by Kathryn H. Ross
The world had suddenly grown small. It was dark and empty, like a womb waiting for life. He remembered being a child, sitting on his porch in the warm summer air and watching the sky.
“Mama,” he said, his voice hushed.
“Why do they say ‘the skies’?”
“Why do they say the ‘skies’? Isn’t there only one?”
He turned to look at her sitting behind him on the porch swing, needles and yarn in her hands. She gave him a quizzical expression. “Who’s they?”
He shrugged but kept looking at her, waiting for her answer. She lowered her knitting and smiled thoughtfully. Finally she said, “It’s just a thing people say, like how they say ‘man’ when they’re referring to all of humanity. The skies are the sky, and the sky means the skies. They are the same.”
She took up her knitting again and didn’t answer.
He waited a moment and then, unable to hold it back, he asked, “Would Daddy know?”
She tensed slightly, something he only noticed because he’d seen it so many times before. He waited, watching her slender fingers as they manipulated the needles, slipping the yarn over one, then the other, looping, plucking, in a ceaseless repetition. He looked at her mouth, which had changed into a thin line, and he wished he could take it back.
“Daddy would probably have told you the same thing, Phillip,” she said. She wouldn’t look at him. He turned back around. Above him the moon was shining, full and bright. There was a halo of light around it and in that space the sky, or skies, looked blue instead of deep, dark black.
He opened his eyes.
Where was the moon now? Was it still hanging over his childhood home and his father’s grave? Was his mother still knitting on the porch, and was he still sitting there looking at it?
If I look back at the earth, will I be looking back in time? Could my past self tell me not to come up here? Would I listen?
He heard his own voice screaming in his head, poisoning the little air he had. In his mind’s eye, he watched himself falling away, saw the broken pieces of their metal sanctuary breaking apart, spitting the others in every possible direction at unstoppable speeds. It seemed so long ago, but it might have been yesterday, or moments ago.
Phillip. He tasted his name in his mouth, but he did not recognize it. What did it matter what he had been called? Who would ever speak his name for him to hear again? Who had said his name last? He thought of his father, and the last time he’d called his name strong and loud. Up here it could have also been moments ago, or just yesterday, or it could be happening right now back on earth, back in time, when he was young.
Please don’t go, he whispered, his voice thin and tired.
“I’m not going anywhere,” his father had said.
He couldn’t feel his face, but he knew he was crying. The stars slipped over his helmet, blinking at him sadly, farther away than anything had ever been.
He thought of his father’s funeral and how the moon hadn’t gone down yet that morning. He held his mother’s hand as they stood by the casket, not yet lowered into the ground. She wasn’t crying, so he tried not to either. A man was speaking about his father, weaving a eulogy –
“Phillip Wells was a brave man….an American hero taken too soon…survived by his wife and child…”
He wanted to know why his father was being placed in the earth when he knew he would have wanted to be shot into the sky.
“I’ve always been a bird, Philly,” his father had said one night as they lay side by side in his small, child’s bed. On the ceiling were glow in the dark stars, on the walls were rocket decals and posters of the solar system.
“Am I a bird, too?”
“No,” he replied, looking up at the ceiling where the plastic stars glittered. “You’re a comet trapped in a boy, and you’re going to break out one day, but not before I’m ready to let you go.”
“I’m not a comet,” he said, surprised.
“Then you’re a supernova.”
He sucked in a labored breath, felt his lungs aching within him. His mother had asked him not to go before he left. It was just yesterday, or maybe moments ago.
“God didn’t make us to go up there. He made us to stay down here. This is where we belong.” Tears were in her eyes as she spoke. How could she understand he was a supernova? How could he explain what his father had always known?
He saw the rocket breaking apart. He remembered the way it felt when the vacuum reached in and grabbed them, threw them across the stars. He heard himself screaming in his head, felt his lungs working to keep him alive. He knew it was of no use, that this suit was his world, his home, his tomb.
“I want to be a bird too, Daddy. Like you.”
“No,” his father said, looking down at him. They had the same eyes. “There’s too much of you. The earth won’t be able to hold you. You’re meant to fly higher than these skies.”
He thought of the metal rocket breaking from the atmosphere, of the fire beneath it, rising higher and higher into the sky. He felt the earth trying to hold them back, begging them to stay where they belonged. He thought of the earth getting smaller, becoming a blue star and the moon a speck of dust. And he remembered his own voice, speaking to his mother, his father, the earth, and God:
“I am a supernova.”
It was only now though that he understood – now, as he sped through space searching for his father’s eyes, for his mother, for earth, for home, for heaven – that supernovas were only ever dying stars.
Kathryn H. Ross is an LA-based freelance writer who enjoys reading, writing, and telling beautiful stories. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in various lit journals, including Whale Road Review, Across the Margin, Brilliant Flash Fiction, and Sea Foam Mag. A recent college grad, Kathryn is now pursuing her Masters in English and Writing while continuing to write, read, and create as much as she can.