Parameters appeared in Barrelhouse in September of 2012. It was originally accepted by Dark Sky, but Dark Sky closed its doors shortly before the completed issue was ready to go live, and Barrelhouse graciously published the final issue online. Unfortunately, the story does not appear to be available on the Barrelhouse site. Parameters was on the longlist for the Wigleaf Top 50 Short Fictions of 2012, and is in my book.
Beth pushed the trip meter to zero when she got in her car. 18 miles was her limit. It was nothing she took for strange. Nobody knew. People drive alone in California.
The places she went were in range. Grocery store: .7 miles. Post office: 2.3 miles. Bank: 4.6 miles. Public swimming pool: 6.5 miles. She counted miles like birthdays, markers of significant passages. 18 was where she stopped.
Her former and only boyfriend’s birthday was January 8. He was rarely within 18 miles. Sometimes worked construction for a friend’s company for a few months to finance his next trip. She went with him once. To Tulum to explore the Mayan ruins. She flew home the second day. He sent postcards. Her refrigerator was a collage of Barcelona, Machu Picchu, Fairbanks, the Badlands, Ethiopia, St. Petersburg, Pittsburgh, Salzburg. The last one came from Auckland.
Decided to stay awhile. Don’t know when I’ll be back.
She put it with the others, under a magnet he brought back from Butte.
Sometimes her parents went places. She liked the postcard from Juneau best. The contrast of glaring snow and bluest sky. They always picked good cards.
Beth had never seen snow. She was born in Houston. Her family moved to San Diego when she was two. She went to community college 12.3 miles from home. When she finished, she got a job in the Registrar’s office. She got her own apartment a little less than 6 miles away.
She made friends online at travel sites. She subscribed to travel magazines and read novels that took place in Nepal, Lisbon, Uruguay. She told her online travel friends she loved travel but could not afford it. They sent postcards. Her refrigerator was covered. She taped them to her bedroom walls.
Beth did not need to go. The things she needed were in her perimeter. 18 miles in any direction was departure and return, same as any airplane.
The others went away. They would come back or not. Cards would be in her mailbox or not. On her refrigerator and walls or not. She would be here.