Justin Herrmann ~ Medical Condition – McMurdo Station, Antarctica

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.