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  • On the morning that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, we all gathered around our television set to watch the event. Extraordinary things were happening all around me that summer and now we had a man on the moon too. It was a time of miracles; things were stirring in the heavens and I was convinced it was all related.

    Danny sat on Joe’s lap, her little plaster legs sticking straight out in front. He sat there patting her hair and kissing the top of her head every once and a while. Beth sat with Harold on the floor while I sat in between Ma and Mrs. K. on the couch. For the most part we sat quietly, with only the occasional hushed whisper because we were all mesmerized by the scene unfolding before our eyes. When Mr. Armstrong finally touched the surface of the moon and said his now famous words about “one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind” we all clapped like we were watching a movie and not something real. I think I even saw Joe quickly brush a tear from his eye. Ma told me once that Joe’s boyhood dream was to be a pilot. He had a fascination for flight, loved planes, birds and was forever looking skyward, so this was an amazing thing to him, to actually see someone accomplish something he could only dream about.

    “Those Americans,” he said as he got up to go outside, carefully placing Dan on the chair like a china doll, “they sure know how to fly.”

    “Yeees!” Mrs. K. called to him, with her Finnish accent dragging out the yes lazily, but by then Joe was gone, the screen door flapped itself shut.

    Beth took pictures of us all watching the television; one of us as a group and the rest were all individual portraits. She had been recording the events of our lives since the day she bought the camera. It was always hung around her neck like a giant necklace. It was there at the love-in, at the movies, at the A and Dub, Double Gee, in her backyard or mine, when Joe chopped down the tree. She was like a spy photographer, shooting from the hip. Half the time she didn’t even look through the lens, inconspicuously stealing images and pieces of our little lives without anyone even noticing.

    That night I went to Hobo Creek. It was the first time I had gone there since Joe chopped down the tree. Like all the other nights that I stole away I was hot, restless and couldn’t sleep. Ma and Joe were already in bed. I could hear Joe snoring as I opened the front door to escape. Once on my bike I peddled as fast as I could through the dark quiet streets. It was a routine I had done so many times I could do it with my eyes closed. Other than the first time I went there, my fears of the dark, and what could happen to me, were long gone. I was more frightened by the scary things that happened at home sometimes. At that hour of the night, I was the only inhabitant of the creek. The air was so thick, and at times it was so unbearable I prayed for rain, for some brief but powerful relief from the relentless heat and humidity. I went to my usual spot by the edge of the creek and laid on my back looking up at the moon. I thought about Neil Armstrong walking around up there and wondered what that might be like. I thought about Joe and his lifelong desire to fly. As far as I knew he hadn’t even been on a plane, much less fly one. I thought about how tenderly he stroked Dan’s hair and his sweet soothing kisses on the top of her head, the tear he shed when Mr. Armstrong touched the surface of the moon. I wondered about his dreams and how he ended up working in a bakery. Surely people in their right minds don’t deliberately set out to do something like that. He must have wanted something more. I never could figure out why he didn’t become a pilot when he had the chance—why he joined the army and not the air force. I guess there’s wishing and dreaming. Maybe the only thing separating the two was courage. I never saw much of that around our house.

    I thought about Ma too. What did she dream about? Did she ever lie on her back on a starry night and dream about doing something really wonderful with her life or did she just meet Joe and fall so deeply in love that she was willing to abandon everything to be
    with him? Ma and Joe never seemed really happy. There was always this sadness beneath the surface, an emptiness that could never be filled by me and Dan and our life together. Something was missing; the evidence was there all the time. I thought about little Dan and where she’d end up one day. She was a lot like Ma. I could see her giving up her life for love. Either that or I could see her becoming a veterinarian or an animal trainer and devoting her life to fur balls and fleas. I thought about Robert and wondered if I would ever see him again, if I would ever ride on the back of his motorbike, my body warm next to his. Mostly I thought about Beth and what was happening to her. Every day was a new adventure with Harold, Dan and I along for the ride, except lately there was a sense of desperation like she was running out of gas. I wondered about her parents and how little we knew about them. Since they moved across the street they were two shadowy figures in her life. We hardly ever saw them, nor did Beth talk about them much. It was like she was completely uninterested in them and they in her. As desperate as I felt about my own life, in the end I wouldn’t trade it for Beth’s because beneath all her laughter and adventures she was lonely, one of the loneliest people I had ever known.
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