Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Silver
Christine Marlowe

There was a whoosh from the pneumatic cylinders as the hatch on the International Space Station opened and the glare off the sides momentarily blinded Desmond MacKenna. He edged his way up along the external hand railings up to the pump control panel that he was about to repair.

Mission Control fuzzed on and off in his helmet, but his attention was entirely focused on the job at hand. There was a hand ladder that lead up to where the cooling panel was located and beyond to the solar panel and he crept hand-over-hand, carefully trying to control his unwieldy suit from floating effortlessly away. He gingerly lifted the corner of the panel from its resting place, making sure to keep one hand grasping firmly to the hand ladder. He heard the fuzzy warnings from Mission Control to be careful of the debris that may have collected beneath the pump. Des tugged at the panel with a motion as smooth as he could make it with his cumbersome hands stymied by the bulk of his space suit. It was stuck.

Sweat began to collect on his brow, the cool air pressure in his suit doing nothing to assuage the thumping of his heart. He blew a heavy breath out, muffling the transmission of his colleagues down on Earth. Sweat beaded down his brow and he shook his head to keep it from rolling into his eyes.

Closing his eyes to re-focus, he tried to calm his breathing. When he opened them again, he gazed beyond the silvery solar panel stretching away in front of him to the majesty of the Earth. His thoughts drifted to his family waiting below. Jenny’s face floated, unbeckoned, to his consciousness and he felt a rush of affection for his wife and a fleeting pang of homesickness. This was to be his last spacewalk and in a month he would be back on the solidness of Earth. He didn’t want to wish away these moments.

He let his eyes soak in the blues and greens of the land below tempering the harshness of the deep Void surrounding him. All his life’s dreams culminated in this moment—being able to gaze upon the splendour of the planet, able to appreciate the clarity of the land masses, able to see the finitude of human existence. He thought of the strife that marked so much of the land below him, the grief that reverberated throughout the world, the gunshots that rang out, the terror that ensued. And marvelled how up here in the softness of the Earthlight, all was silent save the slow even breaths that filled his ears. Humanity was what it was and he didn’t quite know how he could resolve the conflict he felt rising within—to stay here in the unending silence and peace of space, or to return and, through his contributions of work and family, try to turn the tide where humanity seemed to be rushing.

In a sweeping glance, he took in the smallness of the planet in the vastness of the darkness and the brightness of the Station from the unending light of the sun. His gaze settled on his hand, clinging to the hand ladder. It would be so easy to let go. Des looked back at the Earth, and as he watched the swirl of the clouds alternately cover and separate into wispy eddies, his grip on the ladder loosened. He felt his suit begin to drift further away from the Station, following the line of his gaze towards the overwhelming splendour of the stratosphere. He could vaguely hear Mission Control’s increasingly frantic queries but felt mesmerized by his weightless pull away from the safety of all he knew.

Opening his hand, he continued to make a slow drift past the half-opened panel, his shadow an eerie companion along this journey. He closed his eyes as he felt himself float further away from the ladder, unsure exactly what his intentions were, suddenly aware of the fallout that might ensue from his actions. But as he re-opened his eyes, the fullness of the planet rose up before him and he filled with a peace he had never known.

Des had closed his eyes once again, blocking all but the sense of peace from his consciousness, when he felt his suit collide against the Station. His eyes flashed open. He had rotated slightly and the EMU tether had worked its way in front of him and had gotten ensnared in the hand ladder. His hand automatically caught the ladder once again to prevent any damage to his suit and, in the heartbeat of time that passed, he began to pull himself back, hand-over-hand, down to the hatch below.


E-mail: xeryfyn[at]canada.com.

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