Time is But a Long Pull from a Tom Collins

Submitted into Contest #103 in response to: Write about a character looking for a sign.... view prompt

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Science Fiction Drama Sad

CW: some minor cursing.

He’d sworn to his parents, to his teachers. To his friends, to the bullies and the naysayers.

He was going to be an astronaut.

He was going to train, to study, to work hard at it.

He was going to be the first kid to set his little human toes on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

Those were the last thoughts in his mind when he went to sleep. Every night. He repeated this mantra, lights out, after Mom and Dad were asleep and he was staring at the constellation Leo—in the form of sticky glow-in-the-dark stars on his ceiling. He and his dad had studied the star chart for his date of birth and reconstructed the night sky, star by star. In the end they had stuck up about 275 stars, 8 planets, and 36 comets. There were a few starships up there as well, and an Incredible Hulk decal orbiting Neptune.

The trajectory was set: Titan. It was set the moment the boy had looked up in the night sky for the first time and saw a star streak brilliantly by. The comforting presence of his dad, his aftershave, and an endless striped button-down shirt planted the memory firmly in the boy’s mind. The night sky represented infinite possibilities—but it also represented home.

Twenty-two years later...

Marcy had driven to the outskirts of town to see him, to make one last-ditch effort to reconcile their relationship. She found him slumped over at the spaceport’s bar, his striped button-down shirt marked with brown stains on its collar and a cocktail napkin wadded up in the breast pocket. His eyes were shot, the color of Mars, his hair matted with sweat and recycled spaceport air.

Marcy had felt bad for him for too long now. Enough was enough. Her boyfriend was never going to grow up; if he wanted to work in a spaceport his whole life, he could do it on his own from now on.

As she’d marched down the long concourse, she’d tried to maintain her rage against him, to keep her pity at bay. She had never understood why he worked here. The pay sucked, the job sucked, and the commute was an hour out of town. Every time she’d asked him why he kept at it, he’d mumble about some childhood dream that he was trying to reach. He was always “nearly there”, his eyes scrolling left to right as though reading a string of equations within some invisible lens. His gaze was never focused on her, but through her, unfathomably far away, as though through a high-powered telescope.

So be it. He could hold onto his broken kid’s dreams ‘til he was a wheezing old man. This was complete and utter shit.

Now at the terminal bar, Marcy sneered, delighted that her anger still accompanied her. She’d needed the courage to let go of this toxicity. She had loved him, she had devoted herself to his mystery. But, now, she’d seen through the veil. Those quirky moments of his, lost in some far-off thought, his pathetic charm, his intelligence, none of it felt worth keeping any longer. When she saw him at the bar, she knew she’d made the right decision.

The fire she had been stoking on the drive here, and through the long concourse tunnels, finally exploded. Marcy approached her boyfriend from behind, swiped the Tom Collins from his hands, and threw it behind the bar with a smash. The look she gave him was red-rimmed with hurt, anger, remorse. Without a word, she turned on her heels and stormed out.

The man simply raised his finger for another glass. No one seemed to pay him any mind, except the bartender who’d nearly had his head ripped off by a Tom Collins. He’d seen the crumpled man at the bar so many times before, was as close a friend as anyone could get. So the bartender kept his mouth shut and prepared the man’s next Tom Collins.

Without skipping a beat, the man picked up the new glass, held it in his shaking hands. In the glass projected a scene that had followed the man for years. A series of images that skipped and repeated, a calculation that bumped and reset before it could end.

Of Lillian, his big sister. Of his mother and father, the warmth of his family. Lillian had turned sixteen and was screaming with excitement, her shiny new license a badge of adulthood. Dad had bought her a car and she’d wanted to take it out for a test drive. It was a two-seater, so she and Dad went off together. The boy’s mother began to worry several hours later, telling him they must have gone to the movies without them. The boy’s sister and dad didn’t come home that night, but a couple of men in uniforms, silhouetted in flashes of red and blue, did. Their eyes never strayed from the doorstep. The nightly news covered up the grimmer stuff.

The boy’s spaceship to Titan had hit unexpected turbulence and was spinning off course. A supermassive black hole had erupted, so close, and began sucking him into its event horizon. No hope of correcting trajectory. It nearly pulled him into its crushing, endless black gulf—where there was no hope, no life, no chance. Just loneliness. Bitter, resentful loneliness.

He was left disoriented, lost, his ship now pointed toward some unknown destination. The wild of space taunted him, crooked its finger toward darker shades of black, beckoning him to an unpredictable misadventure.

After barely getting through high school, the boy took up a job in the newly opened spaceport. He sold books at the bookstore there. He read most of the chain store’s watered-down volumes about physics and space, but knew most of it already. Some residual knowledge he’d managed to hang onto during his wonder days, knowledge he wore like an invisible backpack. Always there, but behind him.

So, on his lunch break, the man sat at the bar, looking out the window at the ships taking off, always searching for the right variables. Tom Collins in hand, he continued to dream of flying to Titan, on a course-corrected path, the drink helping him calculate the right trajectory.

July 20, 2021 20:17

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