The guitar would cost extra. Liam tallied up the baggage costs in his head. His son usually forgot something important like underwear or Ted Bear. Liam didn’t remember seeing Ted last night when he tucked his son into bed, though. Maybe nine was the age when kids gave up on this? His daughter had announced she was too old for toys shortly after her eighth birthday, for which his wife had that handcrafted cat couriered to the Moon from Ontario. Emma ceded him the task of finding gifts for their children after that.
Gravity — or the Moon’s seeming lack thereof — unsettled him still. Cal’s bag felt light; Simone’s bulged. Liam had asked Emma if he should go through Simone’s bag. Emma just sighed. They’d had the autonomy talk twice already this month. She’s eleven, Liam replied to the kitchen, where he was suddenly alone. Then there was his bag with a few basics for their yearly trip back to Earth. He’d left room for seashells and dried leaves the kids would pick up during their three weeks at his folks’ place and one week at hers. The kids were fascinated by the way things fell there. Magic.
Simone fidgeted. Beside her, Cal bounced on his heels. Liam would remind him to pee before they left home, where it would be easier to stuff his oddly tall children back into their jumpsuits.
Liam floated the idea of taking his guitar this time. Use your brother’s, Emma said. You’ve done it before. Liam didn’t push. Liam didn’t ever push. They’d all said goodbye to Emma before she left for work. Work, her usual excuse for staying. Which was their whole reason for coming here twelve years ago. Which kept them in on-base housing with room for children. The children were another project, another experiment, weren’t they? Long ago, he’d made a space for himself and tried not to think about it: his nook with a worn stool, a stained coffee mug, and the guitar.
The guitar. He’d bought it two weeks after deciding to take a year off from college, the afternoon he’d failed to show up for his accounting final. Which was also three days before meeting Emma.
Emma, who was old enough to be his mother, his brother said. So what? Emma was full of hope for the world; Liam was already tired of it. Getting married at the end of the summer had been his idea. They hadn’t known about Simone yet. He’d come along with Emma, who’d just gotten the job on the lunar base, and finish his studies online. But they found out about Simone.
So. He’d learned about babies. He’d learned about guitar chords. He’d known more or less the same amount about both. Would any of it be useful in reduced gravity, he’d wondered. He knew that you should always keep socks on a baby. He remembered that from a daytime TV show he’d watched during finals week. After Simone discovered her toes, Emma pulled the baby’s socks off before she left. Liam put them back on after she was out the door. So he knew about socks. And he knew music was good for babies. Another show tip. During Emma’s first pregnancy, he’d practiced instead of studying. By the time Simone arrived, he’d quit school again. She cooed at the gentle strumming in time with her swing. And when Cal came along, Simone seemingly floated at Liam’s feet and sang to the baby while he played.
His brother had a guitar. He’d had a crisis during college too. He’d bought a guitar, met a woman, dumped her, then went back to school. Now he had a nice house on a warm lake, an accounting career, and a family. The guitar stayed at their parents’ house.
Simone gave Liam Emma’s sigh. “Can we go now, Dad?”
“One more thing.”
He went to her room. The stuffed cat wasn’t in its usual place on her bookshelf. He grabbed her necklace, the one Emma had made for her from a stone from outside where the kids never went. Then Cal’s room. The lump under the covers was Ted. Liam grabbed him and a handful of underwear. The rest Emma could have shipped. And things were cheaper on Earth, anyway. Then his nook. The guitar waited for him, the way it always waited during his trips to Earth. He asked himself what he’d always asked: is this the year? So few kids up here. Simone texting his brother’s snotty girls instead of studying. Cal putting on plays with Ted.
Is this the year? He was glad they’d go to Emma’s parents’ first. Get that out of the way. Then the long stretch of sunny afternoons on his folks’ porch. Lemonade. The neighborhood pool. The dogs in the backyard. And the weight of it all, falling, rising, falling again.
And if they said no?
Maybe it was better to wait. After all, there was Emma, who’d never lost that hopefulness. Whom he’d wanted more than anything, even as she bumbled around in that over-padded space suit. Anything? It’d be her question, not his. Her eyes folding into those lovely crow’s feet, scrutinizing him. Pushing him. Adoring him. And the kids. The kids, who fell all over her — or tumbled into, really — after she’d return from her months-long missions. Which meant it would be okay if they spent a month each year here and the rest on Earth.
Liam shifted Ted to the crook of his elbow. He reached down to the guitar case, packed and ready. Not his work. Emma’s. The moon-rock pendant slipped and swung past it. He gripped its chain tighter, the underwear, the worn toy. They’d need to go soon. Emma knew it. Now, he did too. He reached for the case’s handle. He felt its pull, grabbed it tightly. He knew that wherever they ended up, he’d always feel something pulling at him, shifting him, lighting his way to all the things he could never quite reach.
T.D. Walker’s poems and flash fiction have appeared in Abyss & Apex, Star*Line, Cold Mountain Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review and elsewhere. She blogs occasionally at her website, freethinkingahead.com.