NPR's Bob Mondello and Tamara Keith read excerpts from submissions to Round 10 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest. The entries are "After the Tone" by Jaqui Higgins-Dailey of Phoenix and "Space-Time Capsule" by Jill Schepmann of San Francisco. Read the full stories below and see other submissions and past winners on our Three-Minute Fiction page.
Found your note in the crisper. So sneaky! Glad to know you'll miss me more than fresh produce even when you're facing a year's worth of dehydrated broccoli and beefish bits. Spam! Made me smile. And sad. Did you hide more? Didn't mean to find one already. Made me feel like you're still here. But not. Your earthly ghost. Wish I could've hidden notes for you on Mars. Or on the ship. Probably that's a breach of security though.
Made me think of things I said or didn't say. Some things maybe I didn't need to say. Like. If you're out spacewalking, always stick with your buddy. Don't volunteer to go scope out dark corners or strange sounds by yourself. Don't bend down to pick up what looks like a cute little baby alien. Don't say to your partner, "Guess I'll just meet you back at base then." You've seen the movies. You know the drill. Think like Ripley.
Your note made me think of the other day when we were walking with Gracie on the beach. When she started pulling and you took the leash. "She needs to run," you said. And the two of you took off ahead, and I walked behind. I didn't tell you how it feels to watch you apart from me, when you're not aware. Or how when you ran with Gracie, people turned to watch you and the sideways-trotting weiner dog by your side. My two creatures in this world. Embarrassing how much I love you. And the ocean just did its thing beside us. Isn't this enough, I thought? The ocean! The sunset!
But. I've always known you needed more. You're the explorer.
Something in you that has to go as far as it can, and return. Then out farther. Then back. Just a bunch of tests. You have your doubts and you look for the laws that will break them or confirm them. When I met you, all I could see was movement. Projections and calculations. Destinations. And I've tried to keep up. And I've tried to help us remember home.
And to think. Mars isn't even your favorite. You'd go to Jupiter if you could. Jupiter, in its shadow-existence to Saturn and its blingy rings. Even Mars, a compromise for you.
Not that I've made it easy. What planet am I? This gravity so strong I'd say I'm a black hole, but you'd probably correct me. A wormhole gateway to somewhere else?
Ah. I wasn't going to leave this message. I haven't even been drinking. I don't even know if you'll get it before you go. Maybe it's better if you don't.
What I meant to say was we should have a place. Somewhere we can go to in our minds when we get scared or a year feels too long. You know? I was thinking about that perfect time on Sunday mornings just after we've finished eating waffles or soft-boiled eggs on toast, where there's still enough day, we're not anxious for the week yet. You've got your tea and your Harper's. I've got my coffee and my book of the day. Gracie's on sheriff-duty on the back deck. Tungsten's languishing in his elevated sunspot. Maybe Nina Simone is singing about sugar bowls. I'm thinking of that quiet moment when we look at each other. When we're not alone.
That's all I really wanted to say. Forget the other stuff. Remember I love you.
First of all, I'm not sure you know this, but there's no need for you to say, "Leave a message after the tone," because the automated woman says that immediately after you. It's redundant. I thought you should know.
Secondly, I didn't call just to tell you that — believe it or not. I know our relationship is characterized by antagonism, but that's not why I called. I was sitting here wondering why we have argued the last four or five times we've talked to each other and I figured it out. It's because we're not communicating. We're meeting each other — at a coffee shop or outside a grocery store by chance — and we are just spewing sentences at each other. We aren't even volleying. It's as if I say, "I feel like crap today," and then you say, "I just sit at my desk all day long wondering if you even listen to me." That's exactly what our conversations are like.
I don't know — can you even call that a conversation? I don't know. What the hell is my point? Oh yeah — we aren't getting along. I wanted to tell you that we aren't getting along well. There are things that you say and there are things that I say — and there is no Venn diagram of those things. There is no point where they meet.
I was sitting on a bench in Pershing Square last week — remember I had that meeting in the Flower District? It went well. Anyway, I was sitting on a bench in Pershing Square and this guy comes out of a building across the street. He's walking his dog and the dog is pulling and pulling and pulling and he's practically running in place. The dog has to pee badly or loves walks or something, but the guy just keeps his normal pace. He doesn't adjust his pace to the dog's. It's like he is silently saying, "Chill out. We will only ever go as fast as I want us to go." I feel like I am that dog and you are my companion, walking me only as fast as you want to go. Does that make sense? In that moment, it was perfectly clear. I was so ashamed. I felt so ridiculous.
So here I am — telling you over voice mail that I think we are incompatible. I don't even have the decency to do this over e-mail. Wait — that came out wrong. I'm not trying to break up with you. God. I can't believe I almost left a break-up message when that is, like, the last thing this message is about. I'm having a hard time getting to my point. So anyway, I'm pregnant. Call me.