Tuesday, March 3, 2009
John Skylark was marooned ten days in space before they found him, alone among the wreckage of the blasted space station. He came back different. Saw the world differently. Ten days adrift above the Earth with only silence and distance for company. Rescue Rocket Six's crew found him a changed man.
The emptiness changed his eyes. The silence changed his ears. His wife, Miranda, found him on the roof of their house that first night, bundled in a heavy coat and boots, a hovercycle helmet standing in for his space helmet. He was staring out at the stars. She told herself she could deal with his, she was an astronaut's wife, that they all knew the risks when he signed up, but this was different, they had children now. She had to think of the boys.
She called Dr. Fenwick. They made an appointment. John sat in a plush couch opposite the Space Agency psychiatrist and said nothing for a very long time. He rarely said anything anymore.
His radio was damaged during the explosion, Fenwick told Miranda later. The Agency hadn't been very forthcoming with her--not even when they found him alive. She knew almost none of the details of John's sojourn in that impenetrable blackness. There had been an explosion, everyone save John was killed. He had to scrounge for oxygen tanks amongst the wreckage. Distance is a tricky thing to judge in outer space. There's no common frame of reference. Objects can be closer or farther than they appear. "His eyes had to adjust to that," Fenwick told her. "He doesn't see objects anymore, not in the way you and I do. He only sees the spaces between them. In many ways it's like he's come back blind."
"I'm lonely," he told Dr. Fenwick on the fifth day.
"But you're home, you're surrounded by people," Fenwick replied. "By your loved ones, your family, the people who care about you." John didn't say anything much after that.
The rest of the summer was spent at Canaveral, him seeing Doctor Fenwick on a weekly basis, sometimes talking, most times not. He played with his sons, albeit in a distracted, curious way, as though he were learning to be human again, slowly. Sometimes he and Miranda made love, but even then he was far away.
Between each of them there was a yawning chasm as great as the distance between the Earth and the stars.