The Edge of the Galaxy by Donald McCarthy

Comm Unit 5CZ to Comm Unit 87636
August 31st, 2154

Jennifer,

I reached the research outpost today and it’s not nearly as exciting as I hoped it would be. I knew it wouldn’t be anything too special but it’s at the edge of the galaxy and that holds so much promise. Instead it’s not very different from the other ones I’ve been stationed at. The astronomical team is having a blast but my group will be examining rocks taken from asteroids which could yield some really interesting information but feels awfully anticlimactic when I’m at the edge of charted space.

I shouldn’t complain, though. This position will boost my career a lot and hopefully I’ll be able to stay Earthbound from here on out; I don’t want to have to be away from you for six months again. For Christ’s sake that’s as long as we’ve been together. It’s only been a week so far and I already miss you. I’d hoped to be able to contact you from the ship but it didn’t have long range communication for the passengers. Even here there’s only one long range video unit so I can only message you in text. Maybe that’s better. Seeing you on a video screen and then watching it go black when we finish might be too hard for me. I must sound like a sappy idiot. I always have been, I guess. I think you realized that when we had our date in the park.

Still, by the way, the best moment of my life.

I can’t wait to hear back from you. Tell me everything you’ve been doing and more.

Love,

Hal

Comm Unit 87636 to Comm Unit 5CZ
September 1st, 2154

Hal, God, it was great to see a message from you. It feels like forever since I’ve been able to talk to you. Does this count as talking? Let’s say it does because it makes me feel closer to you.

I had a feeling you’d be letdown by your assignment. I think it might end up being a lot of fun for you, though. Okay, so you’re not meeting and greeting with aliens but you are analyzing stuff no one else ever has. Maybe you’ll even see something from another galaxy, something that drifted here. Is that possible?

Anyhow, I’ve been keeping busy. Work has been a handful and a half. Judy keeps bothering me about keeping Keith on task. It’s endless. There is some good stuff happening, though. My mom is getting remarried which I’m happy about. Brian is a good guy and she’ll be a solid match for her. Plus he and I get along pretty well.

I have to say I had a big smile on my face when you mentioned our date in the park. I remember it fondly, too.

Love,

Jennifer

Comm Unit 5CZ to Comm Unit 87636
September 2nd, 2154

The day in the park. Every time I think about it I get a smile, too. I remember you sitting underneath the tree with your legs curled under you. That’s when we started being honest with each other, when we started talking about things that mattered. I’ve never had a relationship where I could talk so freely about my emotions, about my fears, about the things I’ve regretted doing. And you, you were so beautiful even when what you were saying was upsetting. That was the day you admitted that you really had no idea where you were going in life. I told you that was true for most of us. I don’t know if you believed me. Do you believe me now? When I read that work was being a pain in the ass I worried that you might be getting depressed again.

I am happy to hear about your mom. Will she be getting married before I return? I hope so this way I’ll be able to avoid the wedding- kidding, kidding.

I miss you lots.

Love,

Hal

Comm Unit 87636 to Comm Unit 5CZ
September 3rd, 2154

I’m okay, don’t worry. I’m not getting too depressed. I know that I’ll be switching jobs soon enough. I’m really thinking that being a manager might be for me. How about hotel management? I would love to work on one of the Mars hotels. That would be a fantastic experience and that’s what life’s about.

I recall that moment in the park, too. You looked so confused when I was talking about how I felt like I was drifting. I was worried I was telling you too much but you didn’t end up fleeing so I knew it was okay. But, fuck, it was scary at the time! I’ve chased people away before. I don’t think I’ve ever told you this but the boyfriend before you left me because he said I was too needy. I probably was so I’ve tried my best not to be with you. If I’m ever too needy you can always dump my ass, I’d understand.

Also, some good news. My mom is getting married in December so you’re safe! No need to worry about buying a wedding gift. I hate that shit.

You need to tell me what you’ve been up to.

Love,

Jennifer

Comm Unit 5CZ to Comm Unit 87636
September 4th, 2154

You’re never too needy. I’m worried that I’m too needy because being away from you is getting more difficult by the day. I think about you a lot. I picture you in my head. And, no, you’re not always naked (although, yeah, sometimes you are).

Research out here has been slow. We had some minerals from one of the local planets shipped to us so we’ll be looking at that over the next few days. There’s a water-like substance in the middle of them but it’s not quite water. This might be interesting and might take my mind off of the loneliness. Are you feeling lonely, too?

Glad to hear I’m clear of having to get a wedding present. Since you’re her daughter you should be excused and not have to bring anything. Doubt that’ll happen, though.

Tell me something upbeat that’s happened to you.

Love,

Hal

Comm Unit 87636 to Comm Unit 5CZ
September 6th, 2154

Something upbeat? Well I’ve been applying to hotel management programs. It’s a big move. I’m looking to start school in January. Should I go full time or part time? If I go full time I’ll probably quit my job which would give me time to concentrate on my work but money wise things will get dicey. I’m excited, though. I feel like I’m taking charge of my life which is a really, really nice feeling.

Here is a real problem: I’ve no idea what I’ll get my mother as an engagement present let alone as a wedding present. I want to get her something special obviously but what the fuck is something special? If I get married I’m going to demand no gifts. Cash only.

I went for a walk in the park where we had our date yesterday. Something about the park has changed but I can’t put my finger on it. The trees are just beginning to change color so that might be it. Maybe I’m just letting my imagination get the better of me.

So what’s this water-like substance?

Love,

Jennifer

Comm Unit 5CZ to Comm Unit 87636
September 7th, 2154

We’re still not sure what the water-like substance is. It has properties similar to water but it’s definitely not the same thing. It could wind up being nothing too thrilling but there’s always the chance it’ll end up being an important discovery in humanity’s history.

This might be weird but when I read that the park seemed different to you I shivered. My memory of that day is so vivid and so perfect that the idea that the place has changed just doesn’t set right with me. It’s as if someone went into my mind and put a layer of unease over my fond memory. Like a sacred place has been somehow soiled. I know, I know, I’m being melodramatic but I just… I don’t know. I don’t like it. Have you been back since?

And don’t fear; when we get married we’ll make sure to put down “cash only.”

Love,

Hal

Comm Unit 87636 to Comm Unit 5CZ
September 10th, 2154

Sorry for my delayed response. Work has been a fucking bitch lately. Judy is up my ass. I don’t want to talk about that and bring you down. It’ll be okay. School is looking like it’ll be a great relief. I’m going to quit and do only school. I might regret it but I don’t think so. I’ll just make sure to save up for the rest of the year.

I haven’t been back to the park. I was probably just overreacting about something being different. I was in a weird mood that night.

So how are you?

Comm Unit 5CZ to Comm Unit 87636
September 11th, 2154

Are you okay? I understand about work delaying your reply but something seemed a little off in your message. Like it was missing something. Is everything all right? Don’t worry about burdening me or anything. If something is wrong then I want you to tell me, okay?

I love you, Jennifer.

Comm Unit 87636 to Comm Unit 5CZ
September 13th, 2154

Nothing is wrong. My mind has just been a little all over the place lately. You didn’t answer my question: how are YOU? Everything okay on your end?

Comm Unit 5CZ to Comm Unit 87636
September 14th, 2154

I’m doing okay. The water-like substance turned out to be nothing exciting. It’s not water but it’s close enough to it that no one feels it’ll yield anything worthwhile. We’ve run a lot of tests on it, even seeing if it’s possible to use it as a fuel source. Not to be. I can’t lie we were all pretty upset when we realized we had nothing. For a little bit there I really thought we had something special.

I’m glad you’re all right. I guess I was just getting paranoid. Let me say again: I’m really happy you’re going back to school. You’re heading down a better path. How are you doing with that? Anxious? Is knowing there will be a change soon making work more bearable?

Love,

Hal

Comm Unit 87636 to Comm Unit 5CZ
September 17th, 2154

Work is doable. Corporate bullshit.

I’m sorry to hear that the water thing turned out to be a dead end. That has to be a letdown.

Anyhow, not much else to report here. Things are the same as always.

Comm Unit 5CZ to Comm Unit 87636
September 18th, 2154

Another short message? Are you sure everything is okay? I have to be honest here I’m getting nervous. Are we still solid?

Love,

Hal

Comm Unit 87636 to Comm Unit 5CZ
September 19th, 2154

I can’t really say that we’re solid.

I know there’s no way I don’t come out of this looking shitty. But the truth is this: since you’ve left things haven’t gotten better in my life but they also haven’t gotten worse. I’m not feeling the loneliness that you are and to go on pretending that I am will only hurt you in the long run.

We’ve talked a lot about that date in the park and I think that’s where the problem comes in. For me that was the highlight of our relationship.

That was five months ago.

It’s never been as vibrant since then. I’ve been coasting on the feelings I experienced that day. I’ve tried hard to figure out what the fuck is wrong because we seemed so perfect together at first, we really did. It comes down to us not being compatible in the long term. What makes this hard is that I feel like it’s just on my end. You’re so clearly happy and in love with me. I really, really wish I had those feelings in return but I don’t. There’s no way I can just magically make them appear.

I don’t want you to feel like you have to win me back. It’s not about that or anything, it’s just that on my end the relationship has started to fade away.

I’m so sorry, Hal. I’m sorry I have to break up with you like this but I couldn’t let you go on thinking everything was okay.

Comm Unit 5CZ to Comm Unit 87636
September 20th, 2154

No, Jennifer. NO. It doesn’t end like this. I knew that my time away from you might be hard and I think this is just a bump in the road. Please reconsider. I’m ready to be there for you for the rest of your life and I know you have to have feelings for me. You need to rethink, okay?

I really love you and I fucking cherish our time together. Don’t take that away from me.

Comm Unit 87636 to Comm Unit 5CZ
September 21st, 2154

Hal, this isn’t something I decided on a whim. It’s been bothering me for a while but I haven’t been able to admit it to myself. If this was just a bump in our relationship or something I’d wait it out to see if things got better but that’s not what this is. This is the end for us. It’s not the end for you, though. You’re a great guy, a smart guy. You’re working in a space station on the edge of the galaxy; that’s amazing, that’ll make anyone want to talk to you. You’ll find someone else in a second, I know it.

Comm Unit 5CZ to Comm Unit 87636
September 22nd, 2154

I knew you’d tell me I’d find someone else. I don’t want someone else. I want you.

Can we at least still message back and forth?

Comm Unit 87636 to Comm Unit 5CZ
September 23rd, 2154

I don’t think messaging would be a good idea. It’d just make it more difficult for you to move on and I can sense it’ll be tough to begin with. We can talk again in the future but for now we should break off a little.

Again, I’m really sorry it went down like this. It shouldn’t have, I know.

Comm Unit 5CZ to Comm Unit 87636
September 24th, 2154

Damn it. I can’t even be angry at you although I want to be. You probably won’t reply to this but just know that I love you, okay? Just know that.

Comm Unit 5CZ to Comm Unit 87636
September 30th, 2154

You haven’t sent me anything so I guess you’re staying steadfast with your decision to give me time. I understand even if I still don’t like seeing no messages from you. It’s heartbreaking. I’m guessing that you read my last one and that you’re going to read this one but if you don’t reply then I just feel like I’m talking to myself and in that case what’s the point?

I’ll be back in March and I hope we can talk then. I’m not going to send you anymore messages, at least for a little while. It’s not because I’m over you but I can tell you want some space.

Comm Unit 5CZ to Comm Unit 87636
Christmas Day 2154

Merry Christmas, Jennifer! It’s been three months and I felt like I should reach out. Hope all is well.

Comm Unit 87636 to Comm Unit 5CZ
December 26th, 2154

A (belated) Merry Christmas to you, too! It was nice to hear from you. I hope you’ve been well. I’m sorry I never replied to your last message in September but I didn’t want to lead you on at all. I still have some things of yours so when you get back perhaps we should meet up when you return to Earth. A relationship won’t happen but maybe a friendship will.

Comm Unit 82740 to Comm Unit 87636
March 3rd, 2155

I just got back home yesterday. I figured you’d wonder if I was okay if I didn’t contact you. You mentioned meeting up in your last message but I’m not sure if that’s a good idea. I can tell you’re not really interested in me anymore, not romantically, at least. I don’t know if I could see you and not get upset, knowing we won’t be together. I don’t think about you all the time but when I do I feel incredibly sad. Even when I was working on interesting stuff at the station, and I eventually did, you still lingered in the back of my mind.

I think I still love you and I wish I didn’t. If we don’t see each other again then just do one thing: don’t forget me. I’m not sure why that feels important to me but it is. Please, Jennifer, don’t forget me.


Donald McCarthy has written news articles, op-eds, books reviews and short fiction. He lives in New York and attends Adelphi University. He is one of the few people on the planet who does not like cheese.

© 2012 Donald McCarthy