‘We Have a Problem’ by Richard Rebel

FIVE

It’s nearly ready. The welding was the hardest part, but the seals look good, he thinks. The steel fins glint in a shaft of afternoon sunlight that streams through the dusty garage window. The red paint of the pointed nose cone is still wet. It reminds him of Daisy’s wet nose, and he gives her a gentle pat now. She’s stayed beside him the whole time he’s been working on this thing, five weekends now. With a rag he wipes along the edges of the hatch. He wishes he could bring Daisy, but they wouldn’t both fit in the capsule.

FOUR

The power tools drown out the sounds of his parents arguing, but the second he switches off the drill or grinder, he hears the end of a yelled sentence:

… that’s not what I said!

… don’t you dare bring that up again!

And on it would go.

He buries his head in the plans – scribbled across four scrapbook pages – losing himself in the building, the making, and visions of space.

THREE

He rummages in the cupboard with a backpack in one hand – crackers, tins of baked beans and tuna, bread and peanut butter. He fills three water bottles. He adds some books, t-shirts, undies and the spacesuit to the backpack.

He’d found the spacesuit buried in a plastic tub at the back of Ed’s Everything Emporium – a kiddie astronaut costume, white with black stripes around the wrists and ankles – and replaced its flimsy plastic dome with his brother’s yellow motocross helmet. His brother doesn’t need it anymore; he lives in the city and works in a music store and never calls or visits.

Now he carries the backpack, spacesuit and helmet to the garage, stowing them in the capsule. From somewhere in the house he hears a muffled bang that might be a door slamming, or something else.

TWO

The idea had come to him just over a month ago. In his room, trying to block out sounds of his parents yelling and a fist pounding a kitchen cabinet, he’d taken a book from the shelf on his bedhead. He had a row of paperbacks on the little shelf, ordered by the shade of the spines, dark to light. The cover illustration of this one showed two astronauts in a field, walking toward their gleaming silver rocket. It was shaped like a dart, ready to explode skywards.

He’d spent days scouring the dump, second-hand shops, people’s junk-filled backyards – wherever he could find materials. Back and forth, he’d awkwardly pedalled his BMX carrying the sheets of scrap metal, spaghetti-bundles of rubber seal, fuse boxes and wiring, safety glass, an old speedboat seat, its vinyl cracked to show innards of mustardy foam. The fuel cylinders were the hardest things to find, and the heaviest.

ONE

It’s night. He drags the whole thing out the garage door, inches at a time, scraping across the concrete. Some of the paint is still wet. Daisy trots beside him. Once he’s out and past the roofline, he stops and looks straight up. His rocket points toward the stars, or maybe between them. He imagines how quiet it will be.

The nylon of the spacesuit swishes as he climbs through the hatch. He bumps his helmeted head on the rim. He’d used a plastic thermal blanket from his brother’s camping gear to give the inside of the capsule a crinkly silver lining.

He reaches out to give Daisy one last pat.

When the hatch is sealed he primes the engines. The craft rumbles and shakes beneath him, around him.

It’s almost time. He waves feebly toward the dark house through the little round window, just in case his parents are looking out.

With the first burn of the main thrusters he feels the immense force of lifting off, pressing him into the seat like a little blob of jelly. Rising spaceward, he imagines the fiery trail he’s leaving behind, bringing the dark driveway and house into a brief daylight that would disappear when he did.

About the contributor

Richard Rebel
Richard Rebel’s writing featured in three 2019 Clarendon House anthologies. His writing has appeared on Spillwords and elsewhere. In 2017 he was selected to attend One Story’s Sirenland Writers’ Conference in Positano, Italy. He is a writer and teacher who lives on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia.

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