It’s the scene in Empire Strikes Back. The one where Han gets frozen in carbonite. Betrayed by his lifelong friend, Lando. Watched by the entire cast, both good and evil. We all know it, can quote it even, his cocky response to Leia when she admits she loves him. I know, he says with a sideways smile. Such boldness in the face of a lost eternity. And then he looks down to his manacled wrists, as if somehow aware of his own folly, both of trust and a rejection of love. This is as far as Waker can get before he has to shut the TV off.
His nights have become lessons in exposure. When he returns from the repetitive studies of his job screening calls from the emergency number listed on Vernor’s ginger ale cans, to the near-dark of his cul-de-sac home, Waker settles in on the couch and presses play.
Always, he starts off fine. He responds in the normal. Rolls his sleeves down, feeling the icy winds of Hoth. Cringes a bit when Luke eviscerates his exhausted Tauntaun mount and jostles in for warmth. Silently cheers when Yoda accepts Luke as his pupil and becomes mesmerized by the lofted buildings and hovering traffic of Cloud City.
But when they enter the boiler room of Lando’s palatial estate, and the music thrums in D-minor, signifying imminent danger, Waker feels a sad weight sink into the pit of his stomach. Han is frozen, hands outstretched in wanting, and the television goes black, whirring its tube-driven hum.
Every night, Waker gets closer. Eventually, he’ll know that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, and that all the evil empire’s hate is born of the love a father felt for his son. But tonight, he fails. A sadness pulls him down the long hallway to the master bedroom. He passes his own son’s room. The door, which remains permanently shut, dons a hand-scrawled sign that reads ewoks welcome. He dreams that night about a certain kind of suspended animation, one that suspiciously mirrors, almost exactly, his own existence.
Ryan Mattern is an M.A. student in the Creative Writing Program at the University of California, Davis where he also co-runs Fig & Axle, the graduate student reading series. He earned his B.A. in Creative Writing from California State University, San Bernardino, where he won the Felix Valdez Award for short fiction. His work has appeared in The Red Wheelbarrow, Superstition Review, Black Heart Magazine, and Poetry Quarterly, among others. He is a member of poetrIE, a reading series dedicated to showcasing the literary voices of California’s Inland Empire. He lives and writes in Northern California.