“It’s ruined my garden,” Cheryl complained to her sister, Barbara, while replanting what she could salvage. “This was my only spot in full sun,” she said, the two of them bent on their knees in the shadow of the phallus.
“Oh, no,” said Barbara, helping where she could.
“And they cut through the yard all the time,” Cheryl continued. “Scientists, government people and tourists.” Cheryl mourned her quiet life now uprooted.
“I was sitting down in the morning yesterday — you know, sitting down—” Cheryl raised her eyebrows. “And a whole camera crew walked right by my bathroom window. I was mortified.”
“Oh, no,” Barbara said.
“It’s worse, Barb.” Cheryl stuck her spade in the dirt. “They showed papers, ‘Eminent Domain’ they call it.”
“Oh, no,” Barbara said.
Cheryl thought about those men in suits with their glossy shoes and briefcases, standing there with a check and papers to sign. She had been too upset to say anything, shaking her head and going back inside. They just stapled the check and the papers to the door. When he got home, Harry was as sympathetic as Harry could be, but he was going to take the check, Cheryl knew. He had almost instantly resigned to it all — there was no fight left in him. They had been together for twenty-four years, but Cheryl felt it was more a matter of physics now, of bodies at rest staying at rest or going through the motions absent another force. Cheryl was thinking of all this as she pulled up what she thought was a particularly deep root. What she pulled up was a black box attached to a cable with a red button.
“Oh, no,” Barbara said.
The two of them followed with their eyes where the cable might naturally go, to the two-story piece of space junk whose shadow had ruined Cheryl’s garden.
“I wonder if it turns it on.” Cheryl was thinking out loud.
It was just there one morning, slightly indented into the ground like maybe it might have been dropped from a crane or something, but none of the neighbors had heard or felt a thing.
The neighborhood gathered around the thing, then the local media, then the police and then the city engineer. By noon, though, the men in the suits with the glossy shoes came with papers and everything was roped off for the following men in lab coats.
News outlets had a hard time describing it on air, avoiding the obvious. Phallic, phalloid and priapic were used. ‘Unfortunate male design’ was a funny one. ‘Erroneous masculine structure’ was a favorite of Cheryl’s. But as the late-night comedians took over, Space Dildo is where it landed.
Cheryl couldn’t really sleep beforehand. She and Barbara had covered the button back up and marked the spot with a spade. She found it again by the flashlight app on her phone. With the night air pricking and tickling her exposed skin, Cheryl held the button now in her dirty hand.
Half expecting an explosion, Cheryl pressed the button.
Barbara had called Louise, that was to be expected, they were like two peas in a pod those two, but for her to call Elsie, Cheryl thought, was really letting the cat out of the bag.
Cheryl had to make sure all the neighborhood ladies had their turn, Elsie always trying to get another go at it before she would turn it off. That was always just before daybreak and just before any of the lab coats and suits showed up.
The suits and the lab coats heard complaints, from neighbors, from the men anyway, about quakes and vibrations in the night. At first, they ignored these reports, but as they continued, they had some local detectives go around and take statements. That is how Cheryl met Tom.
Tom’s shoes were not shiny. Tom’s tie did not match his shirt, and Cheryl deduced he was unmarried. He had kind eyes and, Cheryl thought, with a decent haircut and an ironed shirt he would not be half bad.
Cheryl knew she was entering dangerous space. None of them were casual people. They were objects in low, degrading orbit and they would land hard when they crashed. There could be fallout and craters left behind.
Still, Cheryl had already pressed that button. There was no going back.
Cheryl left Harry in stages after that. They took the check and she handled the move and the settling in. She would stay over with Tom most nights. Harry didn’t ask for details and she didn’t give any. She had Elsie over to stay with him often. Elsie had always fancied Harry when they were younger, and though it might have only been in the back of her mind, proximity would bring it to the fore.
Cheryl took a class at Curves. Tom and Cheryl tried ballroom dancing, which they quickly stopped to save their toes and their budding relationship. They slowly settled into a life together with date nights and walks. Not the stuff of movies, just the stuff of life.
Then it took off.
Cheryl had showed the button to Harry and left it to him to announce its discovery. He had his fifteen minutes before leaving it for the suits and lab coats. Then one morning a lab coat had a different experience pressing that button than Cheryl and the ladies did. He got badly singed from the Space Dildo’s rockets. It burned down the old house too, the government documents still stapled to the door.
Discussion about shooting or not shooting it down, tracking it, communicating with it, all proved too late. The damn thing just took off and flew away. No message, no note, just a mountain of academic speculation to fuel books and doctoral fellowships.
Cheryl didn’t watch the coverage. She was outside gardening, at her new place, smiling at the amazing amount of sunlight.
Marc J Guillotte reads and writes Speculative Fiction from the greatest little state of Rhode Island.