The Spaces Between the Stars

2

The Spaces Between the StarsThe astronaut’s wife finds a toad in the yard. She is clipping daisies; it’s the time of year when the petals fall away, the stems go beige and hard, like sticks. The astronaut’s wife clips them one by one, puts them in an old detergent bucket.

She thinks the chirping belongs to a bird. The neighborhood is always full of birds, and she takes pictures of them with her phone, sends them on to her wife.

This one reminds me of you, she writes.

The astronaut is away at training camp. The astronaut’s wife has been alone for three days. When the house gets too quiet, she takes their antique rotary phone off its hook, lets the buzz of dial tone fill the air.

No one ever calls that line.

The astronaut’s wife clips a daisy, places it in the bucket, and there is the toad, suddenly revealed.

The astronaut’s wife lets her scissors fall away from her hand onto the soft ground, says, oh, I didn’t see you there.

 *

At the training camp, when the astronaut closes her eyes, she dreams of Barbara Walters. In her dreams, Barbara Walters is smartly dressed, wearing the just-right shade of lipstick, her hair teased out like a lion’s mane.

Barbara Who? say the lab techs, the other astronauts.

It makes the astronaut feel very alone.

She scrolls through photos of birds on her phone.

This one reminds me of you, she writes back to her wife.

*

At night, the astronaut’s wife slips into a sleeping bag, lays her head down beside the half-clipped patch of daisies. Face to face with toad.

Inside the house, she has left the rotary phone off its hook so long the line has gone silent.

She thinks if the astronaut doesn’t return from training camp soon, she’ll start leaving the television on; she’ll take the daisies and their bucket to the garbage; she’ll learn how to do needlepoint; she’ll capture the toad in a shoe box filled with grass and flowers. Feed it bits of lettuce and cheese.

The astronaut’s wife isn’t sure what toads eat.

*

Insects, the astronaut writes, waking from a dream of Barbara Walters.

In her dream, Barbara Walters was both taking her to prom and interviewing her about prom. It made sense in the way that dreams do.

The astronaut finds she can’t remember, now, if she really did go to her prom.

Your parents made you go with a boy, comes her wife’s response.

Oh, now I remember, says the astronaut. The clammy hands of the boy as they danced, the way his fork clattered on his plate when he was done eating. How she adjusted his tie before they went out the door together, the way she’d seen her mother do for her father.

But do you remember his name?

 *

George, says the astronaut’s wife. Or Jason, Jerry, James, Joseph, Jedidiah.

She thinks any of these would be a good name for the toad. She is certain the toad is a male, singing for love in the sticks of daisies.

She thinks of measuring herself in toads, before her wife returns, thinks I could be eighteen toads high.

But do you remember his name?

I don’t remember his name, she says.

I never cared, she says.

*

I never cared, either.

 *

The boy held the astronaut too closely when they danced. She wasn’t the astronaut yet, just the girl who was the best at the sciences and the maths, girl always hanging round with the shy underclassman from her neighborhood.

Her body pressed against the nice boy her parents insisted she go to prom with, such a nice boy, said her mother, he has perfect teeth.

The boy put his perfect teeth beside the astronaut’s ear.

You’re so pretty.

Oh, she said. Oh, thank you.

*

The astronaut’s wife’s phone has died, screen gone black as the spaces between the stars. She was typing everyone knows who Barbara Walters is, but only got as far as the second b.

She lays her phone on her chest, body turned up to the sky, eyes closed, listens to toad song. She thinks of dancing; she thinks of prom dresses. She never went to her prom. She has only ever danced with her wife.

She has a conversation with her wife on a dead phone, fingers moving across the dark screen. When her phone is charged in the morning, she thinks, the words will appear.

Promise me. Promise you will come home.

 *

The astronaut has closed her eyes, Barbara Walters’ face in her mind. Her phone clasped to her chest, she sleeps with it every night.

In the dark, she whispers.

I promise.


Photo used under CC.

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About Author

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Cathy Ulrich's parents still have a rotary phone, but no one ever uses it. Her work has been published in various journals, including Former Cactus, Little Fiction and Pithead Chapel.

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