Breaking Orbit

I breathe the sweet autumn air at my windowsill and read about the stars I used to watch while hiding on your rooftop when I couldn’t find any other escape. Billions of them swirl through the charcoal sky, forming and glowing and dying and carrying their satellites to whatever end the universe desires. I am taking general education classes at community college because you told me so repeatedly that I was stupid. I am learning Composition and Statistics along with Astronomy. I know now what white bread and diapers and ramen and bus fare costs, that I get more tips when I smile and look my tables’ customers in the eye, that sometimes I still miss your sour mash breath against my neck and hate myself. It’s good I’ve gone so far, but I’d prefer to go farther still.

Four hundred years from my bare floor and little folding chair there is a planet orbiting so close to its sun that it exists as pure lava. A yellow call out box on my textbook’s page tells me that eventually the planet will slip irrevocably into its star’s grasp and gravity will tear what remains of the satellite’s soul to atoms.  It is pure terror to see an ending in front of you and be unable to stop it. Like looking into a night where there is too much sky and too much air and too many jets streaking everywhere you can’t go from a rooftop that is the right height for jumping. Kepler 78b, if anyone even remembers the planet’s nearly anonymous designation after it’s gone, will live as a footnote in a remaindered textbook.

Except that maybe this won’t happen. Because Kepler 78b shouldn’t exist. In the light of my second-hand lamp I learn that planets accrete in brilliant clouds of gas and dust far from their anchoring sun. They can’t form inside a star’s material. They can’t migrate inward and then just stop. Scientists don’t know how Kepler 78b arrived where it is, or how it stays in its fatal orbit. But they’re looking, and when they have the answer they’ll teach it to the next generation. This is how we grow smarter, how we change. We look into the night and ask a question and then we step outside ourselves.

I think of this strange planet with the apartment lights darkened and Malia asleep in the next room. I lever the ancient window sash open, feeling strength returned to arms no longer blackened with bruises. The stars now hang closer than the memory of your too long arms fumbling with the spice rack, the angry sweat that glossed your reddened face, the spittle that showered the air between us. And I think less and less of your tear-stained collar, your windmilling fists battering anything that fell in your circle, and more and more of this thing called the future. I find that with time to think my mind runs in all kinds of ways, and I know now that there is no light or heat that will destroy me.

Image credit: International Business Times

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7 thoughts on “Breaking Orbit

  1. Tim, This a a wonderful work of flash fiction; very striking. One of my editors, Kelly Waite, pointed me your way; we’d like to include this in our upcoming issue of The Woven Tale Press, online arts and literary magazine:
    You can see our most recent issue there, plus our features.
    Please let me know either way: you can email me at and please reference this post’s URL
    Thank you,
    Sandra Tyler

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