Look Up by Tiffany Grimes

Parkrose, Portland, Oregon, August 124:55pm

Luke and I walk home from school. He has on this beanie with a dumb chemistry pun, NaCl over NaOH[1], even though it’s eighty degrees. He’s eating a bag of Cheetos and his fingers are orange and powdery.

“I think the Gamer Club should meet twice a week,” Luke says.

“We have four members. Once a week is dumb enough.” I walk quickly and Luke almost jogs to keep up. The sooner I can get home and get the evening over with, the sooner it would be dark enough to see the stars. Earth only passes through the trail left by Comet Swift-Tuttle once a year and last year I had the flu. I’m not going to let anything ruin the Perseid meteor shower this year.

“But Tana has been thinking about joining.”

“Then once a week is definitely enough.”

“We should form a Space Club then. Argue about Pluto some more.”

“Dude, come on. The moon is larger than Pluto.”

If Luke weren’t a family friend, I probably wouldn’t talk to him. But I don’t talk to anyone, so my argument is weak.

“Ganymede and Titan are bigger than Mercury, so size shouldn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t. Unless Pluto becomes the dominant gravitational body in its orbit, it’s going to remain a dwarf planet.”

“Well we could discuss other things in Space Club.” He polishes off the last of the Cheetos and shoves the bag into his pocket. He wipes his hands on his shirt leaving trails of orange cheese dust.

“Yeah, I guess we could.”

Parkrose, Portland, Oregon, August 12—7:34pm

Inside our mellow yellow (or as mom calls it chartreuse) house, mom is cooking lasagna. She cooks everything from scratch now that she got rid of all of the canned goods dad used to keep around. She’s got on a floral apron that’s splattered with sauce, like some sort of floral massacre happened right here in our kitchen. Everyone says I look just like her: small frame, right angles, red hair, freckles. I look nothing like dad.

He’s this massively tall man with wire glasses perched on the end of his nose like Dumbledore. He used to haunt the back porch with his telescope. Maps littered the floor as he charted the stars, paying particular attention to asteroids and comets. I don’t remember our last conversation, but it probably revolved around “the end.”

“The end is near, Jacob,” he’d say, a cigarette hanging from his mouth. Ashes followed him wherever he went like a trail of stardust.

I’m finishing my homework at the kitchen table, because once you skip an entire semester’s worth of homework, you “lose trust.”

“Jacob, honey,” mom says. Her back is to me. “You look exhausted.”

“Do I?” I want to ask if she’s suddenly got eyes in the back of her head, but I don’t.

“You should go to bed early.”

“Sure, mom,” I mumble into my calculus.

Rocky Butte, Portland, Oregon, August 12—11:17pm

Gnats line my glasses. They’re everywhere. Tiny fluttering silent specks. They cling to me, cover every inch of my body. I swat them off but they return. I cringe as they brush my face and threaten to fly into my mouth.

My puggle, Parker, whines next to me and chomps at the air. His eyes bug out of his face and his coat is a murkier version of the burnt sienna paint in the art set I got for my birthday. We’re the only ones up here.

I set up my telescope and wait for Luke. He’s late.

“Fucker probably fell asleep,” I whisper. The cuss word is foreign and clumsy. It bumps into the night and I regret saying it. The air is more humid than it should be, like I’m wearing a velvet cape.

Rocky Butte is an extinct volcano cinder cone. It sounds way cooler than it is. On a clear day you can see the mountain version of Virgo’s Diamond[2] from up here: Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, Mount Rainier. There’s a stone formation at the top that forms James Woodhill Park, but I don’t set up my telescope there. I’m near the edge, past the tree line, where people like to rock climb. When you look down, the stone walls are filled with scars from dry tooling. Several people have died climbing here. I try not to think about that.

Instead of looking through my telescope, I lay back into the dirt and look up. The glare from the lights below glazes the sky like a cinnamon roll. If you hold still enough, the sky talks. The history of the universe is mapped out in the twinkling lights above us: stars and galaxies are born, they live, they die. Just like us. We see the past as galaxies in red hues recede and theorize the future by measuring the speed from billions of years ago. It’s all just a guessing game and eventually more evidence is provided and theories change and what’s the point.

We’re spiraling through space at 1,040 miles per hour reaching nearly 25,000 miles per day and 584 million miles per year. That’s fast. But we’re just spiraling and always end up in the same place and it bums me out that that’s all there is. There’s this massive, deadly universe being ignored while people down medications for attention disorders, anxiety, depression. Life is just a pathetic cycle of ignorance. It’s just speeding at 1,040 miles per hour but always finding yourself exactly where you started. Maybe the dinosaurs willed the asteroid to end their constant state of dysphoria.

Dad was onto something with his fear of space.

I spot the first meteor and it’s gone.

Parker bounds to me and licks my face. I pull away, tumbling over the edge.

It’s not like they describe it in movies or stories where the descent is slow and you see your life flashing before your eyes. It’s quick and painful and then in an instant I’m lying on the ground, my feet splayed out in front of me, and my right arm angled awkwardly beneath me.

Rocky Butte, Portland, Oregon, August 12—11:40pm

Claws extend over the ledge thirty feet above me like large Bugles, like the ones Luke always ate off of his fingertips. I don’t move. Can’t move.

Parker has other ideas and whines and yaps at the creature. My ears ring with every bark.

“Hello.” The voice is deep and ancient. It cracks as though it hasn’t spoken in centuries. Horns sprout from the creature’s gray head and his hair is glow stick blue and falls past his waist. I open my mouth but I can’t think of anything to say.

“You seem to be stuck,” the beast calls down to me.

I blink and he’s standing in front of me. His skin is wrinkly like an elephant, but his face is kind. His owl eyes peer down at me.

I sit up dumb-slow and pat my body to make sure I’m all here. I read this article where this guy didn’t notice he was missing his arm until an hour later. Both of my arms are still attached. My legs, too.

“You should look up now,” the creature says. “The meteor is seconds away.”

I look up.

Rocky Butte, Portland, Oregon, August 12—11:43pm

It isn’t a meteor.

I don’t panic, but I’m not calm. I’m halfway paralyzed.

It’s a fiery asteroid. It picks up speed once the Earth’s gravitational pull locks on and it races toward me.

I look at the creature and his eyes are closed. He’s whispering something low but Parker is howling from the ledge above and I can’t read lips.

Time has stretched and somehow thirteen seconds has turned into thirteen minutes or maybe thirteen years or decades and I look up and the asteroid has shrunken down to a meteor and it slams into the side of Rocky Butte. The ground shakes below me, sending waves throughout my body that feel like tiny earthquakes along my skin.

Rocky Butte, Portland, Oregon, August 12—11:47pm

The creature takes the first few steps toward the meteor. I scramble up to my feet and follow. Parker yaps uncontrollably above us.

“Might I silence your dog?”

I hesitate.

“It won’t hurt him.”

I nod. Parker opens and closes his jaws wide with no sound.

“This meteor strikes here every night. Ever wonder why you can never keep track of time between 11:43-11:47?”

I hadn’t really noticed.

“Every night I send it back into the sky as if it never happened.”

I don’t say anything. I just think of my dad and his prep nonsense[3].

“Your dad is a smart man,” the beast says. Suddenly I’m acutely aware that he can read minds.

Then we’re back on top of Rocky Butte and Parker is running circles around us. His mouth opens and closes like he’s still barking ferociously.

“Do you know who I am?”

I shake my head.

“You can call me by my earth name, Cronus. I was given it a long time ago, but the stories passed along are far from the truth.”

“The Greek god of time?”

“That’s what they called me.” He chuckles.

“If the meteor shower is once a year, why does this meteor strike every night?”

“You know, I never have figured that out,” he says.

Rocky Butte, Portland, Oregon, August 13—12:33am

Cronus leaves. One minute he was there and the next he was gone.

I begin to wonder if he was here at all.

Luke’s head bobs along the road. He drops his bike and runs up to meet me.

“Sorry I’m so late.” He’s breathing so deeply he has to take a break. He leans over and puts his hands on his knees to steady himself. He gulps down air. “I didn’t know if you’d still be up here or not. I got sidetracked researching ants. Do you think that the homologous population of Linepithema humile will lead to the collapse of invasive supercolonies?[4]

“Who cares?” I ask. I jump down. I launch into the story about Cronus, too excited to slow down and breathe between sentences.

I’ve just got to tell someone, anyone, about what I’ve just seen.

“Jacob?” He’s staring at me like I’ve got 17 heads or turned bright orange. Maybe I have.

I don’t linger long enough to find out if I’ve actually turned into some sideshow attraction. I grab my telescope and run home, Parker yapping silently next to me.

Parkrose, Portland, OR, August 136:49am

Mom is in the chair in the corner of the room when I wake up. I press my palms into the mattress and sit up slowly, expecting my body to ache. It doesn’t. I reach up and wipe my forehead, expecting to find blood from the fall last night, but it’s clear. Sweat.

“Luke called.”

I swallow and make a mental note to kill Luke.

“He said some concerning things. Have you been taking your medicine?”

“Of course I have.”

“Hallucinations are the number one sign of schizophrenia.”

“I know mom.” Schizophrenia this month. Bipolar last month.

“You have to take your medicine, honey. It’s for your own good.”

Her eyes follow mine to the bottom drawer of my desk. She opens her palm. A dozen orange tablets. She found them.

“How can I trust you?”

“There’s nothing wrong with me.” My voice is no longer my own. I’m a snake, slithering across the floorboards.

“Jacob. This is very serious. You snuck out. Luke was concerned enough to call me. I’m afraid we are going to have to do in home rehab again.”

This meant the basement.

Where she converted dad’s bunker and keeps her patients. Parker’s eyes widen, his ears flatten, and a vibrating growl emits from deep in his chest.

“I’ve been meaning to visit dad for awhile,” I say.

Her face is hollow, certain. She takes one last look at me and shakes her head. Her movements are languid as she walks toward the door.

“It’s for your own safety,” she says to the empty space in front of her.

***

[1] You see, NaCl is table salt and NaOH is a basic compound. So his dumb hat translates to: the base is under assault!

[2] Virgo’s Diamond is this asterism Dad was obsessed with. It covers a massive amount of the sky, right under the Big Dipper in the northern hemisphere. Dad loved how it connected Leo, Virgo, Boötes, and Canes Venatici.

[3] A Prepper is someone who is naïvely obsessed with the end of the world, stockpiles a bunch of food, creates a bunker, and alienates his family.

[4] This is Luke’s pretentious and nerdy way of talking about the problematic, damaging Argentine ant colonies that can populate entire city blocks.


Tiffany Grimes is a proud Hufflepuff and crazy cat lady. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Feels Blind Literary and Meat for Tea: The Valley Review. She lives in Portland, OR with her two cats. Visit her website here and her Instagram here.

 

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