Grayson was thankful to be home. For the soft clothes, and the fresh warm air, and the alcohol’s affect on his brain. He was thankful for all the things he didn’t smell.
Before the meal was over, his family would make a toast in his honor and then point their eyes at him like the unfeeling barrels of a firing squad, imploring him to say something. After all the solitude he was surprised to find he needed a minute alone. Before the toast could come Grayson shot out of his seat, banging his knee on the dining room table and making all the silverware shiver in fear, and he lumbered to the bathroom.
He was sweltering and he splashed cool water from the vanity onto his face and the back of his neck. He dried himself with the powder blue hand towel and then steadied himself by placing his palms on the wall on either side of the mirror. He looked old.
Three years of solitary on Tau Telesto had taken their toll. Prison was a special sort of hell. On the one hand, he looked toned, strong even. There hadn’t been much in the way of entertainment out there, so exercise became the default mode of staving off insanity. With twice Earth’s surface gravity, simple bodyweight drills had disproportionate results. But at the same time, he’d gone completely gray. His skin was pale and his wrinkles were deep. His blood pressure was erratic and his movements too forceful. He shook it off, flushed the unused toilet, and flipped off the light.
And suddenly he was back on Telesto. The four walls were close enough to touch from the center of the cell. It was dark, and water dripped nearby, mocking him. His heart raged against the cage of his ribs and he let out an animal scream as he shouldered through the bathroom door, spraying splinters over the red and gold ornamentation of the living room’s Persian rug. His throat was tight and he swiped at the open air as his chest heaved.
Grayson’s father calmed the grandkids. “It swings inward, darling. Pull, not push,” said his mother in a strong but soothing tone. “Come sit down. Finish eating.”
Yes, Telesto had taken a toll; one it would never stop taking for the rest of his days.