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Hook Up


by Alex Wilson
Introverts in a space adventure.

Science Fiction, 54 pages.
Originally Published in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, 2007

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Tara Jones was nine when her father warned her how she could break if she wasn’t careful. He wasn’t yelling, he said. He sounded like he was yelling. He wasn’t angry, he said. He smelled like cigarettes.

On a Thursday afternoon, Tara and her best friend Caimile played marbles on the sidewalk outside the gray brick apartment building in Buffalo where Tara and her father lived. Caimile was the same age as Tara, and about the same size. Their dresses matched, except for the color.

Tara’s favorite marble looked like a little globe, with milky white oceans and continents painted blue. She liked to thumb Antarctica before shooting this marble across the sidewalksphere where all their little worlds settled into the porous texture of the concrete.

Their legs sore from squatting over the marbles, Tara and Caimile took standing breaks every few minutes and pretended they were animals. Caimile was a giraffe, and she tilted her head back as though this elongated her neck. Tara took her sandals off and tried to pick up a marble with her toes, which now were her talons. She squawked. She was a bird.

“What kind of a bird are you?” Caimile asked.

“A red one,” Tara said. Her dress was red. Caimile’s was green. Caimile was a green giraffe.

“Let’s play helicopter,” Caimile said. She took Tara’s hands in her own and sidestepped into a dance, then faster into a full spin.

Tara giggled as she tried to keep up with Caimile’s steps, first on the sidewalk, then spilling out onto the patches of dirt flanking the sidewalk. Tara bit her lip and watched her feet. She didn’t want to step on the broken lime-colored glass, all sprinkled and shiny on the dirt. She didn’t want Caimile to step on her feet. She heard then felt the beat of her box braids against the side of her head.

Then Tara stepped on a marble: her favorite marble, the one that looked like Earth. She felt it fling out from under her, behind her, as her foot kicked back into the air. She spun her head around both ways, trying to see which way the marble flew, but she was dizzy and off balance from all the spinning.

Tara’s other foot followed back and out, and then she was looking at Caimile, whose feet still danced on the ground. Caimile swung Tara like a purse. She swung Tara around her as she continued to turn. Tara would have been airborne if her friend were to let go. Tara would have been a bird.

And just when Tara thought Caimile would have to let go because the spin itself was pulling her away and into the air, she screamed, two parts terror, one part glee. She pulled herself in towards Caimile. They hugged each other as they stopped.

“You’re really strong,” Tara said, after getting control of her breath again.

“You’re really light,” Caimile said. “I bet I could throw you over Mrs. Nelson’s fence.”

“You could not,” Tara said. Mrs. Nelson was an angry old white woman who lived in a small house down the block. She was the only white person Tara knew by name. Sometimes Mrs. Nelson yelled at the kids in the neighborhood, so sometimes they threw stuff at her windows. But never a person. “I mean, could you?”

And, though Tara didn’t break anything—not a bone, not a window—on her first attempt over Mrs. Nelson’s chain link fence, Tara’s father told her it was just because she was lucky. He wasn’t yelling, he said as he swabbed her scraped knee with something from a brown plastic bottle. But she needed to be more careful. He wasn’t angry, he said. He was just concerned.

Tara’s bones were not like other people’s bones, her father told her. “All bones are light, but yours are really light. Fragile.”

“Like a bird’s?” Tara asked.

“No, not hollow like a bird’s,” her father said.

Tara’s eyes opened wide. A bird’s bones were hollow? This was her most favorite thing, ever.

“They’re just fragile,” her father said, not yelling, not angry. “You also have some baby teeth in your mouth, where no adult teeth grew under them. We didn’t have fluoride in the water when you were a baby, and we think... ”

But Tara wasn’t listening. She was wondering about the bones of birds and all the neat stuff they could keep inside them. She wondered if she’d ever find her marble again, the one that looked like a milky Earth. And more than anything else she wondered whether she was light enough to fly over Mrs. Nelson’s fence.

Tomorrow she would have to find out.

* * *

Chris Moser was thirteen when he shot his first object into space from Chatham County, North Carolina.

Moser—as he preferred to be called—had actually figured ou -- [End of Preview.]