Mothers love astronaut boys. They salute their boys and button their shirts. These boys choosing these hard vacuums of space. These boys choosing beyond any reaches or limits. These boys choosing “space camp.”
“Space camp” is a lie. There is no “space camp.” There is only the abandoned rotten-walled house with a cellar full of mirrors. These boys who lied about “anti-gravity,” about “human centrifuges,” about “the space-time continuum,” who lied just to steal their mothers’ jewelry. To take it, wear it—to clasp it around their little necks, their wrists, their fingers—gilded, jeweled and down into the cellar, down to see themselves shining like diamonds in mirrors.
One boy however was more excited for what he had in his stomach. He wanted everyone to see because it was part of a spaceship. The other boys gathered around to touch it and ran their fingers up its contours.
It’s something alright, said one boy.
It’s no spaceship, said another.
Feel it, said one.
No I won’t feel it, said another.
But the boy with the spaceship in his stomach took the other boy’s finger and brought it to his scar. His stomach there was rigid like a rocket fin and strained like the rocket might split through his skin.
Well, said the one boy. He moved the fin a little left, a little right. Does that hurt?
The boy with the spaceship sat up on his elbows. No, it doesn’t hurt, he said.
What if we take it out of you? said one. He grabbed the fin with his spider fingers and tugged. Would that hurt?
No. No, I don’t think so.
Another said, Let’s tear it out and ride him to space.
The boys laughed at first but in mentioning “space,” they remembered their mothers and frowned, little liars.
The metal thing clunked. The boys removed their hands. It clunked and his belly button swelled. The boys stood back. The scar split, the skin separated and the stomach opened up. First it spread into a circle and widened then it spun like a pinwheel until it turned black. They couldn’t see to the other side. It was just a hole of nothingness.
The boys came closer, their hair blowing forward toward the stomach. Peanuts drifted into the stomach from boy’s box of crackerjacks. The boy with the black hole yanked his shirt, which sucked in like a dent.
They felt around the edge of the hole with their fingers and their fingers stretched like long beams of light. The boy with the crackerjacks disappeared his arm to his shoulder but couldn’t reclaim any of his peanuts.
What have we done? What kind of astronaut throws his mother’s love away? We’re hardly astronauts at all, they decided and all spit on the ground. But then it came to them. There he was. The black hole. Certainly, he owed it to them. He would have to take it from them.
Take what from them?
They held out their hands. We can’t keep it, they said. We’re afraid of what we’ve done.
No, he said.
But we’re you’re friends.
Look at what you’ve done to us.
They held him down and emptied their hands into him: their fake gold rings, fake rubies, fake pearls–what boys, betraying their mothers–fake pearl-inlay crane hairpins and duo pendants–what boys, betraying their mothers only signs of love left–sterling silver and rose gold faberge egg, two of them, strung by double-wound gold chain, sterling circlets, one with a pearl clasp, one with a ruby, one a little gold scotty dog brooch with an full of ruby, and the single white gold choker in the style of the Whitecleuch Chain.
What an empty six empty boys like a thousand in a cellar full of mirrors. Six shivering boys ashamed like dogs, skinny ones. And the one boy there alone, shunned in the corner, disappearing and reappearing his hand into the black hole. Clouds of dust picked up and circled round him.
We wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for him, said one boy.
We’ve been made bad by him, said another. He cringed into his own hands. We aren’t to blame.
Tuck his head into his chest, said a third. Let his own black hole swallow him.
They nominated one boy who, crawling to the boy with the black hole and into his lap while he, the other boy, crawling desperately away to escape, asking ‘no, no, no,’ pushing the boy away, trying to keep him out, until the boy got his head in and the black hole started sucking. So his shoulders to his elbows to his waistline, then his legs and feet. The boy with the black hole held and pulled his ankles, until all that was left was a shoe. What have I done? said the boy.
After much consoling and whispering ‘it’s O–K,’ five boys, ‘it’s OK, it’s OK,’ and the one boy crying through his own fingers, ‘i’m not a monster, i’m not a monster, i’m not a monster,’ they braced the boy with the black hole up against a mirror. All five of them crawled inside him. The black hole closed up and the boy’s stomach turned flat, leaving only a little scar.
What had he done?
The boy went through life explaining himself. He couldn’t believe he still existed. He was the last one to have seem them. And people felt sorry for him. He told everyone he was the cause of everything. He had done it all, all the evil in the world. He bumped his head against the wall to bruise it, at home and at school, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, and he deliberately burned himself, pushed his fingers on anything hot, told his teachers that he was the scum of the earth, and didn’t deserve Christmas, told his parents, as they were slicing his twelfth birthday cake, that he better not wake up tomorrow, that that cake had better be poisoned, and told the police, again and again everyday he called 911, saying they’d better come shoot him or he’d shoot everyone, that they’d better come shoot him. That he made his friends disappear. But they always interrupted him, always told him: We know it wasn’t you.
A year passed and the ridge of a spaceship formed in his stomach again. He sat poking it in his room. His mother came in.
Another spaceship? she said. He took a long time to respond to anything anyone asked him. I baked you some cookies, she said.
They were rocket-shaped and she’d iced them with sayings like “Challenger” and “Houston” and “It’s not your fault.”
She set a plate of them on his bed and smoothed his hair. He didn’t like hearing anything about himself so when she left he ate some of a “It’s not your fault” cookie and went on tracing the scar up his stomach which opened, split, separated then expanded and forced him to lie flat on his back. Six grown men stepped out of his chest and into his room.
What a wild forty-five years, said one.
Time really sneaks up on you, said another.
Some were gray in the face, some had beards. Some were muscular and some were fat. Three of them wore baseball caps.
The boy hugged each of them in turn, crying he was so happy. Don’t you want to play? he said.
They took their share of cookies, but said, No, I suspect we’d better up and find work, said one. Get wives, said another. And get some kids of our own. Make them do the playing. And us the relaxing. Haha, they laughed.
They’d been through so much in that other dimension. But now it was time to settle down. Build a house. Put down roots. Get to know their neighbors.