The Gravity of Us

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper Read Free Book Online

Book: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper Read Free Book Online
Authors: Phil Stamper
supplies to Mars to set up a permanent base, while Orpheus V sweeps back toward Earth, carrying a ton of soil and rock samples.
    I switch to the full Time story and see variations on the Tucker family portrait. Their eyes stare back at me; their faces hide all emotion behind them. Where I look for panic, I see reserved excitement. Practiced excitement. Grace Tucker’s twoteens play their roles well—Leon, the serious, Olympics-bound brother (who is supremely hot, if that wasn’t clear), and Katherine, the precocious sister.
    It makes me wonder … what role will I play?
    The article has a few more pictures spread out of the family together, posed on sets from the sixties. It reminds me of some of the old magazines I’ve seen. A wholesome family candid, with the family around the small box television with its wooden frame and obnoxious antenna.
    “Do you know much about the sixties? Like, the Apollo missions?” I ask.
    Dad fake swerves the car and gasps. I roll my eyes. Mom shakes her head but doesn’t start a fight.
    “You’re asking about the sixties? You’re asking me and not Siri?”
    “Dad, no one actually uses Siri. And whatever, I’ll just look it up,” I say, knowing he will absolutely not let me do that, now I’ve shown an interest.
    “So clearly, I wasn’t around then, but the sixties and early seventies were the golden age of spaceflight.” I catch his eye, and I can see the sparkle from here. “See, the astronauts moved to Clear Lake and the surrounding areas, and they all lived together, partied together, mourned together, and, eventually, some of them took America to the moon and back. It was a scene, like nothing that’s ever happened before. I know you don’t care for Shooting Stars , but even back then, the town was always swamped with the press. You couldn’t get a car down the street to save your life on launch days because of allthe news trucks and fans. It was like Hollywood or something.”
    “You showed me those articles once before, I think.”
    “I have all the good ones in the storage unit. Not doing much good there, I guess. But the country was obsessed with the astronauts. The whole country held their breath as mathematics and sheer brilliance brought back the Apollo 13 crew from the explosion that could have taken their lives. And they mourned when the Apollo 1 flight crew were burned alive on the test pad, thanks to a vulnerable wire and a pure oxygen atmosphere.” A silence fills the car. “They were the true American heroes, all of them.”
    I listen to him talk, and I’m mesmerized. He cares so much, but I never really knew. I mean, he had a few books on this; he obviously loved flying planes … which is also why this eight-billion-mile road trip was utterly confusing for me. Was this really his dream all along? Was I never paying attention?
    “That’s cool, Dad.”
    “ You think so?”
    My mom laughs at this and places her hand softly on my dad’s leg. I feel the connection in the car. It’s warm, and for one moment, we’re all smiling. I can’t even think of the last time we were content to be around one another. No shouting. No slammed doors, no loud music to drown it all out.
    I know it can’t last. I know my parents, and a part of me wonders if this truly is happiness or defeated acceptance. But I savor the moment as I pull up old paparazzi photos and Shooting Stars clips. I start taking note of everyone’s expressions:crisp, practiced, perfect. Are they all that good at faking it? Or do they actually buy into all this? I’m looking for a flaw, but I can’t find the reality behind the show. Until I come upon a candid shot from one of the parties—looks like another mixer at the Tuckers’ house. Grace has on a sleek, formfitting red cocktail dress; her laugh looks so pure it makes you want to join in. But in the background—
    “Leon,” I say.
    Mom turns around. “What’s that?”
    “Oh, I mean, nothing.” I return to the image. “Just

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