MISSION TO MARS • by J. Bradley

Stickers from local hardcore bands and chewed gum are all over the rocket ship outside the Winn-Dixie. “I wanna go for a ride,” my little brother says. I had to put him in a t-shirt with the least amount of holes in it to make him presentable. “Only if you’re gonna agree to behave when we go inside,” I say. His head bobbles up and down to show he agrees; I know from us getting banned from the Publix up the street that making him wait never works.

I dig into my right pocket and pull out a quarter covered in what’s left over from a movie ticket. I check the rocket ship to make sure it won’t burn my little brother’s ass before lifting him up and sitting him down. “Ready for blast off,” I ask and his head bobbles up and down again. I make him grip the controls before I drop the quarter in. The rocket roars to life and lifts up and it rocks him up and down. I turn my back to him so I can keep the sun out of his eyes and to preen my hair in case any pretty girls or moms walk out of the Winn-Dixie and pass me.

I put my hand in my pocket again to count the rest of my spare change without looking at it: a quarter, three nickels, and ten pennies. It’s just enough for me to get a donut for us to split after we bring the groceries home. If my little brother knew I had more money to spare, he’d ask for another trip.

The rocket slows down and then lands. I lift my little brother out of the cockpit and he hugs me a little tighter as I get him back on solid ground. “Come on,” I say. “We need to bring home dinner before mom wakes up.”

J. Bradley is the author of On the Campaign Trail (Long Day Press, 2020). He lives at jbradleywrites.com and cartoons on Instagram at @questionabledecisioncomics.

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