Closer to the Moon

by Cathy Ulrich

Since the astronaut came back from space, she has been watching The Green Hornet, I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners. She eats cherry ripple ice cream out of the carton, offers spoonfuls to her knitting wife. She tucks her feet up onto the couch, wipes her fingertips on the hem of her shirt. Watches the flickering screen, says, bang, zoom, straight to the moon.

Straight to the moon, agrees her wife.

She could never have gone to the moon, really, says the astronaut, stares at Alice in housedress, stares at wife Alice setting the table.

She would never have gone to the moon.

The astronaut has been to space again and again and again. She has been closer to the moon than anyone, looked out the shuttle window: There you are.

When she put her hand out in front of her, she could still cover the moon with it.

There you are, she said. There you go.

Men have been to the moon, says the astronaut, spoon upside down in mouth.

Her wife doesn’t look up from her knitting, clack clack clack. She says she is making a scarf; she says all she knows how to make is scarves.

Men, she says, head down, have been everywhere.

When the astronaut’s wife is done with the scarf, she drapes it round the astronaut’s neck, tugs it gently tight.

Perfect, she says.

Beautiful, she says.

The astronaut smiles. It is mid-June and humid; she pulls the scarf tighter. She holds her breath, thinks of the distance between stars, thinks how small the moon seems when she looks up, thinks how close her wife’s small hands are to her face.

Her wife says: I wonder if the skin of a hippopotamus is rough to the touch.

Outside, there are daisies that the astronaut’s wife has grown. She has always grown daisies at this house since they moved in, looked at the yard, said daisies, and it was decided. Outside, there are daisies, and the astronaut’s wife goes to pluck some for one of the vases.

While the astronaut was gone, the couple next door sent the astronaut’s wife flowers — sent her roses and chrysanthemums and day lilies. Sent her alstroemeria and lilacs and protea flowers. Sent them with notes: You’re not alone, We’re thinking of you, Take care, Have strength.

The astronaut’s wife stood on one side of the tall back yard fence and waved to the neighbor couple when they dined on their patio, sipping wine from lovely stemmed glasses.

Hello, she called from her side of the fence, hello, thank you.

She called: I’ve saved the vases.

I’ve saved all the vases.

In a storage closet at their house, there are vases and vases and vases.

When they were girls, the astronaut and her wife touched fingertip to fingertip through a window screen.

Come out, said the astronaut, come out, come out under the stars.

The astronaut’s wife twisted her head to listen for her parents in their bedroom; the astronaut’s wife said I’ll come outside for you, and they danced in the quiet street, danced under the moon, bodies pressed softly together.

It’s not so far away as all that, the astronaut said. Someday I’ll go. Someday I’ll go there, and the astronaut’s wife leaned deeper into her embrace.

The astronaut’s wife brings a handful of daisies inside, lays them on the kitchen table. The astronaut tugs at her scarf, watches the black and white of the television screen, wishes Alice could go, wishes Alice could go to the moon.

Bang, zoom, she says, pulls on one end of her scarf and then the other.

Bang, zoom, she says, straight to the moon.

Image: @merfin /