Author : Michelle Keeley
Frank stared impassively as the Floridian dawn crept silently across his bedroom, the line of accolades on his antique dresser cast long, foreboding shadows onto the elegant wallpaper. The day had come.
He showered as usual. He dressed as usual. Even the drive to mission control was now routine.
As he pulled up at security the nod from the guard was replaced by an earnest yet supportive ‘All the best Commander’. He parked up and entered, the automatic doors sliding silently open to reveal the soaring atrium beyond. Passing through, his stride was broken by an over-emotional receptionist planting a good luck kiss on his cheek, although appreciating the sentiment his discomfort was obvious.
Inside the debriefing room he took a seat alongside his crew as he fought the desire to run a thousand miles in the opposite direction. His exterior belied nothing, he was still ice cool Frank, top graduate in his year, the automatic choice, you could always count on Frank.
After some final words, the four headed across the launch site to suit-up, attire that had been almost as long in development as the shuttle itself. Each crew member had their personal fitter or space tailor as Frank used to call them.
He was surprised but slightly relieved to find no sign of his fitter as he perched on the edge of the grey tub chair in the kit room, his body too rigid to sit back. Joel entered moments later accompanied by some final items of kit and an oppressive silence.
Self consciously Frank stripped off his outer clothes and stepped into his pearlescent suit, its cumbersome nature soon leaving him in need of a second pair of hands. Frank tucked each arm in as Joel pulled from the waist before fastening the front, their close proximity thickened the air in a way that seemed inconceivable a few weeks ago.
They had practiced this procedure so often they completed it without a word. Glancing at the clock, Frank was well enough versed in the timetable to realise the next few minutes were allocated to family goodbyes. He made for the door, gaze firmly fixed floor wards and despite his broad stature, the strength to break the tension eluded him. The desire to apologise, to confess his feelings and admit his fear of intolerance were buried too deep. He left, closing the door behind him.
Two small children ran towards the crew as they appeared in the lounge doorway, a toddling girl and an older boy. Two of the crew hoisted their children into the air prompting fits of giggles, the third embraced his wife as best he could around her prominent bump.
A silver haired gentleman strode enthusiastically towards Frank, his Navy uniform resplendent with medals. ‘We’re so proud of you son’. ‘Thanks Dad’ Frank replied with a weak smile, his mother simpered quietly. After a few minutes small talk the klaxon sounded and the last goodbyes were said.
‘Right men, time to go’ Frank boomed, momentarily recharged with his Father’s praise.
The four walked across the pad and took their positions in the shuttle. As the countdown began tears welled up behind Franks visor, the roar of the engine masked the sob he could no longer contain.