The Astronauts

Words || Alana Bridget Scully

I was watching TV when I first heard the news. The flashing broadcast lit across the screen: a rocket has fallen from the sky, a failed space journey, the whereabouts of the astronauts still largely unknown. I’d looked across to my mother, her face stricken with worry, her hands wringing the tea towel she’d brought in with her from the kitchen.

“Terrible, just terrible,” she muttered under her breath. Then she walked slowly back towards the kitchen, her hands still fumbling in front of her.

The two men had appeared the next day. I was watching TV again, and it was dark and rainy outside.

“What’re you watching?” one of them had asked, jolting me from my relaxed state. I couldn’t really see his face because he was wearing a huge white helmet with an opaque black screen in the front. The helmet looked pretty beat-up, a huge gash on one side that showed tufts of his hair peaking out. The other one had red stains all along his leg, his left foot looking a little askew when he propped it up on the footrest.

They were courteous guests at first. Mother, a natural host, lavished them with cups of tea, warm baths; she even cooked her special roast – something usually reserved for birthdays and Christmas. We’d sit around the dinner table, the two men eating through the gap in their helmets, my mother looking across at them adoringly.

“Wonderful peas!” they’d compliment, and my mother would smile and pile their plates with meat and gravy.

When I asked them where they came from, how they appeared on our couch, they didn’t say much. Usually they’d shirk off my questions, but sometimes they would solemnly point into the sky without saying a word, their white gloves cushioning their pointed finger, their heavy helmet bent down towards the ground.

Weeks passed. The news coverage of the accident had subsided, but occasionally a reporter appeared on the screen, walking through an open field with detectives and policemen and scientists all fossicking on the ground behind him. Apparently, parts of the rocket flung into a neighbouring town, shocking the farmers half to death.

“We’re looking for fingerprints, for any sign of life,” the reporter said, the mood in the living room becoming cold and tense, the air shifting around us.

Eventually, it was my mother who told them to go.

“It’s time,” she’d said, standing at the doorway, beckoning them onto the front porch. They walked down the path but stopped at the front gate. Then they turned back to wave, and even through their helmet, I could’ve sworn I saw the white glean of their teeth from a broad and open smile.