t has been five years since they started working on The Bubble, and two years since I lost my wife. Men have been losing their wives for almost a decade, their daughters, mothers, friends.
Construction of the Atmospheric Containment System, more commonly referred to as The Bubble, began less than nine months after the first American, a woman named Gertie Haverford from somewhere in Illinois, slowly lifted from the earth and, within a few hours, floated lifeless into space. I never liked the name Gertie, and they say she died of cold or lack of oxygen before she made it out of the planet’s atmosphere.
We had heard about cases in other countries, of course. There had been women in France, parts of Africa, China, even Canada, but it took a while for Gertie to venture into the great beyond. For weeks, I would overhear the old men at the diner talking about the women losing touch with gravity all over the world. They talked as though it could never happen here, like it was a foreign epidemic unable to cross oceans. It could never happen to Americans.
I imagine Gertie’s husband, if she had a husband, working in the yard as she walks to the house from the car, maybe some groceries piled into her hands, when, without much warning, her feet are no longer touching the pavement of the walkway, she loses balance, the apples and the milk and the bread are scattered on the grass, and she is slowly drifting upward. Her husband doesn’t know what to do; he hasn’t seen the stories about other women like we have since Gertie. He doesn’t know yet that he should keep her tethered.
And then he runs to her, and the first time he grabs at her feet he is able to pull her down to his level, and he holds her tight.
And then she starts to rise again, and he starts to rise with her, and he thinks that maybe it’s happening to him, too, even though he doesn’t know what it is, and he is okay with that. They are going up together.
The construction sites are scattered all over the country, the world, really. It is hard to drive more than an hour in any direction before finding one. Millie and I would take walks to one that was not far from our house, where they were using cranes to build taller cranes, and she would hold her coffee in two hands as she talked about having children. Our children would reach so much higher than we ever could, and, hopefully, the work they did would keep us all safer.
Millie was right, of course, and we both knew it, but we kept walking, almost daily, to the site where they were building.
I would tell her not to be silly, not to worry, that I would watch out for her. I would never leave her side, and we would find a way to stay together, even when gravity stopped working for her.
Millie and I had been together for a little under three years, and married for a little over one when I lost her. We were still in the honeymoon phase. We were still holding hands whenever we were close enough to; the touch of the other’s skin was still a necessity.
The Bubble had been built over most of the country, and everyone was more relaxed. Women were still being taken, but most of them were coming home. Millie went up sometime between eight and noon one Tuesday two years ago. The protocol was that Millie wouldn’t leave the house unless I was with her, and I completed most of the errands. She mostly stayed indoors. On this day, she was home, and I was substituting at the county high school. Another teacher had gone missing. Most of the schools in our area had been closed. More mothers were staying home, like Millie, and everyone was afraid that today would be the day they lost their child.
When I came home that day, the door was locked, and I called for her upon entering, half-expecting her to be in the middle of preparing lunch, but she was not there. Everything was in order, but she was not there.
I called for her, and I ran outside, grabbing a pair of binoculars from a shelf near the back door. I ran for a while, until I was out of breath and the sweat had made my shirt heavy, and then I drove, slowly, with the binoculars pointed to the sky. She must have gone up.
“Depending on where she disappeared,” a representative of the Department of Atmospheric Containment began to tell me the next day.
“She didn’t disappear,” I pleaded, interrupting him. “She went up. Up is not the same as vanishing, dissolving, or ceasing to exist. She went in a specific direction, and that is up.”
The DAC representative explained to me about barometric pressure, and force, and how nobody had yet determined what had disconnected females from the earth’s gravitational pull. All he could offer me was that she could be anywhere; they will keep looking.
Not all women who are taken come back. There are several retrieval processes. Most women are picked up by blimps and nets and returned to their families within the first few days.
The Bubble wraps around the planet, but some manage to escape through it. Those few times, it is a woman that has slipped through openings built for jumbo-jets and satellites, or a crack from a small meteorite.
“The planet is larger than you seem to think,” the DAC representative said on my ninth visit to his office, a month after Millie had gone. “We can’t cover everything, and there are still more than a few no-fly zones, especially in the Middle East.”
“You think she’s in the Middle East?”
There was no way for him to know where she was.
She is out there, my wife, I know she is, inside The Bubble, pressing her palms white against it, somewhere over Argentina or Utah or Madagascar. I wonder if she has ever considered trying to escape, if she has ever been close enough to an opening that she could somehow push herself toward it and through it. I wonder if she would, if only so she can stop floating.
Every year, on the day that Gertie ascended, thousands gather in American cities to celebrate those who have been lost. I often join the masses of mostly men, old and young, to pray and hold lights to the sky, hoping that our wives and mothers and children will see them. We release balloons with notes and treasures attached to strings, hoping that they will reach our loved ones, remind them that we are still down here looking for them.
But mostly I look for my wife from our backyard, alone, with a telescope and bright yellow balloons of my own. After two years now, I attach photographs that I take of the cranes, to show her the progress, to show her how high they are reaching now, to show her how much closer we are to finding her up there.
Andrew Keating lives and writes in Baltimore, MD. He is the founding publisher of Cobalt Press. He is made of supernovas.