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					Rachel Segal-Sklar

Titusville

                                        PART ONE

       Marissa Schuman awoke to a dull pain in her calf. It was still dark out. She felt

Ronald tossing next to her, and although she had grown used to his constant movement,

his twitches seemed more violent tonight; he had kicked her twice. She turned to face her

husband, kissed the hot skin on his wrinkled cheek, and nestled her face into her pillow.

It was probably nothing. Marissa rubbed her leg and coached herself back to sleep.

Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out…

       She woke and opened her eyes to an intensely bright room. Ronald had already

risen and opened the shades, which meant he had already jogged and showered. She

glanced at the alarm clock. It was a quarter to seven. Marissa guessed that Ronald had

been up for a half hour—not early enough for her to be concerned about him, though she

knew that Ronald normally relished his sleep. He always said that sleep was the best way

for the body to heal itself. The fact that he had given up a solid hour meant that

something must be bothering him. Probably. Or maybe he had to be at work early, or he

just couldn’t fall back asleep. But then again, he always fell back asleep.

       Marissa heard a rustle in the kitchen and swung her feet around so that she sat at

the edge of the bed. As she stood up, she slipped her feet into her worn slippers. As she

got older, her feet seemed less able to retain heat—though she was four years younger

than her husband, she seemed more fragile than him. He had gotten her the slippers for

Christmas one year and, at his insistence, she now always wore them around the house.

She admitted that her feet were not only much warmer now, but their circulation had
                                                                                            2


improved as well. Her husband would rattle on about a new health issue daily, it felt, and

most of the time it turned out that he was actually right—he was more in shape at seventy

than many of the thirty-somethings she knew. But sometimes Marissa wondered why

Ronald was so obsessed with his health, especially since he was an engineer for NASA

and not an astronaut. A lot of the other engineers he worked with, most twenty years

younger, were on the larger side. Fitness obviously wasn’t required by the Center.

Marissa shrugged and walked down the hall to the kitchen, debating whether or not to

voice her concern about Ronald. She decided she would just have to take her cues from

her husband. If he was in a good mood she would postpone it until later, but if he looked

like she suspected he did—his age—she would say something.

         Ronald looked up from his eggwhite omelet and newspaper and smiled at Marissa

as she shuffled into the kitchen. She read the headline “GOVERNMENT CUTS BACK

ENERGY RATIONS AGAIN” before Ronald put the paper on the table. She saw him

suppress a yawn and realized he was consciously trying to seem more energetic than he

was, that he didn’t want to address why he had gotten up early. She realized she didn’t

want to either.

         “Good morning, sweetie. I saved some omelet for you.” Ronald kissed his wife’s

cheek.

         “Thank you, Ron, but I hope you didn’t use the stove, we can’t waste our rations

on food…”

         “Of course not. I used the microwave. I’ll heat it up for you. Coffee?”

         “Yes, alright. Thanks.”
                                                                                             3


       She watched him set the microwave for thirty seconds, standing with his back to

Marissa for the duration. She could tell that he was lost in thought. Or was he just tired

and spacing out? Sometimes it was hard for her to separate suspicion from truth. The

microwave’s beeps seemed to awaken him. He placed the eggs in front of Marissa, who

smiled as naturally as she could at him.

       “Thanks. Do you mind—”

       “Oh, right! Your coffee!”

       Marissa smiled at Ronald, who haphazardly reached into the cupboard for a mug

and poured her a cup of coffee.

       “Stop, that’s enough,” she instructed him. She took a sip and admired the mug.

       “I haven’t seen this in ages! This used to be my favorite mug.”

       Ronald shrugged.

       “It is pretty cute,” he offered. Marissa frowned as she stared at the small green

handprint on the mug. When was the last time they had talked—really talked?

       “Why don’t we call her tonight?” she suggested. “Amanda, I mean. When we

last talked, when was it, a month ago? I think she had gone on a first date with someone,

a lawyer? A doctor? Some kind of moneymaker.”

       “I think it was a dentist.”

       “You might be right. They make good money, don’t they? I want to call her.”

       “Do you think that’s a good idea?”

       “Why not? We haven’t spoken in a long time. It’ll be a harmless phone call. Just

to see how she is.”
                                                                                                 4


          “Marissa, you’ve got to let the girl be. If she wants to talk to us, she’ll call. Or

email.”

          “Maybe we should email her and she can call us when she’s not busy.”

          “She’s always busy. She has a very demanding job. I don’t want to force her to

talk to us, she’s thirty-two years old, she can make her own decisions.”

          “We’re her parents, Ronald. She should never be too busy for her parents.”

          A silence fell over the room as Marissa ate her breakfast and Ronald finished his

coffee. He kissed her on the head as he left the room and she couldn’t help but stare at

the mug. That little handprint had meant so much in the past—what had happened? She

was glad her daughter was successful but just wished she weren’t so busy all the time—

she barely knew her anymore. She looked at the finger-painted words “I love you,

Mom!” and felt a pang of emptiness as she ate her last bite of omelet.



                                               ***



          Ronald sat on the bed and thought before grabbing his shoes from underneath and

putting them on. He had come to find Marissa’s worrying endearing after all these years,

but when he was worried as well, Marissa’s endearing feature became overwhelmingly

stressful. Marissa would not be the calm one in an emergency; she would be the one

yelling at everyone and crying. It felt as though she absorbed any external stress,

whether it was a news story about lead poisoning that occurred thousands of miles away,

or a rumor that a friend’s marriage was having trouble. She had a hard time separating

herself from other people’s problems. Ronald’s problem was how to avoid Marissa. He
                                                                                           5


was grateful that she hadn’t brought anything up in the kitchen, but knew he wouldn’t be

so lucky after work. He glanced at the clock. If he left now, he would avoid the second

wave of morning traffic. The car was charged enough for the half hour commute and air

conditioning the whole way.

       Ronald walked back into the kitchen to see Marissa sighing wistfully and sipping

her coffee.

       “I hate to see you so worried,” he said as he came up behind Marissa, starting to

massage her shoulders. “I’m fine, you’re fine. We’ll get through this gas thing...”

Marissa turned around to look at him and smiled faintly.

       “I know, I just can’t help it. I guess I’m horrible at hiding it.”

       “No, I just know you too well.”

       Ronald’s face softened as he realized he couldn’t blame his wife for his own

stress. She looked up at him with such concern in her eyes that he couldn’t bear to look

at her anymore.

       “Well, I’ve got to go. Big announcement, you know.”

       “Really? About what?”

       “I don’t know, but I’ll tell you when I get home. Love you, bye!”

       Ronald grabbed his hat from the coat rack by the door and swiftly left before

Marissa could express her indignation at his vagueness. He sat in the car and took a deep

breath before turning on the ignition. Nevin had told him there had been an emergency

meeting with the President two days ago and there was going to be an announcement

made today concerning those over fifty. Ronald worried that there might be an initiative

among the younger employees to get rid of people his age. Although he laughed off
                                                                                            6


questions of retirement, he had always felt they were more passive-aggressive demands

than friendly questions. He had heard rumors that the government had been slowly

implementing a program for older members of NASA at other space centers, and now it

had infiltrated his: the Kennedy Space Center. He, as well as his older colleagues,

assumed that the program was one of appeasement—he would be charged with filing or

other grunt work he did fifty years ago.

       As he drove to work, he thought about calling Marissa to apologize for his abrupt

departure, but decided against it. She would understand, especially if he had bad news

later. He zoned out to NPR and glanced down at the dashboard clock when he came to

his exit. It had only taken twenty minutes, he must have been speeding. As he got out of

the car, he realized his palms were sweating. Ronald walked through the parking lot to

the building, wondering what it would be like to give up his job—would he quit if he

were demoted? He saw Nevin’s car in its usual spot and felt relieved. At least they would

be able to form a strategy before the announcement.

       Ronald entered the lobby and nodded hello to his favorite security guard, Bobby.

Bobby had been at NASA even longer than Ronald had. Ronald felt Bobby understood

him and enjoyed the fact that their lives had taken a similar arc: Bobby and his wife had

gotten married around the same time that Ronald and Marissa had, they’d had their

second child within months of Amanda’s birthday, they complained about their

mortgages and that their children were growing up too fast and they all were getting older

by the minute. Ronald would normally have chatted with Bobby about something he had

heard in the news recently, or some other light topic of conversation, but he needed to get

to Nevin as quickly as possible.
                                                                                          7


         Ronald stepped into the elevator and pressed six. He got off and walked to his

office. He took off his coat, sat down at his desk, and dialed Nevin’s extension.

         “Hey, Ron. You just get in?”

         “Yeah. How much time do we have?”

         “Uh, looks like fifteen minutes. Do you have a plan?”

         “No. I thought we could come up with one. At least prepare ourselves for bad

news.”

         “I’ll be right over.”

         Ronald opened his desk and pulled out a bag of coffee. He measured enough into

the coffeemaker for two cups for him and Nevin. He sensed he would probably be

drinking a lot of coffee in the next few hours. As he turned the coffeemaker’s switch on,

he heard a knock on the door and turned around to see Nevin walk in. He gave him a

firm handshake and a pat on the back.

         “So, have you heard anything else about the announcement? Herman is going to

be making it, isn’t he?”

         “Yeah, he is. All he would tell me is not to worry. I don’t know what that

means.”

         “Well, if we’re going to be demoted we have to fight back in some way, don’t

we? We’ve been at this company for what, fifty years? If they’re gonna try and make us

quit, we’ve got to fight it!”

         Nevin sighed and closed the door.

         “Listen, Ron. I agree with you, really. But what can we do? We’re in our

seventies.”
                                                                                            8


        “Nevin! Look at us! We’re in great shape! We’re strong and mentally sharp as

ever. Just because we’re seventy doesn’t mean we have less to offer than somebody

thirty years younger than us.”

        Ronald could feel himself raising his voice, but couldn’t help it. He paused and

realized he was huffing.

        “So what can we do, Ronald?”

        Nevin looked down at the floor, unwilling to make eye contact with Ronald.

        “If we just agree to fight it, whatever happens, happens. All I want is a partner

here, someone who’s on my side.”

        “Of course I’m on your side. Hell, it’s my side too. I just think that if we’re

going to fight this thing, we’re going to need a concrete game plan.” Nevin looked up at

Ronald. “Could we sue them for discrimination?”

        “That’s the spirit! I’ll look into it. I’ll ask some of the guys over in legal.

Whatever we do, we’ll let them know that what they’re doing is wrong.”

        “Ronald, Herman said we’d have nothing to worry about…”

        “Screw Herman! If we did, do you think he’d tell you? He’s good at PR, that’s

all.”

        Nevin shrugged as Ronald got two cups from the cupboard and poured them each

coffee2.

        “Here, Nev,” Ronald said, handing Nevin his cup. “If you want some milk, you’ll

have to go to the kitchen. My mini-fridge is broken.”

        “That’s alright. Black is fine.”
                                                                                          9


       The two men stood in Ronald’s office, not saying a word. Ronald looked around

and thought about his time in Titusville: he’d moved there with Marissa when he had

gotten a job as an engineer at NASA’s Kennedy’s Space Center three months after

getting his Doctorate at Michigan and life had quickly progressed. He saw the photos of

his family and friends. He saw the desk he had bought especially to go with the new

space. He looked at the mini-fridge and almost chuckled, remembering how Marissa had

given it to him fifteen years ago and made him swear to use it so his lunch didn’t go bad.

He had grown up in this place. He had seen some of the same faces every day for half a

century. It was worth it to fight to stay here, to keep his memories sacred.

       The phone rang. Startled out of his contemplative stupor, Ronald answered.

       “Schuman here.”

       “Hey Ron, it’s Herman. Need you down in the conference room in five.”

       “Uh, not a problem. See you then.”

       He hung up and looked at Nevin, who was nervously sipping his coffee.

       “That was Herman. He said to come to the conference room.”

       Ronald took a deep breath and put his coffee down. Nevin did the same.

       “Well, this is it. You ready?”

       “I guess so, Ronald. Let’s go.”



                                            ***



       Amanda woke to the sound of crying for the third time in a row. She groaned and

mentally prepared herself to move her body out of bed.
                                                                                           10


        “God damn it,” she thought. “I should have read one of those baby books…I bet

they tell you how to knock your kid out.”

        She got up and dragged herself to the crib.

        “What do you want now? I just fed you!”

        She sniffed Mari’s diaper. No gifts for her to clean up.

        “Are you lonely, Mari? Do you want to sleep with mommy? I’m a little lonely

too.”

        She kissed her child on the head and sat down on the bed, rocking back and forth.

The motion seemed to lull Amanda as well.

        “Alright, down we go.”

        Amanda lay down with Mari on her chest and squeezed. She then placed the baby

down on the other side of the bed, where Phoenix used to sleep. She pulled the sheet

over her legs and closed her eyes. She could hear Mari breathing next to her. Amanda

quickly fell back asleep.

        In the morning, her alarm went off, signaling to her with the sound of a harp that

it was time to wake up again. Mari began to stir while Amanda watched, amazed that the

mass inside of her belly had been an actual human for two whole months already. She

got up and went to the kitchen, where there was already a bottle full of her milk in the

fridge, waiting to be warmed. She slid the bottle into the bottle warmer and went back

into her bedroom to retrieve her daughter.

        “Good morning, Mari. I bet you’re hungry.”

        She carefully picked her up, cradling her head in her hand, and held her to her

chest as she walked back into the kitchen, just as the bottle warmer began to beep. She
                                                                                              11


lowered Mari down onto her feeding table. Normally she would have held Mari in her

arms as she fed her, but Amanda was eager to check her email. If her bid had gone

through, her life would be changing any minute. She opened her computer slowly and

winced in expectation of what she might hear.

         “Go to email,” she instructed as she lifted the bottle of warm milk of out the

warmer and into Mari’s drooling mouth. Mari grabbed onto the bottle and shook her feet

as she drank. The computer opened Amanda’s email.

         “You have three new messages, Amanda,” the computer’s voice read. “First

message: ‘FIND GAS NOW CHEAP PRICES!’”

         “Spam,” Amanda said. She watched her daughter drink and coo with delight,

tipping the bottle at an angle to release the last of its contents into the baby’s suckling

mouth.

         “Next message. No Subject,” read out the computer.

         “Who is it from?”

         “Sender: jjn@jjn.com.”

         “Open, please.”

         “Amanda, please don’t do this. I love you, I’ll leave her—“

         “Delete,” Amanda said, rolling her eyes. Like he’d ever leave her. She smiled at

Mari, who was sucking up the last drops of milk from the bottle. Mari stopped sucking

and was quiet for a moment before her face started to distort into a look that signaled to

Amanda that it was time to hold her baby again.

         “Next message,” the computer began.

         “Stop,” instructed Amanda.
                                                                                          12


         As Mari began to cry, Amanda was already coaxing out a burp by gently patting

her back. It only took a few seconds before Mari let out a mild belch and stopped crying.

She laid her head on her mother’s shoulder and cooed softly, as if she were thanking her

mother for a job well done. At least, Amanda liked to think of it that way.

         “You’re welcome, Mari. It’s nice to know I’m appreciated. Now I have

important things to do today, so you’re going to have to hang out by yourself for a while,

okay?”

         Amanda brought Mari back into her room, where she lowered her into her crib.

         “If you need anything, just call!”

         She laughed to herself, amused by her own humor. She’d been afraid she would

lose it after the baby was born, that her bitterness would subside and she’d be another one

of those dull, bright-eyed new mothers who always spoke in a baby voice and who told

everyone it was a blessing to be able to change their kids’ diapers. To Amanda, shit was

shit, no matter how “blessed” the butt it came from. She didn’t mind changing Mari’s

diaper, but she certainly didn’t enjoy it.

         Amanda sat down in front of the computer and looked at her email. “Your offer

has been accepted!” the third email’s subject read. Amanda immediately felt nauseous.

She opened the email and read the words she had been waiting for the past few weeks.

         “Dear Amanda Schuman,

         Your offer of $320,000 has been accepted by the owner of 213 Forrell Avenue,

Titusville, Florida…”

         She stopped reading. This was it, the start to her new life. She felt proud of

herself, that she was finally on the right track, that she was doing something to make her
                                                                                         13


and her child’s life better. She wasn’t used to feeling like she had done something right.

She felt she had been on a streak of responsibility ever since she dumped Phoenix, and

realized that if she wanted to keep it up, she had to leave her life in LA behind and move

someplace where she knew she’d have to settle down. What better place to do that than

where her parents were settled down? The only problem was they hadn’t had a real

conversation for a year.

       Amanda had always gotten along well with her parents, even if they were never

that close—they were a little boring for her taste. They had been good parents to her,

however, and had always been supportive, even when it turned out she didn’t have her

father’s mind for science or her mother’s passion for any hobby she took up, so when she

moved to LA after high school to start at USC, they all knew she probably wouldn’t be

coming back. Florida wasn’t the place Amanda could thrive. She had always considered

herself to be a free spirit, someone who needed a big city that she could wander through

like the wind. The small town that she grew up in was the farthest from that environment

she could imagine. At USC she had majored in Film Studies, a major perfect for her

because she had always loved watching movies. Movies allowed her to dream as wildly

and as much as she wanted without it being classified as spacing out. When Amanda

watched a great film, she could feel her brain lighting up like it had been shocked. Film

was a mental kick she couldn’t get from anything else.

       Amanda graduated and got a PA job from a friend, quickly working her way up to

producing jobs for independent films in a few short years. She was getting to be decently

successful when she met Phoenix. He was a rich financier, married, and a complete

jerk—she couldn’t resist him. Something about him being the complete opposite of her
                                                                                             14


square engineer father. That was also what stopped her from telling her parents about

him—they just wouldn’t understand. So when they would call with important news, or

on her birthday, or if they had seen one of her films, Amanda would answer, talk

superficially about her life for a minute then cite her crazy schedule as a reason to hang

up. Amanda realized now that they would have a lot of talking to do when she saw them

again; she would tell them everything when she got to Titusville.



                                            ***



       Marissa felt uneasy about her interaction with her husband. What was the

announcement? Why hadn’t he told her? Maybe he had just forgotten. Or maybe he was

hiding it from her. She couldn’t figure out whether to call him at work and give him a

piece of her mind or to just go to work and try to distract herself. She weighed her

options: calling him would probably only make Ronald feel bad and Marissa feel

worse—guilting other people made her feel even more guilty. Going to work would

allow her to release some of her stress and put her issue with Ronald in the back of her

mind. When she walked into the bakery, the comforting smells never failed to ease her

nerves. Marissa decided she would go into work early.

       Marissa quickly showered and dressed, making sure she brought a sweater along

in case the air conditioning was too strong for her. It usually was. She filled in her

eyebrows with a pencil, drew two lines of eyeliner on her lids, and brushed her lipstick

across her lips. She thought she looked pretty good for such an old woman. Marissa put

on her shoes, put on her purse, and checked everything she needed was inside: her wallet,
                                                                                          15


keys, cell phone, address book with emergency numbers, and travel mirror. She placed

her sweater inside the bag and walked out the door. The bakery was a five-minute walk

from door to door, if Marissa was walking briskly. Today, since she was early, Marissa

decided to take her time. The day was beautiful—eighty degrees, not too humid (by

Florida standards), bright and sunny. It reminded her of the hot days before the crisis. It

certainly looked the same: the way the light snuck through the trees and formed golden

patches on the sidewalk, the deep green lawns in front of every house—although now the

lawns were artificial, the smell of the fresh, summer air. But there were a few things

missing: kids playing on the lawns with hoses, teenagers driving around with their

windows open and music playing, sprinklers on her neighbor’s lawns, all dancing

together in time. People weren’t on their lawns gardening the way they usually did this

time of year. The streets felt…empty. However calming the summer day was, it was a

bit lonely as well. When she got to the bakery, Marissa was glad for the company.



       After helping Jenn set up the display case, arrange the tables and chairs in the

small store, and write the specials on the blackboard, there was nothing left for Marissa to

do but think. Jenn had gone into her office to attend to some owner duty that Marissa

could not be involved in, and the other two girls working that morning, Kait and Leslie,

were in the back preparing cupcakes, a skill Marissa had not yet picked up. She sat down

in the break room and let her mind wander. Why didn’t Ronald tell her about the

announcement? Is that why he got up so early? And what were the chances of him

choosing the mug that Amanda had made as a child; did he intentionally give it to her

because he wanted her to become preoccupied with something else? Marissa felt
                                                                                           16


resentment rising. She let the feeling brew for a minute, her mind racing about Ronald’s

shortcomings, until she caught hold of her rationality.

       She had seen Ronald reach into the cupboard without looking, so he couldn’t have

specifically chosen this one mug. What’s more, how would have known it would give

rise to Marissa’s deep-seeded worries about their daughter? Come to think of it, Marissa

realized, it was a good bet that many things Ronald didn’t notice were sources of stress

and worry for her. He could have picked a mug with a crack in it and Marissa would

have been riddled with concern, not that they owned any cracked mugs. Any dish or cup

of any sort with a crack in it was immediately thrown out, for fear of tiny shards of

ceramic or glass would enter Marissa or Ronald’s mouths, and as it moved down their

digestive tract, would slowly lacerate their organs. Marissa shuddered at the thought and

looked outside at the day that had calmed her earlier that morning. She took a deep

breath and tried to remember the feeling. As she thought of the trees and beams of light

that had caressed her on her way to work, her mind kept wandering back to Amanda. It

had been at least a year since they had last spoken for more than a few minutes. Was that

normal? At times she knew she could be overbearing, a trait she felt contributed to

Amanda’s move to California. Marissa thought herself an accepting and nurturing

mother, so it was hard to figure out exactly what had gone wrong. All she knew is that

she missed her daughter. She had to call her. She would do it now.

       Marissa got up and walked out of the break room, past the kitchen, when she

heard a call from Kait.

       “Hey, Marissa!”

       Marissa took a couple steps back and stuck her head through the doorframe.
                                                                                         17


       “Do you need something, dear? I’m just on my way out for a minute…”

       “Come help us frost! We made three-dozen extra special cupcakes and could use

another hand. It’s green tea with lemon frosting today, you know how fast those go.”

       Marissa looked away from Kait, trying to think of an excuse to leave and call

Amanda.

       “C’mon, we’ll teach you,” offered Leslie, picking up on Marissa’s skepticism.

       Marissa realized that Amanda was probably still sleeping, so she resolved to call

during lunchtime and stepped into the kitchen with a warm smile.

       “I don’t promise I won’t ruin them!”



       The next few hours went by quickly. The bakery was as busy as ever, and when a

customer bought one of the cupcakes Marissa had frosted, she proudly pointed out her

handiwork. She energetically chatted with the regulars and made polite conversation

with customers she rarely saw. Marissa barely had two minutes to sit, let alone think, and

channeled her nerves about her daughter into her bakery work. Before she knew it, it was

time for her lunch break. As Marissa walked outside into the high noon heat, her heart

began to race. How would she start the conversation? How do you say hello to

somebody—no, not somebody, your daughter—after barely speaking for a year? What if

Ronald was right and Amanda didn’t want to talk to her? She sighed. All she could do

was try. Marissa sat down on the bench outside the bakery and dialed Amanda’s number.

She took a deep breath as the phone rang and she heard her daughter’s voice on the other

end.
                                                                                       18


       “Hi, Mom.”

       Amanda sounded confused. Perhaps she thought her mother was calling with bad

news. Marissa tried to sound as chipper as possible.

       “Hi, sweetie! How are you?”

       “I’m good. And…how are you? How’s dad? Still…healthy?”

       “Oh, we’re both getting along fine, just fine. Same as usual. You know your

father.”

       “That’s good to hear, really good… I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting you to call.

I’m actually kind of freaked out—I was just thinking about you.”

       Marissa laughed. She had always believed a mother has a strong connection with

her child and instances like this confirmed it.

       “How funny! I’ve been thinking about you too, sweetie. I miss you.”

       There was a pause before Amanda answered.

       “Yeah, me too.”

       Marissa didn’t know how to continue. Should she give superficial updates about

her life? Should she ask Amanda about hers? She could make a joke about their lack of

communication? Amanda once again broke the silence.

       “Well, I kind of have to go, Mom. I’ve got a lot of work today. And Ma… the

executive producer of this film is demanding.”

       “Oh, you’re always so busy!” exclaimed Marissa. “I don’t want to keep you,

sweetie. But maybe we can talk tonight? If you have time?”

       Another silence. Marissa felt her daughter’s ambivalence through the phone. Did

Amanda really dislike talking to her that much? Was something wrong?
                                                                                            19


       “Are you—” Marissa started, dreading what she might hear.

       “No, no. I’m not in trouble. Everything’s fine. Everything’s great, actually.”

       “Well that’s relieving,” Marissa sighed.

       “I really have to go but sure, I’ll call you later. What time does Dad usually get

home?”

       “He’s home around six, usually, which is when we have dinner. Should we eat

first or should we talk first? I don’t want your father to be too hungry when we speak

because you know how grumpy he can get…”

       “Calm down, Mom. I’ll call after you’re done with dinner.”

       “But then shouldn’t we call you? How will you know when we’re finished?”

       “Okay, that’s fine. You call.”

       “Alright, when we’re done with dinner we’ll call.”

       Another pause left only the sound of static in Marissa’s ears.

       “Bye,” Marissa whispered as she hung up. Her nervous energy pumped the blood

through her body with such a force that she could feel her pulse everywhere. She was

glad the shop had green tea cupcakes today—she heard somewhere that green tea was a

stress reliever. Marissa took a deep breath, went inside, and made a beeline for the

freshly frosted cupcakes in the back room. She ate three.



                                           ***



               Ronald walked down the hall to the conference room with Nevin, who was

walking with his head down, a habit Ronald had never liked. Today Nevin’s slouch was
                                                                                          20


exaggerated to a point that made Ronald wonder whether it had been worsening all these

years, or whether it was just the announcement. As they approached the threshold of the

conference room, he glanced at Nevin, trying to remind himself of the feeling of

solidarity they’d had back in his office. Nevin looked like he had already been fired.

Ronald rubbed his wedding ring, stood up as tall as he could manage, and walked into the

room with Nevin in tow.

       There were already four other senior employees, one fellow engineer and three

researchers, sitting at the conference table. They were silent, looking as scared as Ronald

felt. He needed something to hold—coffee would do. He grabbed a cup and started the

solar-powered Starbucks machine. If there was any positive to the energy crisis, it was

definitely solar power. He had been working on new solar technology for the past year

and a half, technology that NASA hoped would enable them to launch a shuttle into space

for a month. The testing was promising, but the technology was not advanced enough to

keep the shuttle up for more than a week at the most.

       “Maybe that’s why they feel the need to sack someone,” Ronald thought. “Why

not the old geezers who have devoted their entire lives to their work?”

       He watched as the machine dribbled the last drops of coffee into his cup. He

picked it up and sat down next to Nevin, who was staring at his hands that were resting

on the table. He barely sat up as Ronald sat down next to him.

       Ronald and Nevin sat in silence for a moment, Ronald trying not to think about

his life after NASA. He sipped on his coffee as he heard commanding footsteps in the

hallway—Herman. He elbowed Nevin and sat up as straight as he ever had.

       Herman walked into the conference room looking in good spirits.
                                                                                           21


       “What a nerve,” Ronald thought. “To think I ever liked him.”

       As Herman made his way to the front of the room, Ronald could feel his fists

clenching. He hoped he would just say what he needed to so Ronald could get out of

there. Herman cleared his throat.

       “Good morning, everyone. I hope your mornings are going well.”

       The five men nodded and muttered yeses.

       “You’re probably all anxiously waiting to hear the news I have for you, and I

certainly do apologize for making you wait. I know there’s been some buzz amongst you

that there is a new program for the more senior employees here…”

       Ronald couldn’t hold back the guttural reaction that leapt from his mouth.

Everyone looked at him with annoyed faces.

       “Sorry, uh, something in my throat. Sorry, Herman.”

       “Okay, well, there is a new program for the senior researchers and engineers with

their doctorates. It’s really fantastic. We have chosen the six most healthy and

intelligent employees we have, all over the age of sixty-five, to participate in our newest

space program.”

       Ronald felt his eyes widen to a point that they began to water. Les, one of the

men from research, did not share the same look of amazement as he did.

       “Excuse me, but what is this program? How exactly were we chosen, and why?”

       Ronald saw Nevin nod out of the corner of his eye. Herman smiled.

       “The candidates for this program are chosen based on their last physicals—you all

had a mandatory one about a month ago. The results show that even though you all are

technically senior citizens, your physicality is just superb. You have the bodies of men
                                                                                             22


half your age! You all hold doctorate degrees in the sciences or engineering—this is also

a requirement of the program.

        “As for what the program is exactly, I’ll put it in general terms and then, if you

pass our second physical test, you will receive more information about the program and

what specifically you will be doing. If you meet our further qualifications, you will be

going into space. That is, if you elect to. You may turn down a place in the program if,

after our second round of testing, a position on the mission is offered to you.”

        Ronald choked on the coffee streaming down his throat. He tried to suppress his

coughs and maintain his composure, but the force inside him was too strong to control.

He let out a cough that made his own ears hurt and that startled the other men in the

room.

        “Sorry, guys, the coffee went down the wrong pipe.” He smiled widely to assure

everyone that he was fine.

        Herman continued.

        “We will arrange with you times to begin the second round of physical testing.

There will be some swimming and there will be some simulation involved. Just email

me, call me, or drop by my office today to schedule your time. Oh, and of course do

come by and tell me if you do not want to be a part of this momentous opportunity. You

have until the end of the week.” He winked.

        “I’ll talk to you later, gentlemen.”

        As Herman walked toward the door, Ronald began to clap. It felt wrong not to

acknowledge the great news in some way and clapping seemed appropriate. The others

joined in, even Les. Herman nodded his head with a big smile on his face and left the
                                                                                         23


room. Ronald and Nevin sat at the table while the others got up, said goodbye and

congratulated each other, and went back to their offices. Ronald could barely move, and

knew Nevin was just staying because he was. He looked over to his friend, still

bewildered.

        “Holy shit, Nevin.”

        Nevin stared across the room.

        “I know, I can hardly believe it.”

        “I gotta get home and tell Marissa! You’ve gotta get back to Joy!” Ronald felt

his energy returning to him, tenfold. “We can’t stay here! We have to spread the good

news! I feel like a goddamn idiot! I thought we were gonna get canned!”

        He began to laugh loudly. It felt as though each “ha” he released took a fraction

of his earlier stress with it.

        “Ron!” interjected Nevin. “Hold on, there! Think about this. We don’t know

what the program is really, and even though we may go jogging every day and can still

bench press some weight, why do they want seventy-year-olds in space in the first place?

This is unprecedented.”

        Ronald sighed. He hadn’t thought about any of that. He felt stupid for not

assessing the news critically. But how was he expected to react? It was his dream to go

to space. There must be a rational reason to send people his age up into space. Test the

technology that they created? Nobody else wanted to go? They don’t trust the younger

engineers? Ronald made sure he’d ask Herman when he went to his office later.

        “Nevin, isn’t this your dream? It’s all of our dreams. Space! Dropped right in

our laps! I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for the age demographic. And
                                                                                             24


they’re going to make sure we’re physically capable. It’s not like they want us to die up

there.”

          “No, sure, of course not, Ron. I just have a few questions I’d like to ask Herman

before I feel comfortable about joining this mission. But sure, it’s a great opportunity,

once in a lifetime opportunity.”

          “I’m excited as hell. I’m gonna go back to my office, recollect for a while and

think some more about it, but then I’ll probably go tell Herman I’m in. I can’t turn down

space.”

          “I don’t blame you, just think a little more about it. If you get any more info, let

me know.”

          He and Ronald stood up, as Ronald nodded.

          “I’ll call you for lunch. We can talk about it then?”

          “Alright, Nev. I’ll see you later.”

          They left the conference room and walked back to their offices. Ronald pushed

Nevin’s concerns out of his mind and jaunted through the hall. Ronald in Space, the new

headline of his life. He could barely believe it.

          The rest of the day passed more quickly than Ronald had anticipated, especially

after scheduling his test with Herman’s secretary, Joseph. When he sat down and tried to

think about what information Herman had left out, his boyish fantasies once again took

over. What if this was in fact a covert mission? He had made sure to ask Joseph whether

he could tell Marissa or not and was delighted when Joseph told him it was fine to tell his

wife, but not to tell anyone outside of his close circle of friends and family. Besides,

there were more qualifying tests to come. He asked Joseph more logistical questions, the
                                                                                           25


answers to which Joseph read off a sheet of paper. How long will we be in space? Three

months. What are we going to do up there? Monitor a satellite. How much will we get

paid? 120k for the year. Ronald gasped with delight. Even though the mission was

longer than he had expected, which he knew would upset Marissa, he knew the extra

money would help her come around. With that kind of money, they could afford to get

rid of their gas stove and finally switch to electric. Marissa would be able to really cook

again. As Ronald turned to leave, Nevin’s voice began to play in his head: “Why do they

want seventy-year-olds in space in the first place?” He sighed and asked Joseph the

question he had pushed out of his mind.

       “Why is the program for people sixty-five and up? Why us? Why not younger

engineers?”

       Joseph looked through his sheets of answers.

       “I’m sorry, Ronald. I must have misplaced one of the sheets. I don’t have that

answer for you right now, but when Herman gets back can I have him call you?”

       “Not a problem,” Ronald said as a dark thought passed through his mind. What if

they didn’t have an answer?

       For the rest of the day, Ronald sat in his office thinking about what the mission

would be like. How would it affect him physically? Although he was older, his body

was still made up of the same matter as a younger man’s was, so theoretically there

shouldn’t be any difference in space. At lunch, Nevin was in higher spirits and the two

friends spent their break trying to figure out what the simulation would entail. Zero

gravity? Multi-axis trainers?
                                                                                          26


       Herman called after Ronald got back from lunch with an explanation to his

question: why us?

       “You see, Ronald. The human body is an amazing thing. We’ve recently come

across some fantastic new studies that indicate a special protein formed only in very

active people over fifty. This protein enables the body to withstand the normal

deterioration one starts to experience at this age. This program aims to test our brightest

and healthiest engineers and researchers sixty-five and older—we think the protein gets

stronger with age—and see if they might not make better astronauts then the young guys

without the protein. And we figure that you lot might be even more excited to get up

there than your younger cohorts.” Herman chuckled.

       Ronald thanked him and hung up. A new protein that might be making him

stronger? What would Nevin say to that? With his concerns alleviated, Ronald whizzed

through paperwork for the rest of the day, barely noticing the time that flew by with each

form. When the clock struck six, Ronald swiftly gathered his belongings and all but ran

to his car. He sang along to his favorite oldies radio station as he sped home.



                                            ***



       Amanda hung up with her mother and pressed her fingers against her temples.

Even after a minute on the phone with her mom she felt a migraine coming on—the kind

only her mother could give her. She hoped that she would never be the type of mother to

give Mari migraines. She walked back to the crib and watched her daughter raise her

arms and legs into the air. It looked like she was exercising. Amanda chuckled to herself
                                                                                           27


as she pictured Mari in a 1980s jazzercize outfit, the kind that had been “hip” with her

grandmother and her friends. The first time she’d seen pictures of her neon-clad

grandmother with wildly teased hair she’d almost fallen over laughing. All Mari would

need was a little wig and she’d have a perfect Halloween costume. Halloween. Next

Halloween she would be in Titusville with her parents. She leaned down into the crib,

picked her daughter up, and kissed her on the head.

       “You ready to move to Florida, Mari? You want to meet your grandparents?”

       Mari replied with a gurgle.

       “Mari, you know I don’t speak baby. This is America, we speak English here.”

       Amanda laughed at her joke and rested Mari on her shoulder. She wondered if

her own mother had been able to understand her when she was an infant, if all of the

nonsense that comes out of a baby’s mouth meant something to her. What were the

chances that she’d call right at the moment Amanda had been thinking about her? Her

mom would always freak her out like that—it was like she could read her mind. They

had never been close like some of Amanda’s friends and their moms. Growing up she

never told her mom her secrets, details about boyfriends, or anything else too personal,

but her mother always seemed to know.

       She remembered the day she had her first kiss: when she got home from school

that afternoon, she tried to hide the grin that had melded onto her face, but her mother

noticed and asked her if anything exciting had happened that day. The first time Amanda

failed a test she came home nervous but determined to seem normal. Her mom had been

extra nice to her that night at dinner and given her a long hug before bed—she had to

know about the test. Even when Amanda was in college across the country, it felt like
                                                                                         28


the minute she had any inkling of homesickness her mother would call. It seemed that

even twelve years apart couldn’t shake her mother’s telepathic ability.

        Amanda didn’t want to tell her parents about the move and especially about Mari

over the phone. She had considered trying to video chat with them a few times while she

was pregnant, but her mother hated how much energy the computer used during video

chats and mostly refused to do it. Once she had Mari, she was too busy to think about

how to tell her parents everything—Phoenix, the pregnancy, and her decision to move

back home. So much information couldn’t be told over the phone, but they were gonna

call and she had promised to talk to them. She had a few hours to figure out the right

words to say, but there was still a part of her that felt it wasn’t the right way.

        Amanda stroked Mari’s wispy hairs as she walked back to her computer and sat

down in front of it with her daughter on her lap. She bounced her knee up and down and

Mari giggled.

        “You love the mommy roller coaster, don’t you?” Amanda asked as she opened a

new Word document.

        “How do you think I should start, Mari?

        ‘Hello, loving, elderly parents of mine. I hope you’re sitting down because my

married boyfriend got me pregnant and now I have a beautiful daughter and I left him and

I’m moving back home because deep down I realize that I miss you and need good

influences in my life! You can thank my therapist for that one, parents!’ How’s that?”

        Amanda rolled her eyes at herself and took a deep breath. She had never been

good at being frank with her parents, so was now the time to start? It might be the

simplest way, but it definitely wasn’t the easiest. Her parents were sure to have
                                                                                            29


questions, questions that couldn’t be answered in an hour, or maybe even two. How

would she know their reaction to her news without seeing their faces? As painful as it

might be, Amanda wanted to see her parents’ immediate reactions without their parental

filter. They’d be surprised, but Amanda wondered if extreme disapproval or even

animosity would creep into their faces. Part of her wanted to see their disappointment

just to know that they still really cared about her, that they were still personally invested

in her decisions. Amanda closed her eyes and accepted that she would have to tell them

over the phone, they were calling her in a few hours. Maybe if she wrote what she

wanted to say like it was a screenplay it would be easier to word it, and maybe she would

be able to anticipate her parents’ reaction better this way. If she envisioned the past year

of her life as a film, maybe it wouldn’t seem so scary.

                                                                            SPLIT SCREEN:

Amanda sits in the swivel chair next to her computer, swiveling nervously.

Marissa and Ronald are sitting on the living room couch, leaning over the speaker phone
on the coffee table.

                                       AMANDA
                  Mom, Dad, there’s a lot I’ve been meaning to tell you.


                                        MARISSA
                                    (enthusiastically)
   Naturally, honey, it’s been a while since we’ve sat down and really talked. Are you
       dating someone new? How’s your job? You have health insurance, right?

                                         RONALD
                                          Marissa!

                                         MARISSA
                                     (shaking her head)
                             I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Go on, dear.

                                         AMANDA
                                                                                            30


                     Okay, well, I don’t know how to put this, but…

                                       MARISSA
                                       (panicked)
                              Are you in trouble, Amanda?

                                      AMANDA
                        No, mom! I told you earlier that I’m fine.

                                       RONALD
                                 You two talked earlier?

Marissa places her hand on Ronald’s.

                                      MARISSA
                                      (to Ronald)
                     Yes, we spoke for a minute on my lunch break.

                                           RONALD
Well, I’m glad it’s all three of us this time. Amanda, honey, you go on and say whatever
 it is you need to say. Your mother and I love you whatever it is, don’t we, darling?

                                       MARISSA
                      Yes, of course we do. We’ll always love you.

                                      AMANDA
                                   Okay, here it is: I…

                                       MARISSA
                                     Are you gay???

Amanda laughed at the reaction she had written for her mother. No reason not to make
their conversation as entertaining as possible until she had to deal with the real thing.
She continued writing.

                                        AMANDA
                                            &
                                        RONALD
                                     (simultaneously)
                                        Mom! No!

                                         Marissa!

                                       MARISSA
                                  I’m sorry, just tell us!
                                                                                             31


                                        AMANDA
   Okay, I guess I’ll just come right out with it. It has to do with a guy that I had been
                                    seeing for a while.

                                       MARISSA
                                     You’re engaged?!

                                      AMANDA
                       No, mom. It didn’t work out between us…

                                      MARISSA
           What did you do this time? You always push them away, Amanda.

                                        AMANDA
                                        (offended)
                                        Excuse me?

                                        MARISSA
                You’re a little wild, Amanda. Men don’t like wild wives.

                                        AMANDA
                                        Fuck you!

Marissa gasps and then starts to cry.

                                      RONALD
 Amanda, she doesn’t deserve that. I can’t believe you would speak to your mother that
                                         way!



       Amanda stopped. It got too heavy too fast. She knew her mom would never say

that, but on some level she was nervous that her mother saw her that way—as a wild

woman—no, girl—that men couldn’t handle and who wasn’t fit to be someone’s wife.

Someone who got pregnant by accident.

       Amanda looked down at Mari, happily sitting on her lap. Even though being with

Phoenix was a mistake—a mistake she couldn’t believe she’d ever made—getting

pregnant was the best thing that could have happened. It was like spring-cleaning for her

mind, her whole outlook on life. She had cleaned out her bad influences and habits—
                                                                                            32


smoking, drinking, needless bitchiness—and for the first time really thought about what

she wanted. She didn’t want to be one of those pathetic girls hanging onto a guy that

didn’t love her, she didn’t want to keep acting like a college student now that she had a

baby on the way, she wanted to become responsible. Sure, she had a great job that

required her to be on top of her shit, but that was work; her personal shit was a mess. She

thought about what her mother—the most responsible person she knew—would do, but

she came up with nothing. Her friends were as unadjusted as she was, they couldn’t give

her any real advice about what to do. That’s when she started seeing a therapist, who

picked up on her buried need for parental influence in her life and got Amanda seriously

thinking about home for the first time in years. Now, here she was, daughter in her lap

and Titusville home bought, with her parents none the wiser. She hadn’t had a drink

since her pregnancy, but figured tonight she would probably need one.



                                            ***



       Marissa was in the living room doing a crossword when Ronald came home. It

looked like he was trying to suppress a yawn when he walked in the door.

       “Honey, is everything alright? Was work okay?”

       “Marissa, work was fantastic.”

       Ronald sat down on the couch next to Marissa, looking her square in the eyes.

Marissa was confused. Obviously something had happened at work, but she hated

getting big news like this—it made her nervous.
                                                                                             33


          “I know you don’t take big news very well,” Ronald started, “but I got some

today—it’s life-changing.” He took her hand, squeezed it, and began to laugh under his

breath.

          “Life-changing, Ronald?”

          He seemed happy, but maybe he was so infuriated that he was laughing as a

defense mechanism. He laughed sometimes when he was upset. Marissa closed her

eyes, told herself that everything would be fine, and looked back into her husband’s eyes.

          “What is it?”

          “Your husband…”

          “Just say it! You’ve got my blood pressure going!”

          “You’re the one who cut me off!”

          “I’m sorry, but just tell me, please!”

          “I’m going to space.”

          Her jaw dropped open. Embarrassed, she quickly shut it and swallowed, as if

somehow physically swallowing would help her mentally do the same. Ronald looked at

her eagerly.

          “Well? What do you think?”

          He was smiling almost literally ear to ear and seemed to have puffed himself up

like some sort of proud bird.

          “That’s great, sweetie, very exciting,” she started, trying to convince herself of the

words she was speaking. “But, you’re just, so much older than the people they usually

send up. Aren’t you? Sending a seventy-year-old into space? That can’t be safe. Is it

safe?”
                                                                                        34


       “That’s the thing about it, Marissa! NASA is implementing a new program for us

older employees, with the right credentials of course. Herman said they only chose those

of us in excellent physical shape with our PhDs. We go through a series of strenuous

physical tests to make sure that we’re up to snuff.”

       “You are in great physical shape, honey, but you’re also seventy. Doesn’t that

make a difference? Don’t people our age respond differently?”

       Ronald put his hand on her leg.

       “I know you’re worried, but you don’t have to be. I’m asking all the right

questions and making sure it’s safe. Just be happy for me!”

       Marissa smiled at her husband.

       “I am happy for you, I just have questions. I have questions because I love you.”

She looked down, hoping to avoid his reaction.

       Ronald sighed.

       “Okay. If it would make you feel better, let’s get some of these questions out of

the way.”

       Marissa looked back up at him, her eyes shining. He looked sincere.

       “Really, you don’t mind?”

       “If it will help you realize how amazing this is for me, then yes. Ask away.”

       “Did you apply for this? How did they know you’d be interested?”

       “No, I didn’t apply—nobody did. This program is new and I believe the higher

management is recruiting. And, come on, Marissa. Somebody working at NASA who’s

not interested in becoming a goddamn astronaut would be out of their goddamn mind!”

Ronald laughed, the excitement returning to his face.
                                                                                            35


       Marissa smiled politely and willed herself to ignore the bothered feeling brought

about by Ronald’s cursing. She wanted to be happy for him, but couldn’t stop thinking

about all the ways Ronald could get hurt, or even die in space: his bones would

disintegrate, he wouldn’t be able to breathe, his spacesuit could break, his joints would

swell until he couldn’t move anymore. And how long would he be there? How long

would she be stuck on Earth alone? Who would she talk to? What would she do by

herself? There was a reason they didn’t send elderly people up to space. Why were they

starting now?

       “So, why have they chosen to send people of your age up to space? Why not

younger employees?”

       “Well, Herman told me that part of this mission is to see how older people

respond to space conditions. He says they’ve discovered this protein that only exists in

very active people over fifty that helps us prevent deterioration of the body for longer.

We’ll probably be safer than the younger astronauts are. And I think there aren’t enough

younger people who want to go into space anymore anyway. Space hasn’t really been a

priority since the crisis, you know.”

       “Oh, okay. That makes sense.” She paused for a moment. “But who discovered

this protein? What does it do, exactly? Are they sure it exists in everyone who is active

and over…what did you say, fifty? Can they test for it?”

       Ronald looked puzzled.

       “Uh, well, I don’t know. But I’m sure I can find out if that would make you feel

better.” He smiled.
                                                                                           36


       Marissa placed her hands in her lap and began to nod at nobody in particular.

Then she looked back at her husband.

       “But how do you know your bones won’t disintegrate up there or something?”

       Ronald opened his mouth to protest.

       “I know you’re healthy, but you don’t know what it’s like in space. What if your

body can’t handle it?” What if he lost control of his bowels and had to float in his own

waste or his skin got too dry and it all flaked off? What if he was fine but another person

on the mission was hurt and caused them to get off course and they were stuck in space

forever? Or they crashed into a meteor and died? Marissa did everything she could to

keep herself from pouting. Ronald put his arm around her.

       “Sweetie, it’s not your job to worry about that. There are a series of preliminary

tests that they’re going to run to make sure that we’ll be safe up there. This is NASA,

they cover all the bases. If there’s even a slight possibility that somebody would be

unsafe, they won’t send them up in the first place.” He took Marissa’s hand and put it up

to his pursed lips. “Everything will be great.”

       “How long will you be up there? Not too long?” she asked shakily.

       “Three months.”

       Marissa couldn’t hold her tears back any longer and began to cry silently. That

was much longer than she wanted to hear.

       “Oh, sweetie,” Ronald said, bringing Marissa close to his chest. “I know it

sounds like a long time, but we’ll be getting a lot of money in at the end of the year.

They’re willing to pay 120 thousand.”

       Marissa sniffled.
                                                                                           37


       “I don’t want money, I just am going to miss you so much. What am I going to

do by myself?”

       “I don’t know. Maybe hang out with the girls from the bakery? And we don’t

even know if I’m going yet. So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’m safe and sound and

here with you now. Don’t worry, Marissa. Don’t worry.”

       Marissa tried to think about the bright side of the mission. At least there were

going to be tests. NASA wouldn’t send people up into space without making sure it was

safe first. He was right, she shouldn’t worry. And this was his dream. Still, she wished

she had brought home a green tea cupcake to soothe her.



       They decided to go out to dinner at Bapa’s to celebrate. Marissa had the crab

cakes—her favorite in Titusville—and Ronald had the steak. Ronald always had a motto

that Marissa loved: a rich meal for a rich occasion. As they ate their food, Marissa

realized she hadn’t yet told Ronald about calling Amanda.

       “So, Ronald. I spoke to Amanda today during my lunch break.”

       Ronald looked up from his plate.

       “Oh, really? You mean you called her after I told you that we should let her be?”

He smiled.

       “Sweetie, it’s so hard to be this far away from our only child. I miss her.”

       “I do, too. Of course I do.”

       “Well I called her and she had to go, just like she always does, but we agreed to

talk tonight after dinner. She said she could make some time.”

       “Hey, that’s great! We can tell her the news!”
                                                                                              38


          “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Oh, it will be so nice to finally hear about her

life! Maybe we can go out and visit her some time? If you have time in between

training? Or maybe she can visit us—you can give her a tour of the Space Center.

Doesn’t that sound nice?”

          “Sure, honey. It does. God, I can’t wait to start training. I feel like this is a new

chapter of my life. A new chapter, at age seventy! And to think I thought I was going to

get fired. I almost shit my pants when Herman told us.”

          Marissa’s face soured.

          “Sorry sweetie. I can’t explain it any other way! I just felt so stupid. Me and

Nevin just sat there afterwards thinking about what idiots we were.”

          “I’m so happy things are working out for you. And gosh, I’m happy you’re not

fired!”

          Marissa was happy about that, at least. She disapproved because she didn’t want

Ronald to get hurt, but she had only just found out. It would take more time to adjust to

the idea. If the tests went well she would feel more at ease about it. But was it only

about Ronald’s safety? How long would she be able to keep herself happy while he was

gone? How many days could she chat with the bakery girls and pretend like part of her

wasn’t missing? Would she be able to wake up to an empty house every morning?

Would Ronald’s absence feel like his death? Marissa scolded herself for thinking such an

awful thought. She took a bite of her crab cake and savored its taste. Anything that

allowed her these crab cakes was a good thing, she reminded herself. This was Ronald’s

dream.
                                                                                          39


       Marissa and Ronald got home at seven thirty, excited to speak to their daughter.

       “Give me a minute, honey,” Marissa called to her husband. “I just wanna freshen

up for a second before we talk to her.”

       “Marissa, she won’t be able to see you—what’s the point?”

       “Well, I don’t know. I just want to feel fresh and ready. It’ll only take a minute.”

       Marissa went into the bathroom and washed her face, then put on a new coat of

lipstick and smoothed down her hair. She looked into the mirror and smiled. Maybe if

the conversation went well tonight, she and Amanda would talk more often. Then when

Ronald was in space, she’d have somebody to talk to. Not that she didn’t like her friends

in Titusville, but they all seemed so old to her. Amanda was always fun. She walked

back into the living room and sat down on the couch next to Ronald.

       “You dial,” she instructed him. She felt giddy.

       “Okay, here we go.”

       Ronald dialed Amanda’s number and the phone rang as Marissa kept reminding

herself to breathe. She would have to try not to blurt out Ronald’s news before he did.

She wondered if Amanda would be excited or worried. Probably excited. The phone

kept ringing.

       “She said she wouldn’t be busy, right?” Ronald looked at Marissa.

       “Yeah, I said I’d call after dinner. We specifically organized it this way.”

       More ringing with no answer. Marissa began to panic before she reminded

herself that it had only been twenty seconds. She could be in the bathroom. Maybe her

phone was on silent. Suddenly she heard Amanda’s voice.

       “Hi,” she said.
                                                                                       40


       “Honey! It’s so great—”

       “You’ve reached Amanda Schuman’s phone. I’m not available right now, but…”

       Marissa pressed the end button on the phone. She glanced over at her husband.

       “Let’s try again, she’s probably in the bathroom.”

       They unsuccessfully tried two more times. Amanda didn’t answer.



                                           ***



       After Amanda didn’t answer her phone, an uneasiness settled in Ronald as

Marissa started to work herself up.

       “What if she was robbed and her phone was stolen? What if she’s hurt

somewhere and can’t reach her phone? What if she was kidnapped? She could be in

serious danger, Ronald!”

       Ronald shook his head and sighed.

       “Marissa, I’m sure she’s fine. Can’t you think of any mundane reasons why she

might not answer the phone? Like, her phone is out of battery or she doesn’t have

service?”

       “You’re right. Maybe she’s in the shower. Maybe she’ll call us in a few

minutes.”

       “I’m sure she’s fine, Marissa.”

       “Still, let’s just call one more time? Just once more.”

       “Okay, Marissa. Once more.”
                                                                                         41


       After calling three more times despite Ronald’s protest and getting no answer,

Marissa had tears in her eyes. She finally decided to leave a message for Amanda.

       “Hi, Sweetie. It’s your mother. We’re getting pretty worried over here because

we haven’t heard from you. Please call me so I know that you’re not lying in a ditch,

dead somewhere. I just want to know that you’re alright—we don’t have to talk for too

long if you’re busy. Just call, please.”

       Marissa’s extreme reaction irked Ronald. Maybe it was the fact that she was so

immersed in her own feelings that she didn’t think about how she might be making her

own daughter feel. Or how she might be making him feel. He didn’t want to upset her

more, so he tried to help her calm down instead of expressing the annoyance that he felt

with her. He, too, wondered what had happened to Amanda, but didn’t work himself up

to imagine some disaster. He’d come to accept Amanda’s flakiness and knew it wouldn’t

help him to think about every bad thing that may have happened to her. He was

concerned about her, just as any parent is concerned about a daughter who has always

been a little unpredictable, maybe more, but he needed to be the rational one. He needed

to be the one to support his daughter when his wife was too much for her. Sometimes it

felt like Marissa was so desperate for a close relationship with their daughter that she was

pushing Amanda away. Ronald had always tried to let Amanda have her space but would

also let her know that he was there if she needed anything; he understood that kids don’t

always want to be best friends with their parents. He knew Marissa understood that too,

on some level, but she just couldn’t accept it. She took it all very personally.

       Ronald suggested that they go out for a walk or maybe even to a movie, in hopes

of taking Marissa’s mind off of things.
                                                                                         42


        “I can’t go to a movie now, Ronald. What if she calls in the middle of it? We’d

have to rush out and waste all that money.” She crossed her arms and frowned.

        “What about the walk, then? We can forward any calls from the home phone to

our cells so we don’t miss any calls while we’re gone.”

        “Maybe…”

        Marissa looked at Ronald, and he could see her mind churning for a second before

she perked up.

        “Ron, can we get ice cream?”

        Ronald didn’t want any—ice cream was sugary and fatty and he only ate frozen

yogurt. Especially now that he was going into space he needed to be as healthy as

possible and stay away from that crap, but he couldn’t say no to her. She reminded him

of a puppy playing at his knee, asking him to pick her up onto his lap. He didn’t know

how she could go from being slightly irritating to so goddamn cute. He looked at her

tenderly.

        “Sure, honey. You go check how charged the car is while I set up the call

forwarding.”

        Marissa agreed and went to go check the car. Ronald programmed the home

phone and grabbed both his and his wife’s cells from the charging tray by their bed, then

walked into the garage. Marissa was waiting for him in the passenger seat. He got into

the driver’s seat and pushed the ignition button. Marissa smiled at him as they pulled

onto the street.

        “I don’t know why, but ice cream always makes me feel better,” she said.
                                                                                           43


       “Didn’t your mom used to get you ice cream when you were upset as a kid? I

think you’ve said that before.”

       “Yeah, she did. Hmm, maybe that’s why.”

       “Probably. I’ve read studies that say these traditions you have as a kid stick with

you for the rest of your life… You know, you remind me of your mother sometimes.”

       “Really? I think that’s nice. I miss my mother… Too bad Amanda and I are

nothing alike.”

       Ronald glanced over at her.

       “Marissa, that’s not fair.”

       She shrugged.

       “That’s what it feels like, anyway. What do you think happened to her?”

       “I don’t know, but I’m sure she’s fine. Something probably came up. Or, like

you said, maybe she was in the bathroom or something taking a shower and will call us

when she gets out. Don’t jump to conclusions yet.”

       “You’re right, you’re right,” Marissa said, waving her hand dismissively.

       They drove in silence the rest of the three or four minutes it took to get to the ice

cream shop. Ronald turned on the radio so he could think to himself—he needed a break

from his wife. Earlier, Ronald had wanted to talk more with Marissa about his day and

focus on his life and his dream and not have to worry about her absurd propensity to blow

tiny situations out of proportion. He thought about when he’d told Marissa the news. He

wasn’t expecting her to react the way she did. He’d thought that she might have been

able to see how happy he was and in return she would ignore whatever doubts she had

about it, at least for a while, and be happy for him, maybe even congratulate him.
                                                                                            44


Normally he didn’t mind her neuroses—after all these years he’d come to accept it,

sometimes even think it was cute. This time it had made him angry. All she could focus

on was his age. She of course had a point about the age issue, but she was so intense

about it. When she asked if his bones would disintegrate in space she made him feel like

a dinosaur, some kind of ancient relic. Then she had started to cry, deeming that

conversation immediately over. Ronald tried again to talk about all the positives of the

mission at dinner, but she kept giving him polite answers and he could tell she was still

unhappy about it. That was why until this moment in the car, he hadn’t thought much

more about it.

       When Ronald and Marissa got to the ice cream shop, Ronald told himself that he

could just called Nevin later and talk about it with someone who would actually share his

enthusiasm. He was sure that Herman answered Nevin’s questions and assured Nevin

just as he had for him earlier that day. Now, he had to focus on making Marissa feel

better so the rest of the evening would be pleasant. Ronald hoped Amanda would call—

not only because he was looking forward to talking with her, but so it would ease

Marissa’s mind.

       After Marissa ate her ice cream and they chatted about her day at the bakery,

Ronald and Marissa left the parlor. Amanda still hadn’t called, and Marissa’s worries

began to rub off on Ronald. What in the hell was she doing? Had she forgotten? She

must know how much her mother would be worrying by now. But the ice cream had

seemed to relax Marissa, which Ronald was grateful for. By the time they got back to the

house, she was in higher spirits. She was even asking more about the mission. Then they
                                                                                            45


got Amanda’s text. Ronald was nervous that it would upset his fragile wife again, so he

read it and relayed its message back to her.

         “Honey, she’s fine. She says she got pulled into a meeting at the last minute.

Look, she signed it ‘xo.’ That’s sweet.”

         Marissa clasped her hands together in delight.

         “Ronald, that is sweet! Should we text her back and ask her to call us when she’s

free? Or…”

         She stopped talking when she saw the look Ronald was giving her.

         “I’m sorry. What do you think we should do? Just wait for her to call back?”

         “Yes. That’s what I always think we should do. We don’t want to scare her

away. But I’m glad she’s fine.”

         Marissa came up to him and gave him a hug.

         “I just get lonely sometimes, Ron. I want to be friends with my daughter.”

         “I know, sweetie,” Ronald said as a stroked her hair. “We’ll talk to her soon,

okay?”

         He had intended to call Nevin that night, but he felt so bad for Marissa that he

decided not to. He thought about how hard it must be for her to have these nightmarish

thoughts all the time, how she didn’t have many close friends in the neighborhood, and

how their own daughter barely gave her the time of day. He thought about how she had

cried when he said he would be away for three months. He wondered what had been

running through her mind when he told her. He knew she was worried about his health

and that there was still a little part of him that was worried too. That same part of him

couldn’t imagine being apart from Marissa for so long and felt guilty about the possibility
                                                                                             46


of leaving her. But he had to at least go through the preliminary steps. He couldn’t give

up that easily. She would understand, even if she was uneasy about it.

        When Ronald and Marissa first got married, she wasn’t as much of an extreme

person. She was bright, and fun, and energetic, and passionate. She worried a lot, but

her worries were much less…violent than they were now. Ronald hated to see her so

distraught. So instead of calling Nevin, he sat on the couch with Marissa and they

watched a movie, just like they used to do when Amanda was a kid—they’d have movie

night. A parent learned to get used to his empty nest, so to speak, but it was moments

like these that Ronald really missed the family he once had. After that night Ronald

thought about calling Amanda himself. A week passed, then two, but he never got

around to it.



                                       PART TWO

        The house looked the same as it had eight years ago when Amanda had last been

in Titusville. She pulled up to the driveway in a tan sedan she had rented at the airport,

and took a deep breath. She opened the back door and retrieved Mari from her car seat,

holding her in her arms. Amanda stood behind the car, staring at the house she’d grown

up in. She’d thought about this moment almost constantly for the past three weeks it had

taken her to move. She hadn’t planned an initial “hello”—every time she tried, she got

stressed and thought about something else. What would she say? Surprise! It’s me and

my baby, come to live next door! She bounced Mari in her arms and gave her a hug.

        “This is it, Mari,” she said as she began to approach the house.
                                              ***
                                                                                        47


       Marissa was sitting on the bench in the back yard reading a book when she heard

the doorbell.

       “Who could that be?” she thought to herself. Was it the postman with a package?

Nobody else usually came around this time of day. Unless it was Ronald and he’d

forgotten his key—he was due back home soon.

       She closed the book and laid it on the bench as she got up to answer the door.

When she was standing, she smoothed her pants and adjusted her hair. She liked to look

presentable to the outside world, even if it was just the mailman.

       It was a habit of Marissa’s to peek through the window before answering the

door, just to make sure it wasn’t a man with a gun waiting to kidnap her, or at least

anyone dangerous looking. When she saw Amanda with a baby in her arms, she thought

she might be hallucinating. Had she accidentally taken too many vitamins? Does that

make a person hallucinate? She realized she was out of breath and sucked in as much air

as she could through her nostrils. What in God’s name was Amanda doing here with a

baby? The baby made her even more anxious about opening the door. The doorbell rang

again and she worked up the nerve to open the door.

                                            ***

       Amanda saw her mother’s face peek out from the door before she opened it and

immediately had the strong desire to turn around and run as fast as she could. Her mother

stood in the doorway for a few seconds before she spoke.

       “Sweetie! What a pleasant surprise! Who’s this cute thing?”

       Amanda could see the worry dripping from her mother’s forced smile and from

the masked confusion in her eyes.
                                                                                         48


         “Mom, I want you to meet somebody” were the first words that escaped

Amanda’s lips. She saw Marissa’s eyes wander down to look at Mari, then self-

consciously meet her own again.

         “Um, of course! Come in! Have a seat!”

         “Thanks, Mom.”

         Amanda followed her mother into the house. It had barely changed since her last

visit.

         “As you can see, not much has changed around here. The upholstery on the

armchair ripped so we decided to go for a new color. I think the burgundy fits nicely

with the rest of the house. What do you think?”

         “Sure, it’s nice. Mom, do you think you could get me something to drink?”

         “Oh! I’m so rude! I’m sorry, what do you want? We have water, OJ, seltzer, diet

coke, coffee, tea—herbal, black, green…”

         “Um, I think water will be good.”

         “With two ice cubes?”

         “Sure, Mom. Thanks.”

         “I’ll be back in a minute. Have a seat, sweetie.”

         Amanda sat down on the couch and tried to collect her thoughts. I want you to

meet somebody? How cheesy could she get? When her mother got back, she wouldn’t try

to explain Mari. She would just tell her mother that this was her child and answer the

questions she felt comfortable answering. She wouldn’t talk about Phoenix.

                                             ***
                                                                                            49


       When Marissa was safely behind the kitchen door, she tried to express some of

the energy growing within her. She looked around for something she could squeeze or

something soft she could throw, but all she saw was breakables. If she threw a plate, it

would shatter and she would have to clean it up and Amanda would probably come

rushing in and she would have to make up some lie about why she was holding a plate in

the first place. A sense of helplessness snuck into her body. She wanted to curl up in bed

and pull the covers over her head; this was too much for her to deal with. Ronald was

going to be home any minute from his physical qualification test and now Amanda shows

up unannounced with a baby? She didn’t know why the baby upset her so much. Maybe

it was because this was a new life that was important to her daughter, that her daughter

had created—there was no way this wasn’t her baby—and she’d had no idea. Did

Amanda think she wouldn’t have supported her? She would have been thrilled to know

that her daughter was pregnant, no matter the circumstance. Was the father in the

picture? She opened the refrigerator and retrieved the water pitcher. She placed it on the

counter as she reached for a glass in the cupboard and then poured the water for her

daughter. Marissa had always thought that when Amanda got serious with someone,

when something important happened in her life, she would reach out to her mother and

invite her back into her life. She supposed this was her way of doing it, but there was a

creeping feeling inside her that Amanda was only here because she needed something

from her. But she was her mother—she was supposed to give her child everything. She

realized she should be happy that Amanda was coming to her at all. Her daughter wanted

her help and she was going to give it to her. And this is what she wanted in the first
                                                                                             50


place, wasn’t it? Her daughter to wanted to be with her, to let her into her life. She

walked back into the living room.

                                            ***

       Amanda smiled as her mother returned with the water.

       “No ice cubes?” she asked, even though she didn’t really care.

       “Oh, shoot!” Marissa winced. “I’ll go get them for you, just give me…”

       “No, Mom. It’s fine. Really. Sit down, Mari really wants to meet you.” She

tried to look at her mother with as much warmth as she could manage, ignoring the sense

of panic she felt closing in on her.

       Marissa’s face seemed to light up as she sat down next to Amanda and Mari.

       “Hi, Mari! Wow, you’re cute, aren’t you?” she said in a baby voice.

       “Mari, this is your grandmother.” She looked up at her mother to see her reaction

to the word “grandmother.”

       Marissa visibly swallowed and her eyes widened.

       “What a surreal feeling,” she said, not looking at Amanda. She seemed to snap

out of her momentary internal reflection and smiled at Mari a little too enthusiastically.

       “I’m your grandmother, Mari. Grandma Marissa. I don’t know what you’ll call

your other grandmother…” She looked at Amanda, who realized this was her way of

asking about the father.

       “She doesn’t have a relationship with her other grandmother, Mom. It’s just you,

and Dad is the only grandfather. Mari and I are on our own and we love it.”

       “So…do you know who the father is?” Marissa asked with what Amanda knew

she thought was a sensitive tone. Amanda controlled the scowl about to possess her face.
                                                                                         51


       “Yes, Mother, I know who he is. It didn’t work out. I don’t really want to talk

about it right now.”

       “So you’ll talk about it later?”

       Amanda’s face gave way to the scowl.

       “I’m sorry. We don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to.”

       Amanda took a sip of her water.

       “How’s your job going, sweetie?”

       Amanda realized she hadn’t yet told her mother that she was now a resident of

Titusville again.

       “It’s been great. But I’m taking a break from working for a while.”

       “Oh?”

       Amanda could feel the judgment escaping in her mother’s voice.

       “Yes. I can’t continue my work in LA while I’m in Titusville.”

       “And how long are you staying, dear?”

       “I bought a house. On Forrell Avenue. I’m moving in today. I wanted to tell you

in person.”

       “Oh my God,” said Marissa.
                                          ***
       Marissa could hardly believe it. Amanda was moving back to Titusville? The

news was almost too much to take. At least when Ronald had told her about the space

program, he had prepared her first. Amanda just had out with it, no segue, no nothing.

All Marissa could do was stare out the window and think. She was aware of Amanda and

her baby, her granddaughter, Mari, through her peripheral vision, but couldn’t bear to

look at Amanda while feeling so off guard and in this state of alarm. She wished Ronald
                                                                                         52


were here to at least continue some semblance of conversation with their daughter. He

would be able to handle the situation way better than she could now.

        “Mom, are you okay?”

        Marissa had to be alone for a minute—she had to pull herself together. Without

looking over at Amanda she replied, “I’m just gonna get myself some water, I’m fine.

You know I don’t take big news very well. I’ll be back in a minute.”

        She rose quickly and rushed into the kitchen. Only minutes before she had been

in the exact same place, contemplating what it meant to be a grandmother. Now all of a

sudden, her life was changing in a bigger way than she could have ever guessed. She left

the kitchen through the back door and went out to the back yard. She was happy to

finally meet her granddaughter. Mari was almost as beautiful as Amanda was when she

was born. But somehow this felt almost deceitful. How couldn’t she have told her about

Mari?

        Marissa remembered when she found out that she was pregnant with Amanda; it

was one of the happiest days of her life. She and Ronald had been trying for around a

year when she began to experience all the signs of pregnancy: her breasts were sore—she

remembered that was the sign she noticed first—and after a couple of weeks she began to

feel nauseous and finally she missed her period. She went to the doctor on her thirty-

fourth birthday and received the best birthday gift she’d ever gotten: the gift of a

daughter. Marissa supposed that subconsciously she’d always thought of her daughter as

a gift to her—someone with whom she would share a bond so strong that it could never

be broken. Mothers, she had thought, have the most powerful relationship anyone can

have. After she got home from the doctor, she got out her craft supplies and spent the
                                                                                          53


rest of the day creating pregnancy announcement cards for her closest friends and family.

She had called each one of them as well, warning them of a piece of mail that would be

arriving soon, and was so excited that when they each had asked about the nature of the

mail, she blurted out the news. Marissa couldn’t understand how Amanda could keep

something this important from her. No, not only from her, but to herself. She imagined

that the people Amanda saw regularly would know by now, that they had most likely

seen her when she was pregnant and there was no hiding that, but what about everyone

else? A child was something to be celebrated, not hidden. And Marissa was determined

to celebrate the child, now that she had met her.

       Marissa sat back down on the bench where her book still lay. She knew she’d

been gone for longer than it took to get a glass of water, but some part of her needed this

time to be alone and mentally organize the chaos that had just been unleashed. She

decided she’d go back when she was ready and give some kind of excuse. She thought

her life couldn’t have gotten any crazier after Ronald’s announcement, but the new

addition to the family was just as shocking. She wondered how she was going to be able

to handle all of these added pressures in her life. She reminded herself to think

positively. They were both miracles, really… but at what expense?

                                            ***

       As Ronald pulled into his driveway, he saw a tan sedan parked outside their

house. None of their friends had a tan sedan, and he was puzzled as to who might be at

the house. He was exhausted from his physical qualification test, although he thought it

had gone quite well. He had swum three lengths of the pool twice: once in his bathing

suit without stopping, and once while wearing a flight suit and shoes. Ronald knew he
                                                                                             54


was in shape compared to the average person thirty years younger than he was, but this

was a different level of fitness. He had been lifting weights to prepare in the past three

weeks, and was running instead of jogging. Still, swimming three lengths of a twenty-

five-meter pool wearing a flight suit was the most tiring experience he’d ever had. It had

taken him six minutes, a time that Ronald wasn’t proud of. He should have been able to

do it in four, at most. He wondered how fast the other guys had been able to do it.

Maybe because they were older they were given more lenient cut-off times. But they

were supposed to be just as fit as the younger astronauts. Didn’t Herman say they would

fare better than them, even? Did he just make that up himself? The day after the

announcement, Nevin told him that he was going to pass up the opportunity. It confused

the hell out of Ronald. Nevin said he felt uncomfortable about it and wished Ronald

wouldn’t do it either—he said there was something strange about it. But he said he

understood Ronald’s dream, and wasn’t going to stop him from going. That he could tell

him all about it when he got back. Ronald had been disappointed, but couldn’t let any

doubts overtake his dream, so he’d found himself in the pool this morning wearing a

spacesuit.

       On top of the swimming, he’d had to tread water in the suit for ten minutes. He

thought he might not make it after the seven-minute mark was called, but he willed

himself to think about the opportunity he would be giving up if he stopped treading. He

began to hum to himself to distract himself and finally he heard the facilitator of the test,

Grolsh—he didn’t know his first name—talking to him, telling him he could stop. It took

the last of his energy to actually pull himself out of the pool. All he wanted was to keel

over and pass out, but he didn’t want to let Grolsh see his fatigue. He feigned energy
                                                                                              55


until he was back in his car on his way home, ready for a nap. He hoped nobody had

noticed. He hoped actual space wouldn’t be this tiring. Ronald brushed away a thought

that had he been younger he wouldn’t have been as weary.

          As he parked, Ronald thought he might not even make it to his bedroom and

would have to collapse on the couch. But we have a guest, he reminded himself. He

would have to find another couple minutes of artificial energy within him, and then he

would be able to rest. When he opened the door, he saw a young woman bending over a

baby backpack, setting a child inside.

          “Hi,” he began, as the woman turned around.

          “Dad!”
          The combination of Ronald’s shock and weakness knocked him to the floor as he

fainted.

                                              ***

          Amanda watched as her seventy-year-old father fell to the floor. She rushed to

his side. Was he having a heart attack? Were people conscious when that happened?

She screamed for her mother. The loud noise made Mari start to cry. Amanda didn’t

know what to do. Should she run and get her mother? Where was she? Should she call

911 first? That seemed like the sensible thing to do. She took out her cell phone and

dialed.

          “Hello, 911 Operator. Is this the Schuman residence? What is your emergency?”

          “Hi, yes, this is. I think my father may have just had a heart attack. He came in

the door and just passed out. I don’t know what to do.” Amanda pushed back the tears

about to flow from her eyes.

          “Okay, don’t worry. Can you check if he has a pulse? Is he still breathing?”
                                                                                         56


       “I don’t know, let me check.”

       Amanda put her head to her father’s chest. It was moving up and down. That

was a good sign.

       “He’s breathing, he has a pulse.”

       “Ma’am, I’m send over an ambulance to make sure he’s alright. He’s probably

just fainted. If you can, get him to a bed or somewhere he can lay comfortably.”

       “Thank you so much!” Amanda exclaimed as she let the tears fall.

       “My pleasure, Ma’am.”

       Amanda hung up, relieved. She knew she wouldn’t be able to lift her father to the

couch, so she got a throw pillow and placed it under his head. He’d been out for about a

minute. Instead of trying to find her mother, she decided to wait with her father until he

woke up.

       “It’s okay, Mari.” Amanda looked over to her child, who had stopped crying.

Grandpa is alright.”

       When they’d talked a few weeks ago, her mother had told her that everything was

fine with her father—that he was healthy. Healthy men don’t just keel over like that.

Was she hiding something from me? Amanda had a thought of resentment toward her

mother, but realized she, too, had been hiding something—someone. That was worse.

                                            ***

       Ronald woke up on the floor, Amanda by his side. What the hell had just

happened? He felt dizzy and dehydrated.

       “Sweetie, what…”
                                                                                         57


       “Dad, don’t talk yet. You just passed out. You scared the shit out of me, I

thought you were dying!”

       “But, how did you… who is… this is all very bewildering.”

       “Dad, shh. I’m gonna get you some water and try to find Mom. You rest here for

a minute until I come back. Don’t move.”

       She got up and disappeared into the kitchen. Ronald tried to sit up, but the

dizziness got the better of him and he laid his head back down on the pillow. What had

happened? He’d never fainted before. He skipped a breath and thought about the

mission. Maybe he wasn’t as physically fit as he thought. But he had to be. He had to

pull through and be the strongest he’d ever been. He wouldn’t let his body fail him like

this. He hoped Marissa wouldn’t tell anyone about it—this would definitely hurt his

chances of acceptance into the program. Where was she?

       He could hear the baby in the room—he or she was gurgling. What in the name

was Amanda doing with a baby? Was it a friend’s? It couldn’t be—it had to be her own.

It was his grandchild. He felt a wave of anger wash over him. Why hadn’t she told him

about it? He had a right to know that he was a grandfather. Ronald’s mind lingered on

the word “grandfather.” There was something almost mystical to it, something dreamlike

about it. He hadn’t thought he would ever have a grandchild, since Amanda didn’t seem

like she was going to settle down any time soon and he wasn’t the type to even consider

having a child out of wedlock. Was Amanda married? His anger began to dissipate as it

turned to wonder. What was she doing in Titusville in the first place? As he began to

think more intensely, a headache started to form in Ronald’s temples. He stopped asking

himself questions and just stared at the ceiling. He heard birds chirping and cars driving
                                                                                         58


by the house. The ceiling was cracked in a spot in the middle—he’d have to fix that

soon. It was pretty ugly. He wondered how long it had been there. Finally, he heard the

kitchen door swing open, followed by heavy footsteps until Marissa was standing over

him.

       “Sweetie! Are you okay?”

       She dropped down to her knees and hugged him.

       “Amanda told me you passed out! What happened? Come on to the couch, you

must be so uncomfortable down there!”

       “I gave him a pillow, Mom. He shouldn’t get up yet,” said Amanda from

somewhere across the room.

       “He’ll be better on the couch. Help me move him.”

       “I can do it myself, Marissa. Just give me some space.”

       “Dad, the 911 lady said…”

       “Is she a doctor?”

       “No,” Amanda started.

       “Then it doesn’t matter. I’m fine.”

       “Okay, then,” his daughter mumbled.

       He sat up slowly, so the dizziness wouldn’t hit him as fast, and gradually got back

onto his feet. He walked slowly to the couch and sat down. His head hurt, but his pace

had helped him with the lightheadedness.

       “Amanda has brought you a glass of ice water. Please drink some and then lie

back down.”

       Amanda walked over to him with the water. She had the baby in her arms.
                                                                                            59


       “Here,” she said as she gave the glass to him. “You should probably drink it all.

The ambulance is on the way and they can check you out and make sure you’re all right.”

       “Amanda scared the daylights out of me when she told me you were passed out,

Ron. What happened? You should go to the hospital, Ron, when the ambulance gets

here.” Marissa sat down next to Ronald and took his hand, her face twisted with worry.

       “Oh god, you can’t go, you can’t go! You’re not well! Healthy men don’t faint,

Ron. I would feel better if you get checked out.”

       Ronald didn’t know how to answer. She was right—perfectly healthy men

usually didn’t faint. Could he say that the shock of seeing his daughter caused him to

faint? It was that, mixed with his exhaustion. It wasn’t a normal situation. He didn’t

want to go to the hospital, then there would be a record of his body’s failure. Plus, he felt

fine now.

       “I feel fine, Marissa. I’m fine. It’s just the test was hard. I’m exhausted. I had to

swim around in a goddamn space suit. Do you know how ridiculous that is? It was a

scene right out of some sci-fi movie. But if you’re really worried, I’ll let the EMT check

me out.” He put his arm around his wife, whose wrinkled face smoothed out. Ronald

supposed she figured that was as much as she was going to get.

       Amanda sat down on the armchair next to the couch.

       “Where are you going, Dad?”

       Ronald realized that she didn’t know yet. He remembered he was going to call

her after that night they’d all agreed to talk, but had gotten so caught up in training for the

physical qualification that he’d completely forgotten. Marissa had come around since
                                                                                         60


then, but maybe he’d get the initial reaction he’d hoped for in Amanda. He held Marissa

tighter and smiled.

       “Your old dad’s goin’ into space!”

                                        ***
       Amanda couldn’t help but laugh. Her dad? Her seventy-year-old dad in space?

He had gotten funnier over the years.

       “What’s so funny, kiddo? Don’t think I’m the astronaut type?”

       “Wait, Dad. Are you serious? They’re sending you into space?”

       “That’s what I said, dear,” Marissa cut in.

       Her father smiled a confirmation.

       “Wow, that’s great then! It’s just, unexpected. I could never imagine you

floating around in outer space. It’s just kind of weird.”

       “Weird? I know I’m old, but It’s not really that weird.”

       “Why you? Were you the best they have?” She’d meant to have a playful tone,

but some kind of disbelief came through as well.

       “It’s part of a program, sweetie,” her mother said. “NASA has chosen its best

senior employees and is sending them on an exploratory mission to… which one is it

again, Ron? It scares the life out of me, but you know, sometimes there’s no convincing

your father…. And today’s episode doesn’t help…” She pouted.

       “Oh, Marissa. I’m fine. I’m going to Venus. It has a very similar environment to

Earth. They want us to check it out.”

       “Wow! Is it safe?”

       “Well, I just got back from a preliminary physical test, to make sure that your

dad’s in tip-top shape.”
                                                                                           61


        “And they made you swim around in an astronaut suit? That’s weird.”

        “How did you do, honey? You didn’t pass out there too, did you?” asked

Marissa.

        “No, Marissa. I did okay. I didn’t swim in the suit as fast as I would have liked

to, but I’ll have to talk to the other guys later. I bet I swam faster than they did. And I’m

sure Nevin will get a kick out of the idea of all of us swimming around in a spacesuit.”

Ronald laughed.

        Amanda laughed too. It was nice to see that her dad still had his weird friends

and his nerdy NASA life. She didn’t really like the whole space thing, but she didn’t

want to guilt her father into staying for her. She saw how much her mother worried about

him, even in the few minutes she had been with them. She realized she agreed more with

her mother than she did with her father—a first for her. She didn’t know much about

space, but was pretty sure that old people were not the ideal candidates for astronauts.

And she’d been looking forward to getting to hang out with her dad again. How long

would he be gone? It seemed to her the longer he was out there, the more dangerous it

would be for him. Old people in space. It was ridiculous. She had come here to have a

family again, to embrace stability. Her father on Venus wasn’t exactly what she’d had in

mind.

        Amanda thought about how much her mother loved her dad, how she’d rushed to

his side like her own life was on the line. What would she do without him if something

went wrong? She couldn’t live without him. She wished she would someday love

somebody that much. She wished she could find somebody who would love Mari, too.

She was disappointed with her mother’s reaction to meeting her granddaughter, but some
                                                                                          62


part of her understood how unfairly she’d treated her parents in keeping Mari from them.

She couldn’t blame them for being shocked when she showed up out of the blue with a

baby. Truthfully, she had wanted to shock them—test them in some way. They hadn’t

exactly aced the test, but they certainly hadn’t failed; she was still in the house and

nobody was mad at her. Right now at least. She watched her mother and father sitting

quietly together, enjoying each other’s company. Tucking her worries to the back of her

brain, she realized her father hadn’t met Mari yet.

       “Hey Dad, someone here on my lap wants to meet her grandfather.”

       She got up and sat down on the other side of her father and mother. She stood

Mari up on her lap and made her wave to them.

       “Can I hold her?” asked Marissa softly.

       “Sure, Mom. That would be nice.” Amanda handed Mari to her.

       Mari giggled in Marissa’s arms and reached her arms out. Ronald stroked Mari’s

head, and as he pulled his hand away, she grabbed his finger.

       “She’s got such a strong grip! She won’t let go!” Ronald exclaimed.

                                             ***

       Marissa watched her husband with the beautiful baby. It felt like a sign that he

should stay with them. He had always loved having a baby around the house. The baby,

the fainting, they both pointed to the feeling Marissa had been struggling with since that

day three weeks ago: Ronald belonged on Earth with his family. No matter how hard she

tried to convince herself that Ronald would be okay, it was like there was a voice in her

head constantly reminding her of all the dangers he would be facing. Ronald had brushed

the fainting off, saying it was due to exhaustion, but what if it happened again? What if
                                                                                           63


after another day of training in the pool he fainted there and cracked his head open? She

had a feeling this mission was going to be the death of him, whether it was up in space or

down here on Earth. Even without the thought of death in her mind, she’d found herself

wondering about her loneliness without him and her budding relationship with her

daughter and granddaughter. She wondered what it would be like without Ronald

around. What would it be like with a baby around all the time? Would Amanda rely on

her to take care of Mari? She supposed it would be something to take her mind off its

usual course of anxiety. But was Amanda going to be around, too? She didn’t have a

job. Was she going to get one? Were they going to be friends, finally? Nothing would

be the same without Ronald there. His family needed him.

                                            ***

       Playing with Mari reminded Ronald of himself as a younger man, playing with

Amanda for the first time. He didn’t know what it was about babies, but they always

brought so much joy to any situation. Except, he realized, the baby didn’t make his

situation more joyful, she just complicated things. His relationship with Nevin had been

a little strained since their different decisions about the mission, and he knew that

Marissa still wasn’t behind him fully—that she never would be. And now his daughter

was living in the neighborhood with her child. It felt like there were more forces pushing

him to stay in Titusville than were telling him to go to space, but he couldn’t let go of the

mission. He at least needed to know whether he could make it all the way or not—he

wanted to know that it was really a possibility for him. He knew fainting had given

Marissa a kind of confirmation about his health that she’d been feeling for the past few

weeks, but he wasn’t ready to give in to her worries. He wanted to prove he could do
                                                                                          64


it—not just to Marissa, Nevin, Amanda, Herman, or anyone else, but to himself. The

faint concerned him, but here he was, five minutes later, completely recovered. He

could still make a decision after the preliminary tests. He still had time to decide what to

do.

                                            ***

       Amanda watched her parents with Mari. There was something unnerving about it,

seeing her aged parents with such a small baby. At the same time, they gave off a

comforting air of family. She wondered what would happen if her father did go up into

space. How would her mother take it? Would she fall apart? What if something

happened to her father up there? Would Amanda have to take care of her mother as well

as Mari? Moving home was supposed to make things easier. Things would be easier if

her father just let go of the mission. What was he going to be looking for, anyway?

Life? Was he an alien hunter? The idea of her father in space at all was still so

ridiculous to her that it was hard to take it seriously. Maybe the more time he spent with

her and Mari, the more he would want to stay. He would stay and her mother would be

happy and she would have her stability. But there was some kind of perverted boyish

dream that her father was holding onto that she didn’t know if she could pry away from

him. What was she willing to do to get him to stay? Amanda realized it was almost as

stressful in Titusville as it was in LA…

       But Titusville wasn’t LA. She was done with Phoenix and that life. She was a

stronger, better Amanda now. A non-smoker. A mother. She was a responsible adult

who would be ready and willing to take up the challenges her family threw at her.

Wasn’t she? She wouldn’t become obsessed with worry like her mother was, and she
                                                                                       65


would keep it together if her father went into space. But could she really avoid becoming

her mother? Would she really be able to deal with her father in space? These were

questions she would have to answer when she got there. The new Amanda would be on

top of it. She had to be.


       She glanced at the clock; it was time to meet the movers.

				
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