chained, hand-in-hand, they walk down Castetter Avenue
on a Sunday afternoon. There is the father and the mother
and between them their son. The boy can barely keep
up. He walks and pauses, distracted by the cars rushing
down the street. Tires plow through puddles with a gush
and a whoosh and glittering sprays of water.
The boy shouts, "Whoosh," and jumps ahead
of his parents. The father pulls up hard on the boy's
wrist and the boy floats to the ground with his half-bare
legs kicking in short pants and knee socks.
When the boy says, "Gush," and prepares to
leap again, his mother tightens her grip on his hand.
"Be good," she says.
"Good boys get ice-cream," he says. He presses
his tongue through an empty slot in the front of his
top row of teeth. He squints against the sun as he looks
up at her. The wide brim of her hat casts a shadow over
her face and he cannot see her very well.
He hears, "Don't scuff your shoes and you might
get ice cream."
The cars continue to splash through the shallow puddles.
"Sunday shoes," he chatters repeatedly and
he does not jump anymore.
His left hand stays hidden in his father's warm and
dampening grip. His right hand wraps around a finger
on his mother's hand. She wears white linen gloves and
there is a button at the wrist. The boy thinks about
undoing that button, but then he remembers the promise
of ice cream.
"Sunday shoes," he continues to say, until
the words fall apart in his mouth, becoming nonsense
sounds that stretch and pop as he plays with them.
His mother and father march, silent down the sidewalk
until they arrive in front of the malt shop. Across
the shop window is a brass rod and a tied back red and
white checker curtain. Inside it is crowded with people.
"Pity me," his mother says as she stares through
the glass. She does not want to talk with the women
from the church, she says. "It's just too much."
The father removes his hat and holds it to his chest.
He strokes his hair with the palm of his hand and straightens
the coat of his black suit. "Of course," he
says and a bell chimes as he steps through the door.
The mother and the boy stand facing the street. He tugs
on the hem of her black skirt and rubs the material
between his fingers. The mother reaches down and pulls
his hand away.
steps through the door and crouches. He holds a vanilla
ice-cream cone and extends it to the boy, who takes
it in both hands. The father keeps his grasp on the
cone until the boy looks at him and smiles.
The boy tilts
his head as he opens his mouth. The ice cream stings
the tip of his tongue. He stares over the top of the
ice cream as they continue their walk. He feels the
cold of it against the tip of his nose and in the air
against his eyes.
halts and tips his hat as he makes room for a young
woman passing from the other direction on the sidewalk.
The boy looks at the woman's blue and green plaid skirt
and her pale calves. He counts the clicks of the woman's
heels on the concrete as the father trots up beside
she had left town," the mother says.
not today," the father says.
A drop of
the melting ice cream falls on the boy's shirt and he
quickly brushes it away. He glances up at the mother
to see if she has noticed. Then, he sees the rocket
It is new
and beautiful and the boy halts. He stares, wide eyed
at the magnificent ship. It sits finger straight, upright
in front of the C.R. Anthony's store. Its blue fuselage
is the color of the ocean on television, bright green
fins turn out at the sides, and gold lightening bolts
strike from a red cone tip. It sways gently on a large,
coiled spring that twists up from a low round platform.
The boy hurries
across the street. The mother and father follow. Together
they stand before the rocket and the boy inspects the
small opening that reveals a yellow, molded plastic
cockpit. He turns and looks up at his father. He steps
to the metal box on a pole beside the platform. A sign
reads, Moon Shot! 25 cents!
reaches into a pocket and pulls out a coin.
The boy climbs
awkwardly through the oval opening and takes his seat
at the controls. There are gauges and buttons painted
on the console in front of the chair. He hears the coin
drop and there is a low sound of motors, metal pushing
metal, and an electric hum vibrating through the plastic
chair. The sound grows louder and he feels the shake
move into his bones and teeth. The ice cream cone wavers
in his hand as he reaches with the other, pressing the
The boy thinks
of systems, checks. It is important to do this, he knows
from the movies and the books. Every good pilot tests
his equipment, he remembers. He studies the gauges and
then looks to his father through the opening. He wants
to hand off his ice cream and say, "Keep this for
His father should say, "Roger dodger," and
"We are all counting on you." They should
call each other Buzz and Rocky, but outside on the sidewalk
the father does not see him. The father is looking at
the store window where a man is undressing a lady mannequin.
The mother is watching the father. The boy wants to
wave at them. He will not be back for a very long time,
he thinks. Traveling at the speed of light, his teacher,
Ms. Godwin, has told him "Stops time for the traveler."
When he returns, his parents will be old but he will
not have aged at all. He is worried about this, but
he decides, he has a mission to complete.
his eyes and counts down from ten. Before he reaches
three, he imagines a blast of heat from beneath the
rocket. It blows his hair and the gray smoke stings
his eyes and nostrils. He feels himself rising and thinks
of last summer's vacation, an elevator ride to the top
of the St. Louis Arch. He and his father rode together,
pretended to be in a rocket ship, and the mother waited
below. This time is not pretend, he thinks, and he must
shut, pressed closed from the force of lift-off. On
television, the Apollo rose so slowly, he knows. As
clouds of exhaust plumed out, the scaffold arced gently
away. Something here is wrong.
He is going
too fast. He will shoot past the moon. He strains to
open his eyes.
is waving his arms, but not at the boy. The father and
mother look at each other. The mother presses her hands
over her eyes and slowly turns her head away.
how far he might get. He imagines overshooting the moon,
past streaking meteors and the rings of Saturn.
he had asked his mother, "How far is it to heaven?"
the moon," she had said. "It's too far for
people to reach. A body can't get there, only a soul
is light enough to fly that far."
He had believed
her, but this ship is sleeker than anything he has seen.
He imagines his ship speeding out of control and golden
bells ringing the alarm as he hurtles toward heaven.
The red cone pierces the fluffy white cloud floor. He
sees little angels crowding the hallways of their school.
They are holding textbooks over their halos as they
crouch against the walls. He sees unlucky ones, bright
as stars, falling to earth. On the sidewalk below, the
mother and father will lie, flattened under a tangle
of blond curls and white feathers.
back," he shouts through the open door. "I
can't stop this," but he knows they cannot hear
C. Jaynes is a recent
graduate of the University of New Mexico where he served
on the editorial board for the Blue Mesa Review. He
will be attending the University of Indiana, MFA Creative
Writing Program with a Chancellor's Fellowship in the
fall of 2003.