art by Seth Alan Bareiss
The Things They Were Not Allowed to Carry
by Helena Leigh Bell
Pilot Martha Stevenson could not bring her mother's piano, its keys yellowed and stained. Her husband chided her as she brushed away the dust, telling it goodbye.
"You never play," George said. "You won't miss it."
Martha's fingers hovered over the C minor 7th chord, her fingers perfectly spaced, wrists up. It was not a good piano; it was not a bad piano. It was not an heirloom, strapped in the deep belly of a cargo ship to be rolled out stateside with so many other immigrants. There were dozens of things in the room with more sentiment squeezed into the spaces between their molecules: photographs, hand-painted pottery, a child's bed. The piano was not special, and yet the immensity of the object drew her in, its physical space in excess of its value. Years of neglect and scratches, poorly tuned strings, a missing music rack were evidence of Martha's effect upon the world she would soon leave.
"Even if they let us," George said, "where would we put it?"
Martha's hands found the F major scale, its lone flat hovering like an electron in Hydrogen. They moved to the opening of a sonata, to the chorus of a Christmas carol, to other songs she could not remember learning. Perhaps she'd had it wrong all these years; it wasn't her muscle memory which pulled and pushed in rhythms and skipping distances between her fingers, but the piano itself. All those notes and songs quantumly entangled between instrument and player.
But when I am a million miles away, you will feel infinitesimally small. An atom, a quark.
Her fingers faltered: a missed note, then two, an errant sharp. The ecstasy of automation gave way and Martha smashed her hands down, followed by arms and elbows, forcing as many notes as she could into the cold, dry air of the storage unit. They disappeared one by one, each according to the mathematical weight of their frequency. Gone.
Mission specialist Charles Kirby could not bring his 1971 Chevrolet Corvette. He could not bring the leather seats, the cold of the steering wheel in winter. He could not bring the sand dollar he kept on the dashboard for luck, or the name of the first girl he kissed. He could not bring the things he did not want to bring: bug spray, chapped lips, a fish hook half buried in his palm when he jumped at her touch.
When he first saw Martha Stevenson floating in the hallway between shifts, he imagined she was the girl. He imagined they were still on their class camping trip, unrolling sleeping bags between the sand dunes. Salt in their hair from the ocean. The stars were so close; they were so eager to be on their way.