great ball of fire (part 7)
Nap stood staring out of one of the portals in the ship, for the first time able to see the glowing speck that was hurtling towards him. Him and Madonna and Chance and everyone he knew and didn’t know back on Earth. Madonna floated up behind him and touched him gently on the shoulder. The two stood silently for a few moments staring out into the abyss. The reality of their mission perhaps sinking in for the first time.
Suddenly uncomfortable with the gravity of the moment Madonna spoke; “Did you know that Bill Haley was a raging alcoholic? He had ten or more kids and was apparently a terrible father to all of them.”
Looking out into space the idea that Nap appeared to be a million miles still made him the closet person around.
“I hope that the people of Earth realize that Halley’s Comet wasn’t named after him.”
Seemingly coming out of a trance Nap looked at her and said “It doesn’t seem like you have much faith in the IQ of the people we’re here to save.”
Unexpectedly feeling wildly vulnerable she started to tear up and said “I just want to know that it’s going to be ok. That people aren’t as dumb as I sometimes fear they are. That they know about Edward Halley.”
Her bottom lip trembled ever so slightly.
“I need a sign that there’s hope.”
Nap turned and put his hand on her face.
“Do you know the Stanley Kunitz poem Halley’s Comet?” he asked her. She looked at him and shook her head.
“Miss Murphy in first grade
wrote its name in chalk
across the board and told us
it was roaring down the stormtracks
of the Milky Way at frightful speed
and if it wandered off its course
and smashed into the earth
there’d be no school tomorrow.
A red-bearded preacher from the hills
with a wild look in his eyes
stood in the public square
at the playground’s edge
proclaiming he was sent by God
to save every one of us,
even the little children.
“Repent, ye sinners!” he shouted,
waving his hand-lettered sign.
At supper I felt sad to think
that it was probably
the last meal I’d share
with my mother and my sisters;
but I felt excited too
and scarcely touched my plate.
So mother scolded me
and sent me early to my room.
The whole family’s asleep
except for me. They never heard me steal
into the stairwell hall and climb
the ladder to the fresh night air.
Look for me, Father, on the roof
of the red brick building
at the foot of Green Street —
that’s where we live, you know, on the top floor.
I’m the boy in the white flannel gown
sprawled on this coarse gravel bed
searching the starry sky,
waiting for the world to end.”
About seven or eight lines in Madonna’s mouth slowly began to fall open and by the last line it rested on the top of her perfect breasts. She wanted to ask “How?” or beg Nap to never speak again and ruin it but instead closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Finally she opened her eyes and looked at him.
“Thank you Nap.”