It was happening! It was happening!
Karl’s feet slammed into the ground with enough force to squash a mountain, enough force to shake a planet. The sun was setting over the lush fields, yet sweat still clung to him like the sticky feeling of a popsicle that melts and only Ma can properly rub off with her squinty eyes and moist thumb. Grass and wildflowers smacked against his knees, tickling them, bordering on painful, but he kept running, gasping for the sweet valley air to fill his small lungs.
“It’s happening!” He screamed, he shouted, he laughed, “It’s happening, it’s happening!”
Karl had never felt this before; had never felt his heart drumming on like the buzzing of cicadas, like the smacking of bread dough on a counter, like the slapping of frantic bare feet on hot concrete. Had never felt like fireflies shone in his chest, thousands, millions of them, with the kind of light that could fill a void. He had never felt like this, not even when Ma let him have one more cookie than allowed, not even when he stood on the roof of the house and saw the rest of the world, not even he stuck his head out the window of the car and went faster than the speed of light, faster than he could ever manage on his bicycle, the wind pushing against his face like the cold hands of a sibling battling for the remote.
Not even then had he felt like the world was in one little valley of rolling hills and the small pond at the far eastern edge, like the rest of time, before and after, could be summed up in the way the sun disappeared over the edge of the last hill in a fiery blaze of summer poppies and the violets Pa buys Ma on her birthdays.
“It’s happening, happening, happening . . . After this, I’ll be changed! No more sitting in a classroom for me, no sir! I’ll be walking from the moon to Jupiter on a round trip to the edge of the Milky Way. I’ll bring some cheese back for Ma and some junk for Pa to stack up on his desk even though Ma doesn’t like it. I’ll be runnin’ through the stars, just you wait and see.” He beamed at the beetles poking through the grass and the bees bumping into the flowers. “You won’t have to miss me too much. I’ll be back, I promise. Maybe in a thousand years.” A flower brushed up against his thigh in the wind and he smiled down at it, touching the silk petal. “I’ll be back, just you wait and see! No need to say goodbye.”
Grinning with his teeth the way he saw his Pa do when his team scores on the television, he jumps, just to feel the way his feet come back down. “There’s no gravity in space! I’ll jump and just stay there!” He stomps and jumps and twirls before collapsing to the dirt in a bundle of gasps and giggles, spreading out. He digs through his pockets to find the pair of glasses he found in his Pa’s desk. Lying down and staring at the sky with eyes bigger than oceans and ten times shinier, he clutches the glasses in his sweaty fists, waiting, waiting, waiting-
“Karl? What on earth are you doing out here?”
“Ma! Ma, c’mere! It’s about to happen!” Karl patted frantically to the ground next to him, smushing the grass beneath his free hand. He spreads his fingers, distracted. I’d better remember what the grass feels like before I go, he thinks.
“What is, dear?” Ma says, tucking her skirt underneath her legs as she falls into the indicated spot. Karl snatches his hand away just in time.
“Haven’t you heard? Everyone I know told me! James, Tina, Mrs. Jones- the event of the year! Mrs. Jones says the heavens come down to brush on the valley and that’s the way little kids like me and James and Tina get to go!”
“Space, of course!” Karl says with the exasperation of a man thrice his age. He looks at her and speaks carefully to ensure she understands. “Tiny shoots of light dart across the sky and then we get to go to space! That’s what Mrs. Jones said!”
“Is that so?”
“Yes!” Karl extends his palm to the sky and spreads his fingers the same way he did with the grass, wriggling his fingers to feel the palpable energy in the air, the way the wind and darkness curls against his skin like a blanket. “I’m going to space because that’s what Mrs. Jones said and Mrs. Jones knows everything.”
“What do you need Pa’s reading glasses for?”
“Mrs. Jones said that you have to watch carefully or else you miss it, and I won’t miss it. Pa says that these help him see, so they’ll help me make sure I don’t miss the stars!” He turns his wide eyes on his Ma. “Will you stay with me, so I can say goodbye before I go?”
She reaches out and ruffles his hair, warm fingers brushing his hair from his forehead and tucking it behind his ears. “Of course. Should I go get Pa?”
“He’s busy, and I’ll be back soon.”
“Of course,” She says again. She lies down so they’re side by side.
The symphony of the valley floats around them, and Karl closes his eyes so he can hear it properly. The brushing of leaves underneath the sounds of chirping birds and singing crickets, quieting for the cicada’s solo that vibrates the night around them like the rumble of the family car. He wonders to himself what space will sound like, and his eyes dart open once more. Fumbling for the glasses, he opens them. He puts them on, poking at his cheeks and ears in the process.
“Here,” Ma says, resting them on his ears.
“That’s because if you want them to work, you have to perch them on your nose.” She slides them down and everything becomes clear again. Right! He’s seen Pa do that before. “Don’t close your eyes again; it’s about to start.”
Just then, something streaks across his vision, faster than his bicycle, faster than even the family car. He gasps and lurches up. “It’s happening!” He whispers, grabbing his mother’s wrist and shaking it. “It’s happening!”
The symphony of the valley lulls to a pause. The grass stops shifting, the beatles stop sifting, the bees stop bumping; everything stops in the valley, in the town, in the whole world, everything that’s ever existed pauses, waiting.
Another! And another!
They fill up the glittering sky like paint strokes from children’s fingers, darting in no order, until there’s hundred, thousands! The whole inky sky is lit aflame with the wonders of space, his dreams, his life, his Ma’s life, his Pa’s, his siblings! In those lights darting about, flashing like the sun but so much brighter, so close that he can taste them. Space! Space has come to the valley, licking up the scent of wildflowers, darting through the grass, glowing with the fireflies! This is Karl’s chance! To thank the moon that comforts him through his bedroom window, to sit with the stars the way they do when he rocks with Granny on the porch with the moths, to see the planets on something more than a poster pulled down from the projector by Mrs. Jones!
He pokes at his nose to make sure the glasses are still there and gestures to his Ma, unable to speak, unable to look away. Somehow she knows what he means, as she always does, and she lifts him up, perching him on her shoulders as she stands, rising, rising, until he can feel the warmth of those dancing stars, and can hear the way they call to him, singing at him to join them.
So he reaches out once more. And, this time, space reaches back.
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