Margaret Karmazin’s credits include stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review, The Speculative Edge and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Mobius were nominated for Pushcart awards. Her story, "The Manly Thing," was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. She has stories included in several anthologies, including STILL GOING STRONG and PIECES OF EIGHT (AUTISM ACCEPTANCE), published a YA novel, REPLACING FIONA, a children’s book, FLICK-FLICK & DREAMER and a collection of short stories, RISK.
Ready For Takeoff
The room was decent for a handicap setup and at the aft end of the ship on the same floor as his sister's and her husband's regular stateroom. At least he was capable of getting out of his wheelchair himself and could stand or sit in the shower. He could actually walk, but couldn't feel anything so had to watch where each foot was going. It wasn't safe for him to join fast moving crowds and at times, the ship was somewhat congested as were most cruises. His sister had forced him into coming with her and Shawn. They'd even paid his fare as a combined Christmas and birthday present. "You're going, Bryan," Anna had stated firmly six months earlier. "We paid for you and you're registered. It's official." So here he was, on of all things a Star Trek cruise. "Isn't this a bit dorky?" he'd remarked when Anna first told him what kind of cruise it was.
"What do you mean? You're as much of a Trekker as I am!" "Yeah, but I don't go around advertising it." She looked offended. "What? You're ashamed of loving the most intelligent shows to grace TV?" He rolled his eyes. "No, but I don't go around dressed in Trek outfits like I'm living in a fantasy world and that's what they do on there, right?" "Oh, for crying out loud," Anna said. "Your trouble is that you don't know how to have fun. Everything is serious with you all the time. No wonder you don't have a girlfriend. Who'd want to hang out with Doom & Gloom?" Now Bryan was offended. "You'd be Doom & Gloom yourself if you had my problems! You can go wherever you want and do whatever you want and here I am trapped forever in this frail, ridiculous body!" He knew Anna had heard all this a thousand times. But nothing he said could faze her. She had inherited their father's "good brain chemicals," while he had gotten their mother's with her dark view of life and humanity. "But you," Anna would say when he mentioned this, "got the good looks in the family while I'm like Aunt Tina, a pale, speckled manatee." His sister did not look like a manatee, though she was overweight. "I like the way you look," he told her. "You'll look spectacular in your Next Generation uniform." She handed him two Star Trek uniform T-shirts and a pair of Spock ears. "No way," he said. "Way. On costume contest night, I'll glue them on you. And you'll comb your hair forward and I'm making your sideburns into points. No argument. You already look like a Vulcan anyway without much fiddling."
Anna and Shawn weren't hungry yet, but Bryan was starved, so he took the elevator to the ship's twelfth floor and wheeled into the buffet area. After serving himself with help from an attendant, he took a seat at one of the two handicap tables. Already he could see that the ship was filled with what he would call weirdoes: tall male geeks accompanied by hefty women obviously not ashamed of their bodies, sporting intricate tattoos and dressed brazenly in low cut tops; slender women with green and purple streaks and Tribbles in their long hair; lesbian couples with heads shaved except on top where the hair was dyed hot pink; a short geeky girl with horned-rimmed glasses and green hair; movie star handsome guys strutting about in tight Star Trek T-shirts and others from "tribes" he didn't recognize carrying stuffed animals or wearing odd hair ornaments such as unicorn horns. I really don't belong here, he thought, and probably had on, as his sister called it, his "disapproval face." Another man in a wheelchair pulled up to the table next to him, followed by a heavy older woman with a cane. And then a couple appeared by his table, the woman apparently blind and using an official white cane with her flamboyantly gay companion. The woman felt around for her chair and maneuvered it to sit down. "Do you want to pick out your food or do you want me to do it?" asked the man. "You do it, Alex. You know what I like." "Are we watching our weight," he said, "or are we going all out?" "Watching," she said. And he was gone. Bryan looked her over. Did she know he was there? She was somewhere in her thirties, medium height, thin but not too, small breasted, and freckled. She had a pointed chin and large gray eyes that looked normal though with slightly darkened circles surrounding them. Her hair was flaxen blonde, not thick, but styled nicely with bangs and straight to her shoulders. She wore no jewelry except for a turquoise ring. Her fingers were long and thin and active. All told, she appeared rather ethereal. "My name is Chloe," she said. "And yours?" "Bryan Welsh," he said. She seemed to look right at him. "Where are you from, Bryan?" "Pennsylvania. And you?" "Just north of Baltimore." She was, it turned out, a medical writer with articles published in prestigious magazines. Her computer was set up to talk, though as she explained, she was legally blind but could still see a bit. "I have retinitis pigmentosa. I can see you a little. Tunnel vision, pretty much. By the way, you look like a Vulcan. That much I can tell though my visual murk." He ignored the Vulcan thing; it had come up often over the years and he was tired of it. "How do you get all the information for your medical articles?" he asked. "I mean, it must be difficult since you can't read?" "I can read some but I have to get very close and with a lot of illumination. But my computer reads for me. I also have an assistant." He actually felt envious. He himself had accomplished so little since the accident, but then how could he under the terrible direction his life had suddenly taken? But when he thought this, he saw his sister's face in his mind, regarding him with her sardonic expression. "What do you do?" Chloe asked. He took a deep breath. "I was a photographer. Before my accident." "Was?" she said. "Well, doing the sort of thing I used to do wouldn't be feasible the way I am now." "Which was?" "I did wildlife and nature work, travelled a lot. You need to be in good physical condition for it. Had some good assignments. I was just getting somewhere and then it happened." Alex reappeared and set down her tray. "What have we here?" she said. "A fabulous little salad," he said, "with Italian dressing, extra olives and some unidentified fish. Very low cal." "This is my brother Alex," she said. "Alex, this is Bryan." Alex, who was very good looking, dark blond and slender with heart shaped lips, flashed his perfect teeth at Bryan and said, "Well, take care of my sister, will you? I have people to meet!" and he dashed off. "I don't understand," Chloe said, "why anything would stop you from taking pictures. Once an artist, always an artist. What happened to you?" Bryan swallowed his mouthful of chicken curry and said, "I was in a cycling group. A bunch of us were doing a ride from Pittsburgh to Philly. We were in Lancaster and checking into a motel for the night. I took off my helmet thinking there was no need for it at the time and was just riding from the motel office to the room when I stupidly ran into the curb. I sailed over the handlebars and landed directly on my head. They had to put me into a coma for a while. For a couple of months, I was paralyzed from the neck down. They weren't sure I would ever regain any movement. But over a period of time I did, and eventually, against all odds, I was able to walk again, though I didn't regain much of any feeling. I can move my feet and walk but I can't feel anything my feet or my left hand is doing. My right has some feeling. I have to look at my feet, at every step. And I'm still working on building up my muscles so I don't get so fatigued." He paused and took a sip of iced tea. "At the time I was engaged and the wedding was set for the following spring. But Emily left me. She said she just couldn't handle it. I understood, I guess. Well, maybe I didn't. I wouldn't have left if this had happened to her." Chloe ate quietly, one time having a bit of difficulty spearing a piece of broccoli. He didn't know if it was gauche to help her so he refrained. "Well," he said, "I'd better get back to my room and unpack." "Nice meeting you," Chloe said, but she didn't seem disappointed that he was leaving. The next morning, his brother-in-law dragged him to the gym. "Being on a cruise," he admonished, "is no excuse for not working out!" Bryan knew he was right. An important part of his therapy was to use the treadmill and stationary bike. On purpose, Shawn did not help him up and out of his chair and with some difficulty, Bryan hauled himself onto a treadmill and watching carefully, stepped onto the slow moving belt. He was laboring along when Michael Dorn, one of his favorite Star Trek actors hopped onto the machine next to him. The actor was very tall and slender, not burly as his character Worf, appeared on screen. Bryan tried to appear nonchalant, but his emotions were in a riot. Should he say anything or, as was suggested at the opening ceremony of the cruise, just respect the actors' privacy and leave them alone. He stole another look as Michael sped up on his treadmill and decided to say nothing. But then would Michael think he was an idiot? To Bryan's surprise, the actor talked to him. "I admire you for working your muscles like you're doing. What is your condition?" His voice at first shaky, Bryan said, "I had a ridiculous accident." "What happened?" As they continued on their treadmills, Bryan told him. Not once did the actor talk about himself and later Bryan would learn from others that Dorn had suffered through prostate cancer. He was, other Trekkers would explain, a very private man. From then on, Bryan was in the gym every morning and would end up talking to Nana Visitor, Robert Picardo and two other Star Trek luminaries. He had to admit, this was rather thrilling. "You seem actually cheerful," said Anna that evening at dinner in the "Klingon restaurant," a Brazilian style eatery. "Did you take some kind of happy drug?" "Huh?" said Bryan, his mouth full of filet mignon. "Never mind," she said. She looked at her husband for clarification but he shrugged. "So tonight," Anna said, "we're going to catch the show. I forget which actors are doing what, but who cares? Are you coming?" Across the room, Bryan had spotted Chloe eating with her brother and another guy. He set down his fork. She was wearing a Next Generation science uniform and from what he could see, it fit her neat figure most attractively. She had pulled her hair back in a low ponytail and stuck a tiny Tribble onto her cane, which hung from the back of her chair. Though she was doing nothing at all except chewing and was probably not even aware of his existence in the room, he felt an odd and intense pull towards her. The waiter on his rounds arrived to saw off a slice of lamb and blocked Bryan's view. As Bryan accepted the meat, it occurred to him that he had not interacted romantically with a real woman for at least three years and the only time before that, since the accident and the desertion of his fiancée, suffered a confusing relationship with one of his former nurses. It had deeply disturbed him when he eventually learned, after seeing the woman sporadically for over a year, that she had a "thing" for spinally injured men and was sexually involved with at least two others. "A lot of sickos in the world," Shawn casually remarked at the time and he was right, though Bryan's emotional pain had been intense. The implication that she had only been interested in him because of his injury was humiliating. Bryan's group finished before Chloe's and he made a point of stopping by her table to say hello. She looked at him in surprise, her eyes darting about as she attempted to focus the best she could. "You're walking! Wow." "Well, I have to watch my every move but yes," he said. He lingered, though Anna and Shawn were already out the door. Neither of them seemed to know what to say. "I hope I see you again," he said lamely. The two men were talking animatedly and didn't seem to notice him. "Maybe," she said. "Are you going to a show tonight?" "The boys are," she said, smiling vaguely toward her brother. "I don't know yet what I want to do." It was a dismissal and, disappointed, Bryan went on his way.
Clearly, he had turned Chloe off, but how? Should he ask Anna about it? Did his sister even want to hear him whine about women anymore? Shawn was sort of impossible to talk to; a he-man type of guy and occasionally Bryan wondered what his sister saw in him though he was good sport enough to accompany her on a Star Trek cruise. But the fact was that Bryan had sucked at winning women over most of his life, even before the accident. He and Emily had been having issues before his fall though he hadn't been able to admit this to himself until much time had passed. The matter of having kids – Bryan had not wanted any and Emily had. And he was an introvert who liked to stay home while she loved social interaction. But then disaster struck and it presented her with the chance to escape. He understood that now. The question of ever being able to have sex again had been foremost in his mind after he grew more used to his situation. As it was now, he could have an erection and even satisfy a woman willing to do most of the work, though there was the matter of voiding. This he had learned to do using techniques taught to him by a very patient male nurse. Some of the time, he used a condom catheter. Not a very romantic thing, but he would not, of course, have one on if trying sex with a partner. Though why was he even contemplating the idea. He hadn't thought about it this much for a long time and Chloe had given him no reason to hope for anything like that. She apparently was barely interested in talking to him. He didn't feel like seeing a show. The theater was huge, Anna had said, and he remembered that kind of thing from a cruise long ago. No way could he risk climbing down those steps and he just wasn't in the mood to sit at the top in his wheelchair, so instead he slowly made his way to the Atrium, a bar area central to the ship, ordered a Manhattan and sat down in one of the stuffed chairs. All around him were people wearing Star Trek uniforms or T-shirts and others in odd attire he couldn't identify, like a middle aged woman in footed pajamas, her hair pulled back with what looked like a strip of ripped bed sheet. A young girl with her, also wearing a big bow in her hair, carried stuffed animals. Another woman was dressed in a Victorian corset and black velvet derby decorated with a spyglass. "What is she supposed to be?" Bryan asked a chubby little man sitting next to him. "She doesn't look Star Trek." "Oh, she's Steam Punk," the man said. "People wear all sorts of stuff on here. It's very eclectic cosplay." "Cosplay, what's that?" The guy looked at him as if he had just landed from Mars. "Costume play," he said. "People dressed up for fun." Bryan took out his phone and snapped a picture. The Steam Punk woman, noticing, came over. "Your outfit is interesting," he explained, embarrassed. She smiled, sat down and explained her outfit and other things she was into for half an hour. She was definitely not the sort of person Bryan would normally meet or communicate with, but he enjoyed the conversation. Around him, the crowd thickened and he noticed people standing in long lines leading up to black backdrops. Then Jonathan Frakes from The Next Generation appeared in front of one of the backdrops. "What's going on?" Bryan asked the guy still sitting next to him. "Photo sessions. You sign up in the photo store." "Is it free?" "Oh hell no. Frakes is fifty bucks, so is everyone else except Wil Wheaton at sixty-five and Jason Isaacs, I think a hundred and twenty-five." "You're kidding. Are you paying for that?" "I want one with Nana Visitor," he said. "I've had a crush on her for decades. I already have most of the others from other cruises." This statement caused Bryan to feel a sudden sadness. Not that he hadn't enjoyed a fantasy or two about Nana's character on DS9 back in the day, but sadness for all the lonely people in the world, himself included. And then he picked his phone up again and began shooting photos. Not of the actors, of which now there were three in front of the backdrops, but of the fans. It had been a long time since he had felt pleasure in catching animals unaware. "I don't understand why you aren't interested in the shows," said Anna the next evening. "Last night's was really good. And where were you this afternoon?" They had opted to eat in the buffet instead of the dining room. "In my room, I guess. I watched episodes of Discovery, Enterprise and Voyager." "In your room? Bryan, you're on a cruise. You can do that at home." "Holy shit, man," said Shawn. Bryan smiled. "I like to watch people," he said. "I'll be in the Atrium tonight." "Whatever," said Anna. She shook her head. "You ought to go to that singles thing they're having on deck six. You can check out where on the schedule." Bryan didn't respond but dreamily chewed his fish, whatever sort it was, he wasn't sure. It was tasty though. His anxiety about Chloe had suddenly and mysteriously vanished. The third day into the voyage, she finally showed up in the Atrium, as he somehow knew she would. "Chloe," he called to her as she wandered about and slowly, using her cane, she made her way toward his voice. He patted the empty chair next to him and she lowered herself into it. She had on fairy ears and a purple robe. "I didn't know there were blonde Vulcans," he said. She laughed. "Actually," he said, "you remind me of Yeoman Rand in the original series. Have you thought of dressing up as her character? Do you know who I'm talking about?" "I think so," she said. "Didn't she sometimes wear her hair in that huge beehive thingy?" "That's the one, but sometimes she wore it down." She smiled wistfully. "She was very pretty." "And you think you're not?" "Well…not like that. Actually, I don't know anymore. I can't see myself well. I wear very little makeup, mostly just blush. At least I can wave a little brush over my cheeks." "You're beautiful," he said. Her face reddened. The crowd buzzed around them as people ordered drinks and took seats. The long lines of picture buyers and autograph hunters cozily closed in the central area. "What are they wearing?" she asked. "Describe them for me." "It's not contest night yet," he said. "That's two days away but I plan to get here early to get a seat. Would you like me to save one for you?" "If you would, I'd appreciate it. And you'll describe everything to me?" "Let's start now," he said. "As usual, a few people are dressed up." "Oh good," she said like a small child awaiting her birthday cake. "Well, a fabulous Spock is over to your right. He is over six feet tall and slender, just right for the role. You can't fault his hair, eyebrows and ears. He's wearing a ceremonial robe, possibly heading to some kind of serious Federation conference. And behind you is a fabulous Borg, good enough to have stepped right off the screen. She is short and her lights are flashing so don't let her see you or for sure she will assimilate you." "And who are the celebrities doing pictures tonight?" "Gates McFadden and Wil Wheaton in front of us, Connor Trinnear to my right and Rene Auberjonois behind us." "I wish I could see," she said. "I don't normally go around saying that, but if I could choose any time to have my sight, it would be now." He took the liberty of taking her hand. I didn’t like you at first," she said after a while. "You seemed so negative, but now you seem different. Why is that?" "I don't know," he said, "but I've been taking photos and I feel a bit like…well, like I used to feel. I feel excited. Maybe you can sense that." "You're taking pictures a lot," remarked Anna at breakfast. "I thought you said you were done with that. Not that anyone wanted you to be. Too bad you didn't bring your old camera." "It's fine with the phone for now," Bryan said. "I can adjust the photos right on it. Of course they'd be better with better equipment. I'm doing people. You can't find more interesting people than here, right?" "You never were interested in doing people before." He looked off into space. "I wasn't. But the combination of cosplay and wondering about the lives of these people to whom Star Trek means so much is, as Mr. Spock would say, fascinating." His sister patted his arm. "You go, bro. We're going to the swim-with-the-dolphins thing today. Wanna come?" "I'll stay on the ship. I wouldn't feel comfortable trying to avoid being knocked over by the animals since I can't feel anything. Besides, I am here to observe," he said in a dry, Vulcan tone. The evening of "Q's Party" during which costumes were judged, Bryan swallowed his reluctance, put on the gold Voyager jacket Anna had provided and glued on his pointy ears to his sister's instructions. Earlier, she had styled his hair in in a proper Vulcan do and provided makeup for creating upturned eyebrows. He had to admit that he looked a rather convincing Vorik. And was he, like Vorik in an episode of Voyager, in Pon Farr? He was seated in the Atrium by six-fifteen and laid a magazine on the chair next to him to guard it for Chloe. He hadn't felt this enthusiastic in years; in fact he couldn't remember when. It was as if a fairy godmother had cast a spell upon him. Chloe appeared in a red original series dress and with her blonde hair in a sixties bouffant. "You are indeed Yeoman Rand!" Bryan exclaimed. "Excellent job on the hair." He wondered how she did it without being able to see the results. "Alex helped me." She smiled and took her seat. He got their drinks and they settled in for the show. "How is Alex doing? Is he having fun?" "Alex always has fun," she said. "He has met someone as I knew he would and already they're planning a get-together in Chicago this summer. I want him to find someone he can depend on and settle down. He suffers a lot in love. It's not always so easy being a gay man." "And how about you? Have you suffered in love?" People were arriving in full costume, including Borg, Spock's parents, a terrifying Andorian/Pennywise combination, tall hairy creatures, Dax from DS9 and various Klingons. Wil Wheaton finished up a nearby poker competition, Casey Biggs showed up in his DS9 Damar getup and Max Grodénchik as his character Rom. "I have learned not to expect much in that area," said Chloe in answer to Bryan's question. "I'm happy with my work and how I live. I don't ask for more." He looked at her steadily. "You're staring at me," she said. "You can see me doing it?" "I can feel it. Like heat coming from you." "You deserve better," he said. "The same thing happened to me," she said, "as happened to you. I too had a fiancé for a short while. My vision wasn't this bad yet. We were living together and I guess he watched me adapting to blindness, acquiring the gadgets I would need and being counseled by medical personnel. He decided he couldn't handle it and on the day before Thanksgiving, he moved out. Took me a good while before I could eat turkey again." She smiled ironically. Bryan laid his hand over hers. "To your right is a fabulous Data in his Western getup from the Holodeck," he said. "Behind him is Lwaxana Troi. I don't know what the guy next to her is supposed to be, maybe some character from the original series?" "Thank you," Chloe said. "You're kind. I'm having fun." He tightened his hand. "And I see your brother in his nicely fitting Discovery uniform. He's standing with an equally handsome fellow in a white medical outfit." Bryan meant for all of this to continue no matter what he had to do to arrange it. "Chloe," he said, "I googled where you live and it's only an hour and forty-five minute drive from my place." "You drive?" she said. "Of course." Within the happy noise around them, she was quiet for some time before answering. "Okay," she said. He no longer heard the roar of the crowd, nor the myriad, colorful aliens and Federation officers, for the galaxy was expanding and he imagined that he and Chloe could possibly go where no one had gone before. For the first time in years, he was content.