The air felt tight as he cut through it; his body nothing more than a knife edge this morning as he hacked away at the wind, rain and falling leaves. The yellow blob in the sky was fighting to come out from behind the clouds but it just wasn’t the time of year where it won this sort of battle; a fact that made Matt glad. He much preferred running without the sun beating down on him. It was an unfair fight, which turned the tarmac into hot coals and the air into a thick drink. Besides, running in the rain made him feel alive, like he was in a movie. But he wasn’t. This was real life and the rain was doing nothing other than hiding his tears.
He rounded the corner, dodging some of the brown leaves as they fell and saw his house at the end of the street and the crowd of sleepy-eyed reporters that had become as much a permanent fixture outside his house as the pavement full of dog shit and fallen autumn leaves were. Approaching the gate he didn’t stop, but instead sped up, making it difficult for them to grab a picture; at least one that they could use. He kept running, biting through the muscle ache and the sharp stabbing pain in his lungs (immediately regretting last night’s dance with nicotine) to get far away from their scribbling pens, their clicking cameras and their money-grabbing headlines. For them, this was Launch Day For The Rocket Man, as the town had dubbed him. For Matt, it was what could be the first day of the rest of his and Tommy’s life. One more lap and I’ll sneak in the back gate, he thought as he kept running despite his body screaming for him to stop.
“Run till you feeling like you’re going to drop a lung,” Lisa said, once. He smiled, thinking of the memory and let it fill up his tank and kept running.
Tommy’s eyes were open even before he heard the soft metallic click of the front door echo throughout the house as his father went for his morning run. His father had never been the athletic sort before, but ever since his Mum had gone, his Dad’s running had become as ritualistic as Sunday morning mass was to the throngs of people who’d come through their front door since. Although the visits had become less and less frequent recently, ever since his Dad had started work on the thing in the back garden that was covered in a white sheet. The thing he wasn’t allowed to know about but everyone was talking about. The thing that seemed to have brought with it a bunch of people with cameras and notepads who shouted at his Dad every time he tried to enter the house. The thing that made the kids at school (and the parents too) call his Dad “Rocket Man”. The thing that Tommy knew had something to do with his Mum. But Tommy knew that no matter what, she wasn’t coming back. But it seemed like his Dad didn’t think that.
The days in between his Mum’s death and the funeral – the days that ran like the days between Christmas and New Year only sadder and quieter – it had just been the two of them. Though they hardly spoke; they just sat with the lights off and the TV on, with the volume up loud Tommy knew his father was broken. Whenever the light flashed across his father’s face he could see the tears rolling down his cheek. It was a strange sight; a father’s tears. It made Tommy feel like an adult and it made him feel strong. It wasn’t a feeling he liked; he much preferred that of feeling like a child. But one day, after spending a few nights in the attic, his father came down smiling. He tousled his hair and looked so happy. Like he’d found the answer to something, like he’d managed to turn off whatever was making his eyes run like a broken tap. When people came by to talk about the funeral or mention how much they would help look after him if he needed it, his Dad just waved them off, saying that there was no need. When his Aunt Charlotte (who Tommy just adored, she was crazy and dressed like a kid despite being the same age as his Dad – she reminded him of one of his favourite characters from the Harry Potterbooks, Tonks) and his Aunt Jenny came round one day after his Dad had started hammering away and carrying lots of wood and metal through the house, he was almost certain he’d heard his Dad say that nothing mattered and that his Mum would be back soon. It made Tommy worried, and a little confused, and that adult way again that he didn’t like. He remembered both his Aunt Charlotte and Aunt Jenny looking so sad and worried that day, as they left his Dad too whatever it was he was doing. Some people around town said he was crazy and other people said he was grieving but most people said they were one and the same. One of the kids in school said that he heard from his Dad that Tommy’s Dad was building something. He knew his Dad’s name was Matt but whenever they had been out recently, people called him Rocket Man or Major Tom. One even called him Noah, like the man in the bible who built the ark. Without knowing all the answers, Tommy had decided some weeks ago that he would help his Dad. Because his Mum told him that he’d need to look after his Dad after she left and he realized maybe he hadn’t done such a good job up until now and that he owed it to his mother to fix things.
With thoughts of his mother still fresh in his mind, he crept out of bed and into the hallway with the silence and grace of a ninja; the ninja in dinosaur pajamas. Stopping, he listened for any sign of life in the house, but there was nothing. He didn’t want to wake anyone up. He was on a mission. The special project he’d been working on was almost complete. And he couldn’t risk being detected before he’d put the final touches onto it. Happy that there was no chance of detection, he made his way across the hall and toward the attic; his secret laboratory. Today was the day he’d unveil his surprise to his father. He knew his father had been working on a special project although what it was Tommy did not know all the answers; for an 8 year old he was smart and had pieced together what he thought his father was building. He’d overheard the conversations, saw the shape of great hulking thing in the back yard covered in a cloth stained lime and brown and then he had found the letter his Mum had written to his father. He had joined the dots and figured it all out. And since then, he had been building something of his own and today, when he got back from his run, he would show him. He would show him the rocket and that he too, was a Rocket Man