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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
The Mother Satellite
It is time again to call my mother. I call her every day at noon. When she picks up today, she sounds great. A little winded, but energized. I can hear her treadmill whirring, her sneakered feet lightly thumping.
“Where are you?” I ask.
“Just passing over the Himalayas,” she says. “They’re lovely. They look like … oh, what are those things on a whale’s back?”
“That’s it, sweetie. Barnacles. Oh, look, there’s a little mountain climber. He’s nearly at the top. Hello down there! Congratulations! Be careful now—don’t trip!”
“That’s impossible, Mom. You can’t see people from that distance.”
I have been worried about this. The drugs might be making her hallucinate.
Six weeks ago I suggested to my mother that it might be time to consider moving to assisted living. She said she’d rather be shot into space. The next day, she volunteered to be a test subject for Robert Alderbranch, the billionaire who thinks he’s figured out how to reverse aging. The formula involves exercise (both mental and physical), a strict diet, a daily drug cocktail, and orbiting the Earth alone in a small capsule.
“So what’s on the docket for today?” I ask her this every day, even though her days are all the same.
“Oh, the usual. After I’m done with the treadmill, I’ll have my kale and yeast shake. Next comes the crossword puzzle, and then I’ll do my crunches.”
“Wait, you’ll do your what?”
“My crunches, sweetie. Mr. Alderbranch says they strengthen the core. Didn’t I tell you? There are these … what do you call them? Like parentheses, only they’re bolted to the ceiling.”
“Brackets. I put my feet through them so that I’m upside down, although there’s technically no up or down, up here in space. I link my hands behind my head and touch my nose to my knees. I’m up to ten a day.”
“That’s amazing,” I say. “The formula really must be working.”
“Mr. Alderbranch is very pleased,” Mom says. “He says it’s not just the drugs or the exercises or even the weightlessness. It’s the … oh, what’s it called, when you see things from a different angle?”
“That’s it. You’re such a smart girl, sweetie. I know you’ll find your own calling in life very soon.”
The other day she emailed me a job listing from a law firm. It was another receptionist job. I have explained to her that I can’t be a receptionist because I’m an introvert. I’ve taken tests that prove this. Also, I have a PhD in comparative literature.
“Anyway, it’s true what people say about the Earth,” Mom says. “It’s just a little blue ball. Mr. Alderbranch says perspective is the key to everything.”
The formula is supposed to reverse aging, not just stop it. So how young will Mom get? Is there a predetermined cutoff point? If it were me, I think I’d like to stop at 35. That was a pretty good year, 35. I finally left my husband, the world’s most charismatic dentist, who cheated on me with multiple hygienists. That day, I turned my back on the large, sunny house we shared and ran for miles through the brand-new suburbs. I ran faster and faster, until I truly believed my next step would lift me into the air.
What if my mom turns into a teenager? Or a child? Will she actually get smaller?
“So when can you come home?” I say. “I mean …” I should not have said the word “home” to her. We never did resolve the question of assisted living. If Alderbranch’s formula works, that probably will no longer be an issue. But I don’t want to give her any false hopes. “I mean,” I say, hedging, “when can you come back to Earth?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Mom says. “I haven’t asked Mr. Alderbranch. I don’t like to bother him with that stuff.”
“It’s your life, Mom.”
“But I don’t want to sound ungrateful,” Mom says. “He’s been so kind to me. Yesterday he sent me a bouquet of flowers—well, a photograph of a bouquet. They were lilies. Anyway, I don’t think it would work on Earth. The perspective, I mean. I wouldn’t have that anymore, would I?”
I haven’t sent her any photographs of anything.
“Oh, look, I’m coming up on your apartment complex. Hurry up, sweetie! Run outside and wave to me.”
“I’m in my pajamas,” I say. I don’t remind her that I’m also much too far away.
“I’m nearly there! You’re going to miss me! Run out to your balcony and wave.”
I suppose it will do no harm.
“OK. OK. I’m out here. I’m waving.”
“I see you! There you are! There you are in that old robe of yours! Do you see me?”
It’s impossible to see satellites in the daytime, much less anyone inside them.
“I’m waving to you,” I say, hedging again.
A star shoots out from behind my neighbor’s TV dish. A bright seam trails behind it, as if my mom’s unzipping the sky.
Ann Gelder‘s fiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Crazyhorse, Portland Review, and other journals. Her nonfiction has appeared in Tin House (Spring 2006), The Millions, and The Rumpus.
*Tin House is now accepting flash fiction (under 1,000 words) for FLASH FRIDAYS. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org with FLASH FRIDAY as your subject line.