“Astronauts” by Christopher X. Shade

I’m as Catholic as the next guy, but it’s beyond me what possesses my wife to spend all her time at church. I guess that’s what Faith is, knowing that loved ones are being looked after. Meanwhile I’m doing what I can. I bring her food and eat next to her in the pew. Most of the time we’re alone and she watches nothing happening up at the altar. It’s like a movie screen has fallen in front of the big crucifix on the back wall. Like there’s some amazing chick flick rolling. But there’s not. She says I make too much noise when I eat so I’m working on that. Now I nibble. I slowly munch. Carrots are the worst. She shushes me when I crunch carrots. I shouldn’t have brought carrots. I think about extracting my teeth so that I can noiselessly gum my food. But I won’t. I might still need teeth for something, though I can’t imagine for what. She laughs when I say things like this. Her laughter echoes along with a gentle cooing of finches or doves or some kind of delicate bird in a nest on the other side of one of the glorious windows. Their occasional flutter and flap, their shadows on the colored glass, are the only real activity happening here.

I don’t know why Father Kelly doesn’t lock up anymore. Probably because she’s here now. Here in this small church, St. Charles. Not an interesting name. We’re a small parish in a small town. We compete with a church named Sacred Heart of Jesus, over in Anniston. Now that’s a name. Sacred Heart of Jesus. Wow, just listen to that. Who the hell is Charles, anyway? She shushes me. She says you make too much noise, it doesn’t matter who he was, it’s just a name. She won’t turn all the way to look at me. It’s like she doesn’t want me to see the other side of her.

Father Kelly stops by the pew and asks me if I have any carrots. I tell him that no one was a fan of carrots so I had to stop bringing them. I hold out a tub of pretzels and he piles a bunch in one hand. He comes back for more. He’s got so much weight on him, it’s like he rolls around church. He probably should be eating carrots instead. She shushes me. I say, What a fatso. It’s just a name for him, but she’ll have none of it.

She’s always been better at putting food in little containers to go. That’s because she was always the one to do it. I’m not so good at it but I do my best. In the cabinet where we pile all the plastic tubs of all sizes and all the lids for these, we still have the smaller ones with race car stickers on them. Of course I haven’t thrown anything away. The little guy loved everything about race cars. He was going to drive one. He was five and always saying that he’d be a race car driver. He practiced all the time, careening around the house with those tiny metal cars up in the air, bashing them together. It’s like he knew that his mother was going to drive them into a car crash. Cars and trucks and everything. Our Subaru ricocheting like a bullet, breaking through the bridge rails and then turning slowly in zero gravity, but it wasn’t zero, all the way down to a CSX freight train passing under the bridge, our Subaru knocking a tanker car right off the tracks and the whole train with it, the tanker detonating in what must’ve been a mushroom cloud, while the Subaru pinballed off into the trees and killed a deer. I wanted him to be a pilot like his great grandfather. I figured there was time to convince him. She wanted him to be a priest, but that was when we expected to have more. We wanted like a hundred kids. That seems centuries ago now. Thousands of years. But I guess it wasn’t.

Didn’t we, baby? That’s my pet name for her. It’s nothing fancy but it’s always felt right.

I keep looking back at the cry room. That’s the room in the back where people take their wailing kids during Mass. I’ve actually never been in there. She always took him. An empty little room with some folding chairs. Looks like a bleak place. She says well why don’t you go see it instead of sitting here going on about it? I take her up on it. I leave the food in the pew and do just that. From behind that window, I see Father Kelly coming down the aisle like a big bear sniffing for the food. At the pew he helps himself to more pretzels. Behind the good father, she floats right up into the air. Like, suddenly, she weighs less than air.

That’s about the best physics I can do. I know a lighter thing rises. Fatso doesn’t seem to see what’s happening behind him. I wave like mad from the window but it’s no good. I rush out to the pew. He’s walking away, and she’s floating up higher. He’s not alarmed at all. He must see this kind of thing all the time.

She’s about ten feet up. She’s turning slowly in the air, and she seems very relaxed about it. There’s no fear in her. I’ve never seen her at peace like this. I say, You’re an astronaut, baby. With that peaceful look about her she turns toward me in that zero gravity way of hers, and she says, What’s up? I say, You are, baby, you’re up. I say, You can’t leave me, baby. She shushes me.


Shade-Profile-boat-100x150-1A writer in NYC’s East Village, Christopher X. Shade has a novel in circulation and about twenty stories in national and small press publications. www.christopherxshade.com

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