Arthur Norris went back to the shed to fetch gasoline for the mower. In the twilight the straight tracks of newly shaved grass looked like different shades of ribbons spilled from the spool.
“Arthur!” he heard her calling.
She was on her on the back porch, scanning the yard like an owl searching for a good mouse. To his surprise, she was not wearing her nightdress but a pair of Armani blue jeans. A nice pair. He stared at them, trying to remember last she’d worn them. In her defense, South Florida was too damn hot for jeans. But still.
“There you are! Get out here!”
He shuffled from the shed. Carolyn’s grays were pulled back into a hairband. She wore a good pair of shoes. The sweater was kind of shapely. It looked like she had even put on makeup. “We going somewhere?” he asked, frowning.
“Somebody is.” She descended the steps and came toward him, kissing his lips softly. That startled him too. “It’s tonight.”
“We’re going to see Jerry!”
Arthur felt his head clog, thickened like flour. All he knew was the name, “Jerry? You mean… my son, Jerry?”
“Nope, Jerry Lee Lewis. Yes, Arthur, your son. Our son.” He saw her eyes sparkling, taking his hand in hers. “We don’t have much time. Let’s cut through back there…”
“But the mower?”
“Screw the mower. Come on.”
He followed, muttering protestations. There was a crack between the hibiscus where he dimly recalled some kids had snuck through once before — Arthur couldn’t remember exactly when that had been or whose kids they had been. Martin’s, he figured. Their other son was Martin. He lived somewhere else, somewhere too cold and far away, and he had some kids, nice kids. Arthur wished he could remember their names. Martin did something or other with computers, he remembered that. As they came through the brush, Arthur felt the soil shift beneath his battered sneakers, becoming a mass of rocks and roots, which then became sand as a smell of salt gradually filled his nose. Then it was there. The sea. Gray in the almost-dark. “I really do have to finish the grass,” he mumbled, dazed.
“I don’t get it, why — why are we out here?”
“You see all these folks, Arthur?”
He stopped sharply, only now noticing. The beach — which so seldom had visitors he often forgot such a thing as visitors existed — was full of dark shapes like strange and oversized birds. People gathered on the sand with their cellphone lights glowing like mad eyes. Some had blankets. Plastic fold-out chairs. Arthur looked back at his wife. “What the hell’s going on?”
“It’s the launch. You remember yet?”
No, he had no idea. Across the slate-gray sea the distant headland lay in the murk of twilight. He could just make out the frame of a structure on there. The glimmer of lights. So many lights, like a shower of still sparks. Carolynn squeezed his hand.
He turned sharply. “What?”
“Mars, Arthur.” She paused, let go of his hand. “To the new colony. You remember, it was on the news. That’s what all these people are here to see. The first. He’ll be one of the first.”
“I…” Arthur felt a rise of panic. He stepped away, trembling. “Nobody told me!”
“Shush.” One arm went around him quickly. The other to his face. Her spectacled gaze was stern. “He did tell you, Arthur. Months ago. Before you got sick. You remember it if you try.”
“Why do you think we moved down here?”
“Not…” Arthur swallowed, “…not him! He can’t go to goddamn Mars!”
“Where do you think he got the idea from?” Carolyn giggled. Sympathetic amusement, similar to when he spilled food on himself or forgot how to tie his shoes. “That little toy Space Shuttle you gave him when he was a kid — maybe you forgot?”
Arthur shook his head. He remembered the toy, for some reason. It had been the kid’s favorite.
“He’s got it right now…” Carolynn’s voice quivered slightly. She stared into his eyes. “…said he’d take it. So he’d remember you. Even if you couldn’t remember him anymore.”
A loud cheer passed from further up the beach. One so loud it seemed to echo in the vast cavern of night. Arthur felt a clench inside his belly as, at the distant headland, a pulsing jet of orange ignited, the launcher in its glow.
My god, he thought, stunned.
Across the several miles of brooding dark, the faint crackle of a loudspeaker had begun a mechanical-voiced countdown. Arthur turned to Carolyn, tears stinging. “I-I’ll never see him again?”
“You don’t need to see him again, Arthur.”
“He’s my son!”
“Yes, and that’s not what we raised our boys for, is it? So we could see them. We raised them to follow their dreams.” She wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Know who taught me that?”
Another cheer was followed by a terrific boom, one that passed across the gray and made Arthur yelp and shut his eyes. When he looked back, the spaceship was encircled by furling steam. Bright flames beneath. Arthur sobbed as it began to rise, bringing a bray of delight from all down the beach, the light revealing thousands of watchers frozen in wonder as the tiny craft ascended in orange streaks as Carolyn whooped and clapped her hands in delight. “Go Jerry!” she yelled.
“Go Jerry!” others around roared.
After a few minutes the cheering petered away. Gradually those gathered began to quietly disperse, dragging their plastic chairs and blankets to the road. And then, finally, Arthur and Carolyn Norris stood alone by the shore. Hand in hand, gazing up at the dark sky where Jerry’s spaceship had already become just another star.
George Allan Bradley suffers from an affliction of strange ideas, for which the only cure has always been to write about them. An adopted Midwesterner born and raised in London, England, George’s literary interests inhabit a similarly broad realm, with published works include mystery, science fiction, suspense, horror, literary fiction and just about everything in between. Throughout his work, the one common theme being the lives, loves, and losses of ordinary people faced with their demons — both real and imaginary.? George lives in Ohio with his wife, Lisa, son Everett, daughter Evelyn, and a menagerie of odd pets. He is working on a debut novel, SOWING SEASONS and continuing to publish short stories in various anthologies and magazines.
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