Stepping carefully into the living room, Matt made his way quietly toward the window, being sure not to wake his sister Jenny and his friend and colleague Charlotte who had taken it upon themselves to taking residence in his house since he’d, according to everyone in the town, gone off the deep end. He glanced at them both, curled up on the couch together and thought how ironic it was; if Matt hadn’t been the talk of the town, he’d be sure they would have been if someone saw them through the living room window. Matt had always considered it a town full of ears but with not one of them willing to listen. Especially now he had become part of the conversation, detracting from the tragedy of Lisa and focusing on his mental stability as well as has fathering skills. He knew the name he had been given. He knew what they called him; it was in their eyes everywhere he went. The old man behind the counter at the DIY Store took his money and rolled his eyes as easy as he gave the change. If only they had experienced what he had. If only they had seen.
A few days after she died, he’d went up to the attic in a bid to clear his mind and stay away from the well wishers down stairs and the endless stream of paperwork that death seemed to dish out. Tommy was staying Matt’s Mum so he didn’t have him to worry about. He took a bottle of brown up with him; whisky or brandy he hadn’t stopped to look. And he sat there for hours, drinking and listening to the box of vinyl’s that had belonged to Lisa. It was somewhere between Wuthering Heightsby Kate Bush and her soundtrack to The Rocky Horror Picture Showand it’s follow up Shock Treatment– that was the song that was playing, it hit him then – that he spotted the telescope. Matt didn’t know whether it was just sheer nostalgia or a mixture of guilt for never using the gift but he dug it out. It was smeared with dust and a sprinkles of wood but everything was in tact. At the far end of the attic, there was a window that gave him a panoramic view of the town. The roofs of house gathered in front of him like a Monopoly board mid game but he wasn’t interested in chimneys, aerials or satellite dishes. The telescope had stand which he kicked out and jutted up, angling it toward the night sky. Stumbling, the bottle in one hand, he adjusted the eyepiece and looked through it. At first, he saw nothing but it slowly came into focus. And it was breathtaking.
The stars were inches in front of him, bright as the light bulb in the room inches above his head. He sweeped left and right, up and down and drank it all in. It was incredible. Even as a boy he had been fascinated with space, riding the age old cliché of every boy wanting to be an astronaut. The appetite, he found that night, hadn’t really gone away. Some of his happiest memories, before Lisa, were catching late night movies on the television about astronauts or space. He remembered, one of his last memories with his own father, watching Apollo 13 and then going outside to look at the stars with his father as he sparked up a cigarette. Standing back from the telescope, still caught up in this he adjusted the field of vision, testing Lisa’s theory that he could see on the face of the moon or on the face of other far flung planets. The lens adjusted, he pressed it to the eyepiece and angled the telescope to find himself a planet. Saturn? Mars? Poor Pluto? Or should he stick with the moon? The moon it was.
He had stepped back for a minute to pour another drink and knocked the telescope. He had been pretty pissed because it had taken so long to angle it up just right. At first, he didn’t see it when he looked back through, to busy bringing it back into focus. Then, as he shifted his focus back toward the lens he saw it. He jolted back, falling over the boxes and smashing the bottle in his hand, cutting his palm which gushed red and quick. There was no way, he had thought. No way. It was impossible. Impossible. But he was sure.
Slowly, he stepped back toward the telescope and looked in this time being sure not to fall back. He couldn’t find it at first but then Matt did and his breath stopped and his heart with it. The telescope was looking on the ground of a planet but it wasn’t rocks or dust but a world. It was green and fields of wheat rising high. There was a farmhouse and a stream running behind it. And walking through the fields, clear as day, and alive as she was yesterday. It was her. The face he had seen.
It was Lisa.
Matt didn’t stop to think that it was impossible. That he was crazy or that it was grief playing tricks on his eyes. He was so sure. It had taken him a split second to make his decision and, grabbing the telescope, he headed into the garden. And started building.
That was a month ago now. And ever since, he had been unable to find it again. Had been unable to find the farmhouse or the fields of wheat or the fresh cut grass or Lisa. The very next morning he had tried to locate it again and couldn’t. It was no matter, he thought. And so consumed with hope and the idea that he could get her back, he had started to build. Of what, he was not sure. Whenever anyone asked, he would just say, “I saw her. In the stars. Up there. I’m going to go and get her.” That was a month. After she’d gone, after he’d opened the letter. He had turned Tommy away the next morning, filling his head with the same hope that he had been consumed with. But nobody understood. Not even Tommy.
Looking out the window now, past the reporters and the photographers and the people who had gathered to watch him try to leave this earth, he looked at view stretching out past the houses & the pier and the river and hills beyond, a faint mist clouding out the rest of the world and sealing the town off in it’s own little bubble. The town looked sleepy and tired these days; something Matt noticed on his morning runs. It had a perpetual grey to it, even the river had turned from blue to grey which made him wonder if Lisa would thank him for bringing her back.
Charlotte and Jenny stirred then, but only Charlotte woke and saw him standing there. She gave him a tired smile and he returned it. He knew what Charlotte wanted him to say, that it was a momentary lapse in sanity, a temporary madness (to quote Golden Earring) but he couldn’t. What he had seen had felt so real and had been damn near spiritual, the closest Matt had ever been to faith or a belief system since his brief stint in Catholic school – before his parents split and his Mum decided to get him ‘a real education’. Charlotte’s stare bore into him, burning the side of his head like a sun filled magnifying glass does an ant. She got up, came over and touched his hand and, meeting her gaze he thought for a moment that she was crying. When she spoke, her voice was quiet, and not what he had expected.
“So, today’s the day, huh?” she said.
He nodded. “Today’s the day. Seems like words spread quick.”
Charlotte followed his gaze outside and nodded too. “Yeah well, I’ve got a sweepstakes running at work and everyone wanted a piece of the action?”
Matt smiled. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. Most people have that hunk of junk you’ve built out there not taking off, some have you getting off the ground only to crash in Old Lady Jane’s garden, taking a few of her gnomes with you & some think you won’t go through with it.”
“Anyone got me succeeding?”
She didn’t say anything, which said enough.
“Well OK. I better get ready.”
Charlotte placed a hand on his arm as he made to leave.
“Don’t do this Matt. We’re worried about you. Everybody is. We’re worried for Tommy too.”
When they brought up Tommy it was the only time Matt’s faith ever wavered. It had been the same the second week into the build. The back garden had become a sun trap and Matt, soaked in his own sweat headed into the kitchen to run his wrists under the cold tap and pour himself a glass of water when his Mum called him into the living room. He answered the call and, cautiously, entered the room to find himself in the middle of an intervention. Everyone was there, his own family, Lisa’s, his friends from work – even Big Joe the guy who only ever greeted Matt with a grunt as they swapped shifts – Charlotte and the whole diner crew. Even Diane had showed up and, bizarrely, showed no sign of supporting Matt. The intervention hadn’t lasted long. As soon as the suggestion that Tommy should go and stay with one of them for a while Matt had thrown them out and banned them from entering the house again.
Matt looked out the window again, then back to Charlotte. “Think if I find life on other planets, work will take me back and give me a raise?”
Charlotte stared back at him, her eyes masking her heart breaking as much as she could then she took a few notes out of her pocket. “Well fine. I’ll stick ten on you succeeding. Better odds on that than you getting a raise. Not before me.”
“Smart move. Can you look after Tommy? Till I get back?”
Charlotte nodded. “Course I can. You going to say goodbye?”
Matt shook his head. “If I try that, I’ll never try this.”
“Well, OK. Let’s get this show on the road then.”
And with that, leaving Jenny to sleep, they both left the house and into the back garden.