Elora is my mother. Her name is a sound from space, the baying of a lost satellite. She is angry and alone. Dad left because he couldn't handle Rocket Boy. Elora has only two modes of operation, muttering or yelling. Why can't you be normal like John Chalfin ? she yells. John is the twelve year old who sometimes visits the woman across the street. My name for her: Eve Moon. Her name in this world is Belle , which means beautiful. She is a beautiful calm moon. John is Perfectly Normal Boy. He doesn't exist for me. He corresponds to no planet, comet, asteroid. When he tries to speak to me I do not hear him, as he has no existence in the other universe.
I pour orange juice over cornflakes. I eat on the porch, still feeling the dread that was all through me when I woke. It is the manifestation in our space of the bad planet; it is how the gravitational pull of the bad planet exerts itself here.
I am a portal in this world. In the other, I am a spent rocket drifting in space, sent to this place or that by the gravitational pull of the larger objects there. In that world, the bad planet may move me a million miles; in this much smaller universe, the corresponding distance may be the length of the street, or from here to the Bridge.
I am a portal and Eve Moon is not. A portal is aware. Most of the people in this world who correspond to powerful objects in the other don't know it. I saw another portal once: a bus driver taking me to school, when I still went. I could tell by his eyes he knew. In the other universe he was a comet which dragged me in its wake, bumping amidst the chunks of rock and balls of ice which followed him.
Elora comes out on the porch and asks, Is this going to be a normal day or a crazy day?
I say, Judge for yourself. It is a hot, hazy morning. Down 21st Street, all the sprinklers in all the backyards are on. Laying the cosmic dust.
She says, You can be normal, Eric. You spend hours at a time just like anyone else. Sometimes an entire day. Then you get strange. What happens?
Its the bad planet in the other world. It pulls me in.
There is no bad planet. Its in your brain.
You just can't see it, but its there. You're in the other world too.
What am I in your other world?
A lost satellite, crying in space.
That upsets Elora, because since dad left, that's what she feels like. I think of Dad as the gantry from which they launch the rockets in Cape Canaveral. He was Gantry Man.
Last time I asked you, you said I was a comet. I liked being a comet better.
I am very puzzled. I force my thoughts into order: I make them into a telescope to peer into the past, searching for a moment when I told Elora she was a comet. Is it possible?
I never told you that.
You did. It was last summer, around this time.
I shake my head.
You did, baby, and it proves there is no other world, but just your thoughts. In a real universe, things stay the same. In your mind, they shift as your thoughts wander. I was a comet, now I'm a satellite.
I begin to make the gantry noise, the fifteen minute warning of launch. Clear the field. Everyone into the blockhouse, behind the thick glass windows.
Elora is remorseful. Hush, baby. Don't make a scene. It's all right. Its all right. Its all right. She hugs me and strokes my hair.
Elora would be a beautiful woman if she weren't so tired. She says so herself.
Gantry Man wanted to send me away. Elora kept me. Gantry Man left instead. That is our life.
I quiet down and she says, Thanks, baby. Its really all right. Are you OK now?
I'm OK now.
I'm going to take a shower, honey. Is that all right? You're good now? You'll stay right here?
I'll stay right here.
Do you want more cereal and orange juice?
Elora kisses me on the forehead and goes in. I sit for a few moments and remember it is time for the Bridge Game. It is the only way to get rid of the dread which covered me when I woke.
A few blocks from our house, the street becomes a Bridge which crosses the railroad tracks. The bad planet calls to me from the other side. It is as if I am attached to a rubber band in this world, and pulled to the Bridge.
At the Bridge I can cause the intersection of two lines. One drawn by the train, when it comes, from horizon to horizon. The other a line from the place where I am standing to the tracks.
This would solve an awful lot of problems. Closing the portal would protect this universe against the other. It would seal the bad planet in that other world. And it would free Elora. They might even recover her to earth, to the gantry, when Rocket Boy no longer pulls her in his wake.
I get more and more nervous until I can no longer sit still. I walk down the steps, through the backyard and to the gate. Elora has padlocked it with a huge lock but it is futile. I fly right over it: I am Rocket Boy. I go up alongside the house and into the quiet street. There are no cars; there are never any cars on Sunday morning. The entire block is washed in silence. The only sounds are the sprinklers and the murmuring of some cicadas, far up in the trees. I look down the street towards the distant Bridge, and see nothing but trees. There is one in front of every house. They are like defunct rockets, planted here. They have finished their orbits and come to rest.
I start walking down the street, knowing what is going to happen. Sure enough, I pass only three houses. The fourth, on the other side of the street from us, is Eve Moon's. She comes down her steps and says, Where are you going, Eric? You know you're not supposed to be wandering off alone.
I'm on my way to the Bridge, I say.
What bridge? she asks openmouthed. The Brooklyn Bridge? I don't answer, and she says, Well, you better come in. I follow her up the concrete walk and the steps of her pleasant little house, with all the sunflowers. Each of the flowers is a star in the other world. Eve Moon lives in the stars. I cannot help but follow her. She has the most powerful gravity of anyone, but it is a calm gravity. She is, in this and the other world, the calmest presence I have ever met.
Eve Moon's skin is a perfect mirror. She intensifies light. Her skin searches out all the light in a room, absorbs it and reflects it back magnified. She has none of her own; like earth's moon, she shines only by reflection, but she manages to blaze like a beacon. She has dark hair and big blue eyes and is always laughing or smiling.
Three times I have played the Bridge Game, and each time she has intercepted me and brought me into her house. I know that there will be a day, less than two years from now, when I will play the game and Eve Moon will not be there.
Eve Moon is wearing a sundress. We go into her kitchen. Coffee in a big pot, cigarette smoke, a typewriter and books on the table. Also sunflowers in a vase. Light pours in through the big window and sinks into Eve Moon's beautiful skin.
Eric, would you like something? Some orange juice?
I'll have some orange juice.
Sit down and I'll get it. I sit on the thick wooden chair and she brings me a glass of cold, fresh-squeezed orange juice, with ice cubes. She sees I am looking at the grains in the wood and says, E made it. Ian Chalfin , my brother-in-law. He's in Viet Nam now.
Viet Nam is a portion of the asteroid belt, I say, where the rocks are so dense they are always colliding.
She considers this and says, That's as good an explanation as any. She dials the phone; I know from the long and the short spins of the rotary dial she is calling my number. There is no answer.
Elora is in the shower, I say.
There's no rush. We can visit for a while.
I look at the typewriter; there are piles beside it of blank paper and of paper she has filled in with typing. There are books, one of them open by the typewriter.
I'm trying my hand at doing some translations, Eve Moon tells me.
Elora says you're French.
I'm French-Canadian, from Quebec. I work as a secretary in the French department at Brooklyn College. I type other people's translations, and I thought I'd try some of my own.
I ask: May I have a piece of paper and a pencil?
Certainly. She brings them to me. I wanted one sheet of paper, but Eve Moon gives me a sheaf. I pull the chair closer to the table and begin to draw a picture of Elora.
Elora won't let me draw any more, I say. Eve Moon seems upset by this. Why?, she asks.
She phones again while I continue to draw. This time, Elora answers.
Eric is here, Eve Moon says. Yes, he was wandering down the street again. No, don't rush; we're having a lovely visit. Please, Elora, I mean it. Take your time. Yes, that would be fine. She hangs up and says, Your mom says she'll be here within half an hour.
I finish the drawing and hold it up. Eve Moon is open-mouthed again. Why, you're incredible, she says. I had no idea. She comes and takes the drawing and studies it.
You've drawn Elora as if she was seventy years old, she says. Is that why she won't let you?
She says its too upsetting. But that's what she's going to look like. The face is a mass of wrinkles. Elora as a ruin. The only familiar feature is her eyes, which are more tormented than today. Today she lives with Rocket Boy; but in the picture, she is remembering him.
That's very possible, says Eve Moon, studying it.
I do not try to explain to her about the spaghetti. When certain forces are in conjunction in the other world, everything in this one draws out into lines. For a short period, I can see in the fourth dimension. If you study the lines closely they resolve into dots. The face I have drawn is a late dot on Elora's line.
I take another sheet and begin to draw a picture of Eve Moon. She is curious but does not look; instead, she picks up some other papers. She says some words to herself in French and looks out the window.
I finish the drawing and show it to her. That's what you are going to look like.
But that's what I look like now, Eve Moon says. She is quiet a moment, then: It is a beautiful drawing, Eric. May I keep it?
You can have them both. The door knocker hammers, clap clap, clap. She goes to open it; it is Elora in a housecoat, here to take me home. She comes in breathless, apologizing.
Its no problem, Elora, Eve Moon says. I enjoy Eric.
I know Elora is startled by this. She loves Rocket Boy but cannot imagine how anyone could enjoy him.
I also know that Elora hated Eve Moon when she moved to our block. Now she knows she should like her. She still is jealous of her because Eve Moon is beautiful and young and married to a rich man. Every time she is near Eve Moon, Elora feels her good gravity. I thought she was a snob, Elora says, but she's really very nice. She says this regretfully, as if she wishes she had an excuse to hate her.
I have an idea, Eve Moon says. She and Elora go down the steps so that I can't hear them. Eve Moon does not know, and Elora refuses to believe, how acute my ears are. I hear every word.
I'm taking my nephew John to the beach later, Eve Moon says. Why doesn't Eric come with us? You could have an afternoon off.
Behind Elora's eyes, I can see her resentment of Eve Moon's good gravity, her gratitude, her desire to take advantage of the unexpected offer of a day apart from me.
If she accepts, I will refuse. I would love to spend a day with Eve Moon, here in her house. But not at the beach. Every grain of sand is a planet in the other world. The ocean is the great gulf of space. I will be drawn into the void and lost.
Thank you, Belle, its very sweet of you to offer, Elora says. But it wouldn't work. Eric is very well-behaved with you, but you've never seen him at his worst. When he panics, he thrashes and screams. I'm afraid you couldn't handle him.
Then why don't you come with us, Elora? We could all go together in my car. Wouldn't it be nice? A day at the beach?
Elora is again tempted, but she says, No, Belle, I don't think so. I would never consider taking Eric to the beach. He's not good in crowded places, especially unfamiliar ones. It could turn out to be a disaster. And if he wandered away....
All right, Elora. But if you change your mind, we're not leaving until after lunch.
Eve Moon says goodbye and we walk back down the street. Elora is holding my hand and muttering.
I would love to go to the beach. But you couldn't, Eric, could you?
No, I say.
We go down alongside the house to look at the gate I flew over. She wants to make sure I haven't broken it.
If you keep wandering away, I may not be able to keep you here. You know what that means, don't you?
Yes, the cosmic junkyard. It is a corner of the Van Allen belt where all the old spacecraft pile up.
No. It means you would live in a home. A special home for people with problems, away from me. You don't want that, do you?
No, I don't.
Then why do you keep wandering away?
Its not me.
What is it then?
Gravity, I say.