She watches him remove her clothes from hooks, fold them into a suitcase. The tapioca he brought from the galley, same beige as the plastic bowl, same as the paint on the dorm walls, still untouched on the sill of the window she now looks out. Below, powdery snow sweeps over volcanic grit, over tri-wall bins full of food waste, aluminum cans, glass, things brought then removed from this continent.
He asks questions about returning equipment to the field center. The windbreaker, he says. He keeps talking, keeps putting things in. She’s aware of what’s being said.
Only she has to go, leave McMurdo. She’ll leave the way she arrived. On a C-17 mostly full of men, mostly unsure what to expect in the next phase of life. She received apologies from her supervisor, apologies and tears from her roommate, apologies from the medical staff along with a reminder that all women of child-bearing age are required to take a pregnancy test before deployment. This, considered a medical condition Station is unequipped to handle.
She turns from the window to see him bring her thermal underwear close to his face, inhale mustiness into his lungs. She recalls the first night they were together early in the season, when the magic of walking the bottom of the earth seemed as surreal as the thermometer readings, the careful way he’d touched all her layers: her parka, wind pants, fleece, thermal underwear, T-shirt, wool socks, rayon socks, sports bra, panties, moist skin, twitching heart, fluid soul.
That first night he discovered the frown-shaped scar near her armpit. “Spider bite when I was twelve. Rushed to the ER,” she’d said.
“I’m sorry that happened,” he’d said, tightening his grip.
Now, he keeps packing. His hands move fast.
Justin Herrmann is the author of the short fiction collection Highway One, Antarctica (MadHat Press 2014). His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Best Small Fictions, River Styx, Mid-American Review, Crab Orchard Review, Elm Leaves Journaland elsewhere. He spent 24 months living and working at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. He lives with his family in Alaska.