Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
It was a beautiful day for a ship launch.
These are the things I remember:
I remember the sun shining down out of a blue sky that arced from horizon to horizon over the beach with only a scattering of clouds above the water.
I was perched on the small hill about a mile away from the launch site with my mother. Her bright red hair was still full and lustrous but shot through with grey. She’d say to me that every grey hair was from a time I fell and hurt myself. That’s how much she loved me.
I remember her bringing her hand above her eyes in a salute to shield them from the sun. She was perched sidesaddle on her hip in a red dress. She’d tucked her heels up underneath her and was leaning on her other arm, her hair was teased by the wind. When I remember her, this is the image that comes up the most, her leaning into the breeze. As an adult, I can look at this memory objectively and see her not only as my mother, but as a woman. I can see how attractive she must have been.
She squinted, bringing a half-smile to her face.
In my memory, she looks out across towards the massive ship.
The ship was white with scooped shapes. It didn’t look aerodynamic but my mom told me that it wasn’t that kind of ship. It was a ‘long-range’ ship which meant that the science was different. It didn’t need to worry about drag and other wind-tunnel qualifications. It would ‘slip’ up and out from this plane of existence and then come back to this dimension at its destination. It wouldn’t take as long as the other way, she said. He’d be back soon.
When I asked her when daddy would be back, she just looked away from me, back up at the ship. I could see love there, but also a little resentment. My father, the astronaut, was going on this trip against my mother’s wishes. I’d heard them fighting at night when they thought I was asleep.
We sat there on our red-checkered blanket having a picnic at the launch. We were there with hundreds of other people. Red-necked sightseers, teenage couples, scientists, keen students, and the families of the other astronauts, all of us on blankets with picnics, ready to see the launch take place.
Ten. Nine. The numbers rang out from the loudspeakers in the distance. Our little radios shouted out the numbers as well, a half second before the sound from the launch pad got to us. It made an echo of the numbers. I remember feeling like I was in a dream.
My mother’s hand tightened on mine. I leaned up against her. I was eleven, old enough to be embarrassed by affectionate gestures from my parents but not old enough to do without them. I held onto her and we both watched the ship that held my father.
There was a clap of thunder and a ripple of imploding wind and the ship was gone.
That was sixty years ago. Their calculations were off. The ship came back this morning.
To everyone on the ship, they’d been gone for two months.
They were being briefed. My father was being told that my mother had died twenty years ago, ten years before my own wife. He was being told that I was in a wheelchair and that I had six grandkids.
I was about to meet my father. He was still thirty-six. I was looking forward to it.