Originally published as 'Bug Daddy' in The Lifted Brow (Digital Edition)
For a long time I dreamt that all the dead pets of my life were coming back to me, one by one. Dogs and goldfish, some rats – their resurrection was a gift, my husband’s way of thanking me for my patience while he was in space, doing the President’s work. He brought them back, breathing, to me and Constance.
In my dreams he tracked them down to their burial places and lifted them from the earth. He took one up with him on his missions, each trip into orbit. He gave up his free time on the shuttle to revive them by way of the miraculous cosmic radiation zooming constantly through space. He held them cradled in the arms of his spacesuit while huge waves zapped their little bodies, opening the blockages in their hearts, putting fire back into their brains. I still see him drifting outside of his shuttle, tethered by an umbilical cord. Through the fishbowl of his helmet his eyes are closed. His brow reflects the rising sun like it’s the light of Christ.
Soon, I wake up.
At four years old, Constance refused to understand much about her father’s work. I read her the brief, censored letters he sent, the labelled photographs of the scientific knick-knacks that kept him alive. They were things familiar to me. This distracted her from biting through an electrical cable, or leaping from a bookshelf into our glass table, or putting a knife through an outlet and being obliterated by energy.
My sister wasn’t concerned. When I called about a dream journal she sent me, she said, ‘Constance isn’t long for this world. She’s just trying to go out in style.’
‘What would you do?’
‘I can’t think I’d do much,’ she said. ‘She just misses daddy, maybe.’
‘She has a funny way of showing it,’ I said.
Constance had a wide, open forehead, which gave the impression that she could be fooled easily. But she didn’t listen when I took her into the yard on cloudless nights to point out constellations that I predicted her father was attempting to observe, or the areas of the sky he was probably moving through. She would tell her friends her father had an alien family on the moon, one he loved more than us, for whom he would endure the trouble of space-flight.
She seemed to understand only the tremendous pressures his body went through twice a year: once being shot into orbit and once falling out of it. In the interim—those six months between the pressures, while he was talking to aliens for ninety thousand dollars a year—who’s to say what happened to him? In orbit, your heart floats free inside the barrel of your chest. The cells of your bones go into decommission, and you return palsied, too exhausted to speak about your journey, about your moon family.
I would close my eyes and imagine that feeling in my own body. I would think, What I wouldn’t give to have someone shoot me up there, all alone, into the blue eyes of god.
‘Are you drinking?’ my sister asked. I could hear her watching television as her husband spoke loudly in another room.
‘Yes, are you?’
‘Yes, I am. What’s she doing now?’
Constance sat under our heavy oak dining table and tried to pry loose the screws that kept it from collapsing on top of her. I hooked my toe into the waistband of her pants and pulled her towards me across the linoleum. Her dumb little hands reached out for work.
‘Nothing. She’s just sitting there.’
‘It’s easy to get lonely,’ my sister said. ‘You should remember to write down every dream you have.’
‘I will,’ I said. ‘I’ll remember.’
‘He’s probably lonely too,’ she said. ‘I bet he doesn’t have a dream journal.’
‘I don’t know, maybe they give him one.’
The last time I saw my husband, the weekend before the launch, all the astronauts and their wives got together to barbecue meat and talk about nothing other than what aliens look like.
Drunk, he’d dragged me away from this conversation into the bathroom and turned off the lights and pulled my dress up over my hips. He kissed me in the way he did— moustache scrubbing my cheek, his small mouth closed like he’s playing a flute—but when the lights came back on I was almost surprised that he wasn’t someone else: another astronaut, or a technician from mission control, with their thick glasses and tiny office-worker’s calves. Someone completely different.