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Longing on the Journey to Proxima B

The traveler isn’t lonely. The ghosts of dead oceans joined the ship soon after the first onion sprouted in the tin of soil the traveler built in their quarters. The ghosts of dead oceans tell the traveler things like, “That light is giving me a headache,” and “Is it the onions making you cry?” and  “You’re so boring, lost in the past. Bring us the old future.”

The ghosts of the oceans never want to talk about heartbreak. It was too often on their minds. They floated with each other, remembering the feeling of mollusks on their floor, of smooth skin displacing their salt, their first caresses. When the oceans sing, the traveler goes into their room and shuts the door. That kind of longing can be unbearable.

The thing about a voyage to Proxima B is that it will take them 6,500 years. The thing about Proxima B is that only one person is making the voyage. This means that their lover no longer visits them in the evening, but the traveler likes to put their tongue beneath her imagined jaw—the place she directed them on the first night spent.

Even so, they are no good at calculating time zones and often neglect calculating the distance between galaxies. There’s never a good time to call and mend.

“Relationships are all about timing,” the dead oceans tell them, wistful for their old planets. The traveler looks in the mirror at an unaging face. Lost love is more haunting than the ghosts.

In space, stars still look distant. In space, the traveler still extends their fingertips as though they might touch one.  In space, stars still look distant. In space, the traveler still extends their fingertips as though they might touch one. The dead oceans tell them, “It’s too late to retrieve the other timeline. Even we are seeking water on this ship.”

The traveler realized too late that when physicists said time was an illusion, they just thought it was interesting to talk about. None of them really believed one could perceive it differently. The traveler felt fooled. They thought, with the right angle on the universe, they might crack open their past from any point in the future, like roots under a sidewalk, rebirthing ancestral seeds.

But they couldn’t crack anything open, not during this drift.

There was a day when the traveler woke up in her bed and kissed her before breakfast. They sang Barry White in the kitchen over pancakes. The day was gray but mostly green.

Looking out the window at Proxima B’s already dead light, the traveler reached out to the ghosts, and for once, the ghosts didn’t say anything. When the star flared, the traveler could have sworn they felt, finally, the moisture of her sigh as they kissed her neck. Her coarse curls against their ears.

Amina Kayani is a Muhajir writer, editor, teacher, and ghost-seer from unceded Cherokee and Muscogee land. She holds an MFA in fiction from Purdue University and is an editor at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in the The Offing, The Kenyon Review, the Florida Review, JOYLAND, and elsewhere.

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