Away

            It happens all the time, though is rarely ever witnessed.  One celestial body crashes into another, millions of years of momentum altered in an instant.  In a Universe where distance is measured in time, it must happen every second, every fragment of every second, tiny asteroids ricocheting off of larger asteroids, satellites in an epoch-long gravitational dance finally seek to occupy the same plot of space-time, and destroy themselves in the process.

            His celestial body was a ship orbiting a gas giant.  When the asteroid collided with the ship it severed his tether to it, but he was left unharmed.  The recoil propelled him backwards, away from the gas giant, away from the debris of the ship, soundlessly expanding in one million directions.  The asteroid continued on its journey out of the solar system, its trajectory determined by a collision of celestial bodies light years away, at a time when the ancestors of Man walked on four legs.  

            The astronaut triggered his thrusters to steady himself.  He radioed in, but there was not even static in response.  He watched those tiny white fragments, little pieces of lint on black felt, and began to understand his plight.  Within the spray of metal and plastic were bits and pieces of the crew.  It was gone.  All of it.  A decade of planning, billions of dollars, his dreams…

            The thrusters could not overtake his momentum.  He sailed away from the planet and the pieces of lint that looked like fireworks frozen in time.  He could not sense the motion, but every few minutes he found the gas giant occupied less of his field of vision. 

            He triggered the thrusters to turn toward the sun.  From that distance it was perhaps only several times brighter than Sirius.  Yet its light still obscured the object he sought.

            In the minutes he searched for it he sailed thousands of miles away from the wreckage, from the gas giant and its dozens of moons.  Each breath he took brought him closer to his eventual fate.  And then he saw it, a blur of blue and its gray companion, no larger than a mote of dust.  

            How much time passed?  Thirty minutes?

            When would the ship’s final transmission reach the blue blur?

            There would be panic.  There would be pain.  In time, there would be healing.

            In that moment he only thought of the pain in one heart.  He wanted to tell the boy not that he loved him, but that this was inevitable, and he should not allow his heart to break over the inevitable. The asteroid, in its long existence, raced across the black emptiness of space, away from the warmth of any sun, without thought or malice.  It could have occupied an infinite number of places at infinite points in time.

            But, no.

            It had to occupy that place, his place, at that time.

            His breaths were like sand trickling from one side of an hourglass to the other.

            The sky opened up, a still, black sea with one million points of light.  It was all he ever wanted, to be among the stars.  But not at that moment.

            He closed his eyes and drifted weightlessly.  The sand drained in the background of his memories as he recalled the small bundle in its light blue swaddle.  The face would resemble his in the coming years, but then it was just a few creases and a little bump for a nose.  A still, small thing, a part of him now existing outside of his body.

            From thousands of grains of sand there were then only hundreds.  He took shorter breaths to preserve the oxygen.  This was inevitable, the man knew.  As the Universe wrapped its arms around him he felt no fear, but he did not know what, if anything, of him would remain when all of the stars went out.  He waved at the blue blur and transmitted one final time.  There were so many things he wanted to say, so many truths to speak to the expanse.  None captured the heaviness in his heart, and so he breathed the words he’d said every day for twelve years.

            I love you.

*

            The boy hovered over the eyepiece.  It was just a smudge of various colors, mostly shades of brown, crystalline blue at the poles, but it was still beautiful.  His father was out there.

*

            He was still, one gloved hand raised and frozen in place.  Away from the planet he drifted.  

            Every moment of his life, every untied shoelace, every triumph and tragedy, was a tiny course correction.  

            This was inevitable.

            The visor was cracked just so.  Twin rivulets sparkled on his cheeks.  Away he drifted, eyes wide and sightless.  Though the heart no longer functioned, it was full.

            Away.

            Away.

            To be among the stars.

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