The Astronaut’s Girlfriend
For her part, the Astronaut’s girlfriend told the new boy how things shook out.
“You have to know that any day, you might have an astronaut home from space to deal with,” she told him.
The boy put his head on his hand as he thought about that.
“But you might also have me, in a black veil, with a handkerchief.”
The boy thought about that too, but he stayed sitting on her porch steps.
“Are you really okay with all of that?” she asked him.
He seemed to weigh these two options, threw a pebble in the direction of nothing. “I think you are more than meets the eye,” he said as it landed.
The girlfriends of all the other astronauts had each become fiancées or else wives before takeoff, but she had not taken that giant leap.
“Look,” the Astronaut had told her before takeoff, “if we get married now, you will be here for me when I re-enter the atmosphere.”
“I will be here anyway,” she told him. “I live here.”
“I need people waiting for me,” the Astronaut said. “People will notice if you’re not waiting for me when the spaceship lands,” he said as he packed his space bag. “Just promise me that if there is a crowd, you will be in it.”
The girlfriend tried to think of how long ago that conversation had happened. Months, it seemed, more. The Astronaut and his girlfriend were now penciled to be apart for years, or else less, or else infinity. The timetables of space are like that.
“I am an astronaut’s girlfriend,” she had told the new boy the first time she met him. “My boyfriend is in space and I’m supposed to miss him more than I do.” She had said that, too.
She leaned back against her slate porch step and looked up at the sky, an elbow positioned to prop up her torso from an uncomfortable ledge.
“There is a time capsule version of me out there,” she said, “and it’s scheduled to come back anytime, although it might not come back at all.”
The boy looked up. “There’s nothing up there that I can see,” he said. “All I can see is you on the stairs next to me.”
She laid out the situation for him. “Either he comes back, soon, or not soon, or he doesn’t come back but is still expected for a very long time, or he dies.” She paused. “The dying could also happen at anytime, or else never.”
When she looked away, she felt the boy staring at her. When they said goodbye, she hugged him, because hugging was allowed.
She thought about breaking up with the Astronaut via spacephone, but no advice column would back her up on this. If a relationship has gone on for over a year, you owe him a face-to-face breakup, they said. She scoured the pages, but found nothing about space travel or astronauts in any of the ladies’ magazines.
I owe him that much, she thought to herself. She pictured herself in the bleachers with the other women in red lipstick and salon hair, waiting to greet the astronauts at the landing. I can be that for him, she said to herself out loud.
She found herself shaving her legs, armpits, trimming her pubic hair.
“It’s a very complicated situation,” she mouthed to herself in the bathroom, getting ready to see the boy, practicing. “I have a very complicated relationship status.”
“You just have to be prepared for all of these possibilities,” she practiced her tone, first trying to make it sound informational, then cautionary.
“I wouldn’t want you getting into any situations that you weren’t aware of,” she practiced in the shower.
The new boy, not at all an astronaut, was, for himself, noticeably land-bound, and perhaps this is what the girl liked about him. He didn’t threaten to change altitudes. He didn’t threaten extinction. He was not heralded for his position in the sky. He was an unendangered species.
Her friends encouraged her to wait for the Astronaut.
They said, who is down on the ground around here anyway? Who on earth are you going to find to date?
But there was this boy. He was plain-clothed and untrained. His desire for her responded to gravity. She hadn’t planned for him and he was nowhere in her schedule, but there he was, coming to her house by foot and, although she had remembered practicing a variety of lines, when she saw him, they all seemed to fly out of her head at once.
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