Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Reba S. has won third place in the third age group for the Sci-Fi Spring 2021 Youth Writing Contest with her piece "Drifting Memory."
Though now wasn’t a great time for it, Jim Harrison could only think about how gorgeous the view was. A once in a lifetime image to be sure. He could see everything from up here - the clouds, the continents, the ocean - but, poetically, no one could see him up there. Jim looked to his right. Stars like bright holes poked through a jar lid as far as the human eye could see. He looked to his left. Planets, stars, space. And it was so very quiet here, the only thing interrupting his thoughts were his shallow breaths inside his helmet. All he could feel was his weightlessness, like he was being offered up to God. Jim took a moment to rest his eyes, the insides of his lids as dark as the plain around him.
Jim began to remember some things about his life on earth. He was not a sentimental man, but it gave him some comfort because he could not be alone if he was surrounded by his swimming thoughts. He remembered growing up on an old farm, one that had been passed from father to son for generations. Jim remembered his father with his downturned mustache that always made him look like he was frowning, and Jim remembered his mother, a short little woman who was always fragrant with the sweet perfume of baked sweets. He missed her pies and cobblers. He missed his father driving him early in the morning to baseball practice, chatting sparsely about the news or about work.
There were some harder memories that Jim had pushed deep down inside himself. He decided now would be a good time to remember, just in case. One night, his dad had raised a hand against his other. Jim didn’t remember why, only that it had been a heated argument. His dad didn’t apologise, but was clearly taken aback by what he’d done. He grabbed his coat and went for a drive. Jim’s mother divorced his father soon after that.
Caroline never thought she’d see the day where her husband would resort to physical violence. She felt the sting of his palm meeting her cheek, and the force knocked her to the floor. She stared up at him from the tile. Caroline wasn’t crying, but her husband was. That was the second time she had ever seen him move to tears. His brow was furrowed, and he held the hand that had touched her in his other hand. When was the last time she had seen him like that? Ah, yes, it was back in high school, senior year, the two had been dating for quite some time then. It was almost midnight when he had knocked on her door. Caroline flew down the stairs in her robe and slippers. She opened the door, and was bewildered at what she was witnessing. Tears? This boy rarely laughed when she told jokes, and now he had shown up in the middle of the night disheveled. He collapsed into Caroline’s arms, and the two stood there for a while. Yes, the last time Caroline could remember him crying was when his mother had died from cancer.
Don shielded his face with his hands and stormed off to the front door of the old farmhouse. He ripped his tan coat from the brass hanger and riffled through the wicker basket to find his keys. He could feel the stares of his wife from the kitchen floor, and from his son who was watching the commotion from the living room. He wouldn’t let his son see him crying, and he wouldn’t apologize to his wife. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t. Into the cool evening air he went, slamming the red truck door of his car. The truck’s engine roared to life, and off he went down the country road, heading to nowhere in particular, driving off under the veil of stars. Don hated that he hit his wife. He had never wanted to be like his dad, beating women. It was just in the moment, it seemed like the only appropriate reaction. They had begun arguing when Don noticed the ring his mother had given him was gone from the dresser upstairs. He had spent an hour searching, tearing up the bedroom in the process. Defeated, he lumbered downstairs and told his wife. She gave him a doe eyed look and told the truth; she had sold his mother’s ring to help pay taxes.
Don stopped at a gas station to refuel. He headed inside, bought some cigarettes and a pack of beers, and sat down on the curb.
Jim decided maybe he should try some other memories. Something brighter, happier. He remembered Susan Wilson, a pretty blonde girl who wanted to be a teacher. They had met in a bar one night while Jim was in college. They left their friends in favor of sitting in the bed of Jim’s truck and staring at the stars. Susan would point to a cluster and say they were shaped like a bear or fish, and Jim would just nod. He didn’t see any shapes - did he now? He didn’t want to open his eyes to check, he wanted to keep remembering- but he loved the dreamy look in Susan’s eyes and the delicate dimples that cut into her cheeks when she smiled. A year later, the two had gotten married, and moved into a small apartment. Then there was Ginger.
Ginger looked up above her. There were her tiny little hands, fingers, and nails. Past them was a spinning halo with strings attached, dangling a constellation above her head. There was something else, though. A flash of her mom’s face, or her dad’s, furrowed and shouting. This wasn’t the first time this week they were loud and angry, but it would be the last. Ginger remembered her mom picking her up, and heading out the door to her old pickup truck. Over mom’s shoulder, she remembered seeing dad’s face in the doorway, with tears on his cheeks. Ginger didn’t remember much of dad after that day.
So maybe that wasn’t a happy memory, Jim thought. He began to sweat. Were there any good memories he had? Were there any good moments, any good traces of him left behind? When Ginger looks up into the sky, will she only be able to see dad’s crying face? When Susan looks up at the constellations, will she see that young man from the bar, or her deadbeat husband? Jim opened his eyes now. The view was mostly the same, but the void around him had rotated him so he could see the spaceship, the distance between the two of them growing with every second. He could feel his oxygen running low too. His breaths became more labored. How cruel this is, Jim thought. This isn’t how anyone will remember me.
It was Jim’s turn to cry again. After all he had been through, would any God accept him? Had they accepted his dad? His mom? His grandmother? Would they accept Susan and Ginger? Who will remember them? Jim cried out, but no one could hear him. He drifted farther from the spaceship, from earth, so far that Jim was now only a distant memory.