Inside Voices

So, she’s leaving her husband. She’s blonde and her name is Beth. No, scratch that, it’s Victoria?

Victoria. Yes. (Still blonde, though.)

It was a bad marriage – upper middle class (he thought they were kinda rich, she thought they were just plain middle class and why don’t you work harder or maybe ask the boss for a raise we have two kids now and we’re not even keeping up with inflation and I thought you were a go-getter when I agreed to marry you but apparently your go-get has gone), two kids, no pets (thank God, she knew he liked dogs, but, please, a dog around the house is a disaster), a nice house on Jasper IV, and a small family spaceship that they kept meaning to use for vacations but never got around to.

Victoria (never “Vicky”, jeez, you must be kidding) emptied the bank account, bundled the kids into the ship, and left Jasper IV for good. She’d be happy to never see her husband or this muddy-ugly-backwards planet again.  She didn’t care where they went, just as long as it was elsewhere.

Well, she doesn’t really want to go to Elsewhere, of course. She’d done a wee bit of research before leaving, and Elsewhere had pretty good trade relations and connections with Jasper IV. She wanted to go to some world where they’d never even heard of Jasper IV. Make a new start. It’s a big galaxy.

Fortunately, it turns out that tootling around space is considerably easier than she’d suspected – a family spaceship like this can pretty much fly itself. All the smooth and simple surfaces in the control room had made her a little nervous. All the simplicity, all the rounded corners, all the beige. All this convinced her that this was going to be hard and technical. But really, it’s just a matter of telling the machine where to go, and there it goes. (Literally telling, that is – they don’t need a bunch of buttons and controls because reasonable spaceships accept verbal inputs. Rounded corners are to make it less likely for wealthy people to scrape themselves as they lurch around drunkenly. Beige is because, well, hell, I don’t know why beige is.)

Unfortunately, it turns out that tootling around in space is also really boring. Especially with just a couple of kids for company. Of course she loves them, she’s their mother, how dare you question the bonds of nature, but she does kind of wish she’d brought the nanny along.

Wait a minute. Were Vicky and her-as-yet-unnamed husband rich enough to have a nanny? Let me think for a minute.

Yes. They have a freakin’ spaceship, after all, of course they can afford a nanny. Her name was Lucinda, but Victoria could never remember that and always called her Linda, unless she’d been drinking, then she called her Laurie. (That’s when Vicky had been drinking, not Laurie. Laurie drank on her own time, sure, you would too if you had to watch over these kids, the boy especially, he’s a terror and only likely to get worse as he gets older, and it’s not like she drank on the job, having a flask in your purse is your own business and besides a little nip in the bathroom isn’t really drinking and if it kept her from throttling him it really was the responsible thing to do.)

By the way, I have no real intention of giving the husband a name. Just like Victoria is, we’re pretty much done with him. Good riddance to bad rubbish and all that.

Four-year-old Eunice came running into the control room where Beth was drowsing, carrying her dirty rag doll with her, as usual. Both of them, girl and doll, were wearing matching gingham dresses. Oh, Eunice. She had her mother’s corn-silk hair, but the doll, Suzy, had red hair.

She was crying, (I mean Eunice, of course, not Suzy, that would be absurd) and started in with, “MOMMY! Bobby…”

Without opening her eyes, Victoria waved in her general direction and whispered, “Shhhhh. Inside voices, children, inside voices.”

Eunice would not be dissuaded: “…is being mean! He’s gonna jellison Suzy!” She held up the doll as proof of this. Suzy had seen better days, nothing a run through the wash wouldn’t fix, though. Maybe a little color-safe bleach? To sterilize it, ’cause, damn, that doll is kinda nasty now that I’m looking at it.

Six-year-old Bobby, jeans, t-shirt, sneakers, arrived just as this last line was delivered, and put on a hurt and innocent face. Not that Victoria could see it, since she hadn’t gotten around to opening her eyes yet. Bobby was brown-haired and -eyed, and looked a lot like his dad. That weasel.

With the indirect lighting dimmed, the beige was actually kind of relaxing, and the control couch was oversized and soft and comfy. These damn kids, she loved them more than life itself, of course, but they were seriously denting the relaxation factor. Victoria’d killed a bottle of gin last night, making (and drinking!) martinis.

A jigger of gin, a splash of dry vermouth, a teaspoon of olive juice, stir with ice, strain into a chilled glass, add three or four olives, repeat every 20 minutes for four hours or so.

“Mother is not feeling well, kind of spacesick, so Mother needs both of you to be quiet and well-behaved right now. And Mother needs you to do that in another room.” Victoria glared up at them. Bleary, bloodshot eyes. Black asymmetrical cocktail dress, rumpled. One 3-inch heel on her foot, one laying on its side across the room. (No reason not to dress up, just because she was completely alone on this ship. Alone except for the kids, of course, you know what I meant, don’t go reading into that.)

The kids both recognized this glare, became very still. She said, so softly that it was almost a whisper, “Now.”

Eunice’s bright blue eyes were wide and began to fill with tears at the injustice of it all, but she just nodded and began to walk away. Bobby smirked and followed her out of the room.  With all the savage clarity provided by her Class A Hangover, Victoria could hear Bobby say, in a junior version of his father’s smug voice, “See? Mom doesn’t care whether I throw your stupid doll out the airlock. Maybe I’ll throw you out, too.”

Victoria sighed, and sunk back into the beige. Then she remembered what Bobby had done to the cat that one time. And the neighbor’s cat the other time. She really didn’t want Eunice thrown out the airlock. Time to go do some parenting, apparently. She heaved herself off of the couch, straightened her pearls, and squinted around the room. She gave up and just kicked the remaining shoe off, then stormed into the other room and grabbed Bobby by the belt. “You will not be jettisoning anybody on this ship, mister. But I will!”

She then proceeded to discover, via the scientific method, that stuffing a struggling six-year-old boy into a spacesuit, against his will, while hungover, and with feeble help and/or interference from a terrified four-year-old girl, is difficult.

That was a terrible sentence. Just painful to read. But, since the scene it’s describing is terrible, I’m leaving it as is. The awfulness of the sentence helps to reinforce the awfulness of the awfulness.  It’s like high-brow literary fiction, all edgy and clever or something. Self-referential. Meta, bitches.

Victoria kept Bobby under control while she climbed into her own suit, a stylish dark blue designer number. She attached a cable to the back of his belt, dragged him through airlock, and threw him out of the spaceship. She attached the other end of the tether to a hardpoint on the hull. Maybe he’ll learn something now, slacker jackass, cheating on her with one of his sales reps and acting like it was no big deal when she caught them in the act!

By the way, I don’t know if I’d mentioned this, but this is a totally dysfunctional family. I know, I know, “show, don’t tell”, but sometimes these hints, these little pointers, can help the reader follow along, keep up with the story.


Victoria wakes up, and wonders where she is for a minute. Who would do an entire room in beige? When she remembers, it’s like she’s been hit with ten thousand volts of electrical remorse. As she jumps up she’s fervently hoping that whole last episode was just a drunken dream.

Hint to the reader: nope.

Victoria has now formally commenced freaking out. What if Bobby ran out of air out there? (How long has it been?) What if the line he’s tethered to broke? What if she hadn’t sealed up his suit correctly in her hungover and enraged state? What if – what if – what if?

Even if he’s okay, she knows that she can never again be anything other than the terrible mom who threw her son out of a spaceship.

As she runs through the beige ship to get to the airlock, she’s praying and promising to get family counseling (dear old dad won’t be included, of course not, but for her and the kids, yes). Eunice is curled up in front of the airlock, appears to have cried herself to sleep.

I don’t know why I named that character Eunice, don’t ask me, I don’t get it either. She just seems kind of Eunice-y to me, you know? If you don’t like it, name your own characters something else. Sheesh, I’m trying to tell a story here.

Victoria suits up, climbs in the airlock, opens it, and frantically pulls the line in. As it is coming in, she can’t tell whether he’s okay or not – the suit is facing away from her, and she wouldn’t be able to see his face through the darkened faceplate anyway.  It seems to take forever for the airlock to cycle again. Once they have air pressure she unlatches Bobby’s helmet, fighting back tears.

“That was awesome!” Bobby’s face is glowing. “Can I do that again? You’ve gotta try that – it was the coolest!”

OK, wait a minute, I have to knock this off. Are you kidding me? I’m turning this terrible bit of broken family drama into a comedy number? Mom throws kid out of spaceship, turns out it’s kind of fun to float along in your spacesuit, tethered to the ship? (I can see where that would be fun, yes, but Isaac Asimov already wrote that story, anyway.)

What is the moral of this story?

Let me try again:


Victoria wakes up, and wonders where she is for a minute…blah blah blah…you already read this part, I’m not doing it all again for you, shut up, I don’t care…Victoria suits up, climbs in the airlock, opens it, and frantically pulls the line in. There’s nothing on the end of the line. Victoria’s worst nightmare has…

Yeah, that’s not really doing it for me, either. I mean, it’s not a happy ending, at least it doesn’t trivialize her bad behavior, or just rip off a classic Asimov story, but if you’re going to have drunken, dysfunctional mom kill her kid, seriously, you better have a really important point. A reason? Not just wandering along in this unhappy story, then WHAM, kid is gone. That is not acceptable.

I’m a little offended right now, I don’t mind telling you.  I expect a little better.

I’m going to take one more shot at ending this mess and moving on with my life, alright:


Victoria wakes up, and wonders where she is for a minute…yeah, yeah, yeah…Victoria suits up, climbs in the airlock, opens it, and frantically pulls the line in. As it’s coming in, she can’t tell whether he’s okay or not – the suit is facing away from her, and she wouldn’t be able to see his face through the darkened faceplate anyway.  It seems to take forever for the airlock to cycle again. Once they have air pressure she unlatches Bobby’s helmet, fighting back tears.

As she embraces Bobby, an enormous spacemonster lunges out from behind a nearby asteroid and eats the ship whole. A couple of good chomps from its triple rows of 20-foot-long teeth makes quick work of the ship, it swallows, then uses one of its 64 tentacles to rub its tummy as it licks its lips. Then it goes back to whatever it is that spacemonsters normally do.

The moral is: spaceships are tasty.

THAT is what I’m talking about! Sweet, concise, to the point, right on. Suck it, high-brow literary fiction.

The dad was named James, by the way, sorry I forgot to mention it earlier. Just re-read it now and think of him as “James”.

Or as “Jim”, yes, whatever, I don’t care! I am done here.