”

She changed how I saw my own role, reminded me that by making myself indispensable I’d left my department vulnerable.

There was something else about her too, I realize now as a muscle moves in her jaw. Real anger in her eyes, not the dissipate outrage that permeates the city streets.

“Jon didn’t wait to make the announcement,” she says. “He wouldn’t listen to me.”


“You don’t seem surprised,” Elise says, cocking her head to one side. “He says we have until Wednesday to migrate all clients, at which point support for the old version will be completely deprecated.”

“Don’t worry. I expected this.”

It’s my job. Anticipating everything. I knew when we hired Jon that he had a trigger-finger. His answers are almost always the right ones, but people take more time to change course than technology does.

Jon sits at his desk, one long leg twitching madly, the vein in his forehead bulging as he argues with the five men who are shouting at him — how the hell do you expect us to do this in 48 hours? I step in the middle of the bullpen. At five-feet two inches I’m the smallest person there. I use it to my advantage when diffusing fights between men.

I apologize, explaining that the short notice was my fault, claiming that I asked Jon to launch the new software but forgot to explain that this would be a gradual migration over the next few months. No firedrill, nothing to see, cookies and beer will be delivered at 5 pm for anyone who wants to discuss this further. With me.

The crowd disperses. I already had a draft email waiting to go, so with the click of a button I’ve apologized to the entire company on Jon’s behalf, and promised a less abrupt transition to the new software.

Not even a minute later, Jon stalks into my office, six feet two inches of genius and wrath. His curly hair bounces as he paces around my desk. “I don’t understand. I took care of every edge-case. Our clients have been complaining for years that we need a better workflow. Why would we make them wait?”

“People need time.”

He places both wiry hands on my desk, leans over me. I take note of the intimidation tactic and wonder distantly if it would ever work for me.

“What I don’t understand is your tolerance for conservatism, your inertia and risk aversion. I despise traditionalism and bureaucracy in all their forms. I joined this company to provide clear technical direction, not to play political games.”

I’m tempted to smile at the accusation that I’m a traditionalist.

“I wanted to train a few people, build up a loyal support network, give everyone a chance to adjust.”

“You coddle people,” Jon says. He pauses a moment, and I realize he expected me to flinch since he’s accused me of a feminine trait. But it’s true, so I don’t bother denying it.

He says, “You’ll never get people to respect you if you’re too busy getting them to like you.”

It’s one of those cliches people toss out as their own personal wisdom, particularly when they’re in the larval stage of their careers, as Jon is. He’s younger than I am and spoken of in reverent tones. His accomplishments in the technology industry are far greater than mine, and his comments are always about strategy sessions, seven-year plans, ambitions too big for his skinny frame. He recounts, as if telling war stories, the times that CEO’s of client companies have called his cellphone on the weekend for technology advice.

I hired him because he’s smart, thick-skinned, and not afraid to speak truth to power. He knows I’m looking for someone to replace me when I’m next promoted. It kills him that he doesn’t know whether I’ll pick him or Elise.

Chris and I were married in a simple, perfunctory ceremony to appease my parents. We’d been friends for years. The sex was sudden, a summer surprise.

We agreed about everything — our equality and our liberty, the importance of our careers and the unimportance of monogamy. And above all, we expressed commitment to each other’s happiness, as if that would be a natural consequence of complete freedom.

After work I take my bike and meet Chris at the San Bruno BART station. Seeing me, Chris picks up his bike and carries it out on one shoulder. We don’t talk about our days, we bike about them. If my work places me among the ruthlessly ambitious, Chris finds himself surrounded by incompetence and laziness. It grates on him, being the idealistic visionary at a non-profit that has all the good intentions but none of the imagination or energy of the private sector.

“We can do this today,” Chris says. “Hospitals want to be able to share records with each other so they can track epidemics and do more effective disaster relief. But the government won’t pay them to do it, and they won’t let us do it, even for free. I don’t really know why, and no one in Congress gives a shit.”

“But why do you care so much about it?”

“Because there’s no reason things should be this way. Because we can’t let Katrina happen again. Because there’s nothing more pointless than a preventable death.” When I say nothing, he says, “You think I’m being melodramatic.”

“No, not at all.”

“Let’s just ride.”

“I really didn’t think that.”

We bike together but separately. Chris sets off above 90 RPM, while I pace myself for a slog. Our styles betray our individual weaknesses: he grows impatient waiting for the wind, while I grow weary from holding fast through the storms. I lead from the shadows, nudging others to the front lines to grow stronger through battle. He leads from the front, striking through opposition like a bolt of lightning, allowing others to follow in his slipstream.

I stand up and stomp on the pedals angrily, bouncing from side to side. When the results of the biopsy come in I’ll have to tell him, especially if I have to shed what’s left of my femininity. Jettison the weight, streamline the ship, move faster. Catch up to Chris.

He’s standing at the top of the hill before the descent to Skyline, under a tree. He looks tired, his jaw long, his hazel eyes soft and round.

“I was feeling nauseous all day,” he says. “I had a migraine. It’s finally getting better.”

“Why didn’t you call me?”

Chris laughs. “Don’t be silly. I wouldn’t have asked you to leave work because I had a headache. Anyway, I’d like to sleep at my place tonight. Alone.”

To his credit, he notices immediately that he’s disappointed me.

“Sorry,” he says, “I just need some rest. And have you noticed? Your sex drive is through the roof. I can’t keep up.”

His intonation tells me this is intended as a fact, not an accusation. We head back to San Francisco, together on the long descent.

We’re an evolved couple, orbiting around each other in neat frictionless ellipses. His and hers but never ours. He won’t let me take care of him, since it puts him into a gender role that makes him uncomfortable, the one occupied by our parents’ generation. I wonder if Chris would take care of me, if I’d even want him to. My mother lost her sex drive to breast cancer. I wonder if I’ll lose mine too.

The wind stings my eyes. How can I feel so healthy when my insides are falling apart? I don’t feel sick. I wake up at 7 every morning without an alarm clock. I bounce out of bed and, if Chris is still sleeping, run through a half hour of yoga, balancing easily in crow-pose. I bike between 10 and 40 miles a day and want sex all the time.

I used to think we could share happiness. I had so much to spare I wished I could hum Ode to Joy against his lips and that his very being would shake with fullness as mine did. Early one morning, as he stood against the window grumpily turning off the alarm, a ray of sunlight burnt through the fog and touched his face. His eyelashes glowed, a deep copper. I ran up to him naked and lifted him off the ground in a great hug.

“You can put me down now,” he said, sounding annoyed. “I know how strong you are.”

When we get back to San Francisco we lock our bikes and grab burritos, devour them on the street corner. Chris only gets through half, gives the other to a homeless woman. I feel slightly ashamed for wanting all of mine.

“Want to hang out this weekend?” I ask, reminding myself of my schedule and calculating the time we’ll have together.

“Actually I thought it would help my mood to travel, so I’m going to head over to New York to see Kim. We have reservations on Friday at Per Se. I’m taking the red-eye on Thursday night.”

Oh.” I wasn’t expecting that.

“You don’t even like Per Se! And I thought you don’t like to travel two weekends in a row.”

“I haven’t had much time with you lately. And when I do see you you’re tired or sick.”

“It’s the meds. Things will get better in a few months.”

“I wouldn’t mind just… spending time with you. We don’t have to have sex.”

He frowns. “Really?”

I turn away, jaw clenched.

“Do you want to come over tonight?” he asks.

“Are you only asking because…”

An impasse. Both of us wanting to do right by each other, neither of us able to. A cramp goes through me and I wince in pain.

“Actually, I think I ought to go home,” I tell him. “Cramps. I’m probably being unreasonable anyway.”

“Are you sure?”

No, I’m not sure. I have no idea what’s happening here. I want to say, “I think I may have cancer. If not now, soon. I’ve dodged it twice but I don’t think I can keep it up forever. But I don’t want things to change between us simply because of that. I want you to have your life, because that’s what I believe true love is, protecting the other person’s freedom even from yourself, protecting their happiness even from themselves.”

“I think so,” I tell him. “It’s been a long day.”

The fog settles in around us and condenses on his glasses. I kiss the valleys under his cheekbones, put my hands on his face and stand on my toes to kiss his temple.

As I walk home I text Matt Harper and ask him if he’s free on Thursday night. It’s going to be hard enough waiting for the biopsy results; with Chris out of town, I’m going to need some distraction.

By Thursday, things at work have settled down, with Elise championing the new software in her disarming way, even leading an impromptu group workshop to train people to use it. I watch with pride as she holds people’s attention.

Always be leaving. If I have cancer, Elise will have to be ready to take my job from me. I shouldn’t need to use the reins.

Matt Harper is a rock climber, mountain biker and yoga instructor. A vegan, alcohol-free diet keeps him lean and healthy, but also makes him an intolerable boyfriend. We used to date, and the sex was phenomenal, but there was no living with him.

“Remind me to send Melissa some chocolates,” I pant, sweating, as we collapse together on my bed on Thursday night.

“You’re her favorite,” Matt says, smiling contentedly with closed eyes and playing with my hair. “You’re sexual, not sentimental.”

“I’m not opposed to sentiment.”

“Well, she is,” Matt says. “She doesn’t just hate Valentine’s Day or the wedding industry, she only speaks in I-statements, even about vacations we went on together.”

“Do you suppose she’s afraid that if she lets herself feel… romance, she’ll also let in all the other things — jealousy, for instance?”

“She’s the one who introduced me to polyamory,” Matt says with a shrug, which is the closest he’s come to acknowledging I’m right. We’re not supposed to feel unhappy, or lonely, or jealous, not with such perfect sexual liberty. Matt runs workshops on safe bondage and Yoga for Sex at the Armory, and Melissa gives talks on Sex at Dawn and The Ethical Slut to groups of feminists and post-feminists, mocking the scandalousness of politicians’ extramarital affairs as a streak of puritanism.

“Don’t look so worried,” Matt laughs. “Not everyone wants things with the same clarity or intensity as you. Most people just have preferences. You crave.”

“The desire for possession is insatiable. It can survive even love itself. To love is to sterilize the person one loves.”

Matt gives me a puzzled look and I realize he doesn’t recognize the Camus quote. He isn’t Chris, whose intellect sometimes creates whirlpools of want in my lower abdomen.

I feel a sudden urge to toss Matt up into the sky so he may be safely returned to Melissa, and to draw Chris down to me just for this moment before allowing him to go back to Kim.

We fall asleep, my head resting against Matt’s decidedly non-intellectual shoulder, and I’m glad he doesn’t roll away from me to work through the night as Chris sometimes does. We wake up together at seven, decide to go for a run before work to get the juices flowing, chase each other through Golden Gate Park towards the ocean. Matt takes off his shirt and the muscles in his tanned back glisten in the nascent sunlight. We pass emaciated hipsters with multi-coloured hair and tattoo-sleeves adjusting their thick-framed glasses, and they cast Matt a look of envy followed immediately by a studied disdain: yes, I see that your body is superior to mine, but my mind is sharper than yours. Their manic pixie girlfriends, impeccably dressed in slightly-altered vintage wear, are less subtle, their gazes resting longingly on Matt’s tall, beautiful body. My heart strains with compassion for them, and I move slightly away from Matt so that they don’t think he belongs to me.

We are not things. We can’t be owned. We die alone. I think these and other tetrameter thoughts while jogging with Matt.

“You’re tremendously strong,” Elise told me once, over drinks after work. “Like that new palladium-tempered glass they just discovered at Caltech. Nobody throws you off your game or gets to you.”

I’ll have to do even better, I think. If I cling to people now out of vulnerability, I’ll only make us all miserable.

“Hold up!” Matt says, and I realize we’re out of step. I’ve been sprinting ahead at the pace of my thoughts. I wonder whether this ever happens to Real Couples, if one of them forgets the other is supposed to be beside them.

“You’re in amazing shape,” Matt says, slipping an arm around my waist. I grin at him.

“Race you back home? We can get another round in before I have to go to work.”

We tear back through the park to Cole Valley where I live, devour each other hungrily as we fall through the door.

“Fight me,” I snarl, and shove him down on the bed. A flicker of memory, of climbing into Chris’ lap, him pushing me away with a pained Sorry, my head hurts. You get really aggressive sometimes, and I bite Matt’s neck to forget.

We wrestle hard. I’m smaller than Matt is but I’ve got some experience grappling so it’s a fair fight. Things are just getting interesting when my phone rings. It’s Elise. She never calls, so it must be important.

“Check the news,” she says brusquely. “Hurricane warning for the East Coast. Parts of Manhattan are being evacuated. The subway’s going to be shut down. It shouldn’t be a big deal but some of our clients there are panicking. I think I can handle it, but shall I start putting through their calls to you if they need some extra reassurance?”

“Yes, of course. Thanks, Elise.”

“Something wrong?” Matt asks. I bring my laptop to bed to read the news. Matt reads over my shoulder and texts Melissa that he’ll be home soon before calling up his parents in New York to check on them.

I spend a little more time gathering information, absorbing Nate Silver’s predictions of economic impact, jeering articles about the fear-mongering government that will save Wall Street and Battery Park but not New Orleans, and hundreds of jittery posts and tweets that flood my social networks, before staring at my phone, shaking with worry over Chris’ silence.

It would never occur to him to call, to reach out simply to connect, without further purpose. “But the hurricane isn’t even going to hit until Saturday night,” he’d say, quite reasonably. “And you can’t really do me any good by worrying. I’ll take the first flight back afterwards.”

It’s not as though similar thoughts haven’t been passing through my head: “The test results won’t even be back for a week. And you can’t do me any good by worrying.”

Matt kisses me quickly and heads home. My phone rings and I reassure a client that we do not anticipate any interruption in service because of the storm. Yes, we have a New York office, but we believe in redundant, resistant systems, and your information has been replicated in datacenters across the United States. Even if Manhattan were decimated by nuclear disaster, even if everyone in our offices, myself included, were to die tomorrow, your application will still be running. Don’t worry.

I rinse off the salt from the jog and dress quickly. I think, even if things get really bad, at least he’ll have Kim with him. He won’t be alone. Then I take a deep breath and brace for the storm.

Jon’s out of his natural element. The steady hum of nervous energy from his incredible brain is not suited to reassuring jittery clients. His broad forehead shines with sweat, hair retreating as if scorched. It’s Elise whose gentle voice finally gets the phones to stop ringing. I wish Elise had Jon’s drive. I wish Jon had Elise’s delicacy. I wish I wasn’t so incredibly and unfashionably in love with my husband.

“I’m taking a vow of celibacy,” I tell Chris over the phone. “I’m not picking you up from the airport either.”

He starts laughing, a gentle ripple of a sound that leaves me parched.

“How long is this supposed to last?”

“I had a biopsy. If the results are clear, six months. If they aren’t, all bets are off. I’m going to want to stock up while I still can.”

He’s quiet. I know he’s thinking about the timeline, trying to figure out how I could have squirreled away doctors’ appointments without his knowledge. Keeping secrets from each other sometimes backfires, but it can also drive us mad with desire.

“When do you get the results?”

“It’s not important. You’re in New York. Have fun.”

I hang up. Jon enters my office. He doesn’t knock because we’re in a modern workplace, glass walls and no doors. Privacy is for subterfuge.

“Sit down,” I tell him, perceiving his anxiety. He takes a seat, long legs crossed, one of them twitching.

“I want your honest answer, no kid gloves,” he says. “I feel I’m fucking up and don’t understand why. I can’t stand micromanagement, and I appreciate you letting me run things without adult supervision, but…”

He doesn’t finish. I realize he doesn’t know how.

“Jon, you’re the most brilliant engineer I’ve ever met.”


“What do you want?”

“I want your job,” Jon says. “But I don’t want the politics.”

“I know,” I tell him, sitting at the edge of my desk. “Do you still want me to be honest?”

“Yes.” He braces for the worst, lips tight against my judgment.

“This job doesn’t just excite me, it doesn’t just keep me awake at night. It consumes me and I subsist on it. I don’t go home exhausted and fulfilled. I end my days with an act of will, because nothing I accomplish will ever be enough. I don’t put up with politics, I genuinely love figuring people out and earning their trust. I can’t get enough of them. I think you’re here to ask for a position of authority, but I could name you Director right now and it would mean nothing. The clients would still go to Elise.”

Jon scowls.

“What do you really want?” I ask him. “The job title or their loyalty?”

There’s a long silence, while Jon neither speaks nor leaves my office. I watch the emotions cross his face. In the end he laughs. His leg stops twitching.

He says, “It’s like asking a woman whether she wants to be the legal wife or the beloved mistress. It’s a false choice.”

There’s a street party in the Castro and it’s Melissa’s birthday. She’s slender with soft brown hair and green eyes, unlike me in every way. I inherited sharp Persian eyebrows and wide Colombian hips from parents who fled oppressive regimes on opposite sides of the earth and united in Berkeley. My silk dress is ultramarine blue and was designed for me by an art student in SOMA. My earrings are made from broken bangles and my necklace is a choker made from repurposed CDs.

Wearing expensive things is the New Yorker’s sin. We have others.

In the Castro, under the comforting blanket of the rainbow flag, the streets are packed with half-naked women and almost entirely naked men. Lady Gaga refuses to answer her telephone and Adele sets fire to the rain. Melissa is topless, wearing a fitted black velvet skirt with a slit down one side. Men and women watch her from a distance, taking in her beauty without feeling the need to intrude. Sweat and vodka fuel frantic plagiarisms of Beat poetry, and in a historic trolley rented by a group of techies, a Latino bartender serves flights of Russian River wine to system administrators hopped up on Adderall.

We dance our way into Bisou to a mashup of Eurythmics and Eminem. The curly-haired French waiter is wearing chaps and cowboy boots, a wife-beater over his sculpted, hairless chest. Hearing that it’s Melissa’s birthday he leans in for a hug and she kisses him. He brings us a bottle of pinot.

“It’s already open, why let it go to waste?” he says. The crowd presses in from all directions, the floor is slippery from spilled wine. Melissa sits on my lap, gently eases my hand through the slit in her dress.

I take all this in amused stride, feeling nothing, until I receive a text message from Chris: I flew back early. Have you got the results back yet?

Then my heart flutters, a catastrophic butterfly.

I run up Steiner towards Chris’ house, taking my heels off once I reach the top of the hill where there aren’t needles on the street.

I pass the great Painted Ladies of Alamo Square, the scandalously intense colours glowing under the orange street lamps and scented with night-blooming jasmine.

I hope we’ll share a quelling, annihilating kiss, the kind we shared two years ago when we fell against each other for the first time at the masquerade ball in the wire cage of Bliss Bar, eyes meeting through masks and feathers.

But Chris is tired, lying on the sofa with his hand across his eyes.

“I didn’t think you’d come over,” he says. His pupils are dilated, his soul blinking at me with unprecedented innocence. “How are you?”

“I don’t have the results yet. But I’m fine.”

“Come here.”

He holds me in a comforting embrace, stroking my arm. I push him away, brimming with frustrated desire. I am as resilient as a Prince Rupert’s drop. Bring on the hammer, but gentleness may break me.

“What is it?” he asks.

“If I have cancer, we should get a divorce.”


“I’m not doing chemo. I’m not going to nuke my body. I’ve been thinking of skydiving into a volcano.”

He laughs and pulls me back into a hug, kisses the side of my head.

“I’ll fly the plane, if it’s what you really want,” he whispers. “We can even get you a wirelessly transmitting camera, so you can do science some good on your descent.”

He falls asleep with his arm around me. I lie awake for a long time, bargaining with the universe.

In the basement of a sterile white building in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, Chris and I embark on sensory deprivation. We’ll be floating in separate tanks, each filled with water supersaturated with Epsom salt.

“I used to be so stressed out,” says the owner of the Float Matrix Isolation Tank, a tall and skinny guy with a T-shirt that says This is what a FAT vegan looks like. “Computer job, climbing up the corporate ladder. The first time I came here I floated for 2 hours. Afterwards, nothing was the same. I kept coming back here, helping out. Now I work here, and it doesn’t even feel like work anymore.”

He hands us towels and bathrobes and points us to the two separate pods.

“The water is sterile and body temperature. Have either of you ever experienced an isolation tank before?”

We shake our heads.

“I wish it was my first time again,” he says. “It’s never as good. Just remember to put some Vaseline on any open cuts. The salt can sting like a bitch.”

In the changing room, as we undress, Chris says, “Most people would celebrate a clean bill of health with a bottle of Dom.”

“You didn’t have to come.”

“I’m just trying to understand. Sensory-deprivation tanks were used as torture devices by the KGB. This is pretty ridiculous, even for us. And I thought we’ve done all the ridiculous things.”

“I have six months of celibacy to look forward to. Can you really walk away from Sodom without looking back?”

“You’re not serious about that,” Chris says, placing a warm thumb on my cheekbone, curling his fingers around my chin. “Sex isn’t sinful. You weren’t being punished, and we don’t owe any higher power anything for the lives we live.”

“This isn’t about gratitude. It’s about recalibration. I can’t really explain.”

Chris wishes me luck as we step into our salt-water space-pods. The water is tepid and viscous, grey as sheet metal under the room’s fluorescent light.

I step in and shut the pod.

For the next few minutes I strain against the silence to hear things, blink in the hope of seeing despite total darkness, resisting the sense of my nakedness.

I fidget, scratch itches, replay conversations, movie scenes and advertisements, make plans for the future. I start to hallucinate, imagining Chris in the void before my eyes. He disappears and my aching grows less ambitious, my thirst more ordinary. I’ll settle for his voice, for a single word.

Finally I lose track of time.

My limbs quiet. An expanding, ravenous consciousness bursts forth, to which even the simple movement of a drop of water across an inch of skin is exquisite, endless agony.