“The Return of Spaceman,” short fiction by Hannah von Hemert




Prose


 


Drawing by Jen May
Drawing by Jen May

My name is Jonathan Robert Anderson. In 1946 I was born in New Paltz, New York to an auto mechanic and his wife, Hillary and from that day forth I wanted to become an astronaut. My father used to come home after a day in the shop, smoking a corn cob pipe, and play the songs his father taught him on a plywood violin. My mother would sing along though she didn’t know the words. I grew up like every other boy in town, teasing the local girls with Tommy Pines and Bobby Kent at twelve years old and kissing them in the wet grass behind the public library at fifteen. We found a pigeon with a broken wing off of Huguenot Street one day and wanted to pluck it and eat it but our mothers said we weren’t allowed and to let the poor thing go. In 1964 Bobby Kent’s father was diagnosed with a cancer and he never went to university so as to take care of his old man. Tommy Pines and I graduated Boston College in 1968 and came home every Christmas for our mother’s cooking and to tell Bobby of the great plans we had for our lives. While we sat for our exams in May of ‘68, Bobby buried his father in the apple orchard in Wayland’s Park. He never spoke to us again after that but we said we didn’t mind. In the fall of 1968 I moved to Silver Spring Maryland where I began a career full of purpose and in 1970 I proposed to my boss’s secretary.

In 1971 my dream came true as I stepped off of the USS Humboldt and onto the surface of the Earth’s beautiful moon. We had trained for over a year and Patterson, our cameraman, filmed every moment. We had been sent, a group of eight scientists, to determine the habitability of the moon in case of nuclear war on planet Earth. I had completed my expected tasks and observations, as did my associates and we began our journey home. We hated the smell of the Humboldt, a fake lemon scent too close to house cleaner and plastic to ever become pleasant or to ignore. We had spent almost every moment of our outbound journey talking of our families and what we would do when we saw them again. Knowles wanted to move his wife and daughter to San Francisco to be with his aging mother. Davis said he never wanted to take his feet off of the ground ever again and was going to open a brewery in Wisconsin. I just told everyone that I wanted to get the hell out of New York. It was sometimes true.

I have been questioned by over fifty psychiatrists, doctors, lawyers, and alternative healers but I do not know what happened. My last memory aboard the Humboldt was of glaring, flashing lights and of Harris, our pilot, shouting down over the tinny loudspeakers “I’m sorry. Dear Lord we’re dead. I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.”

No one is entirely sure how I survived. Some doctors have speculated that the pressure difference between my protective gear and the frozen wastelands of space preserved my body and mind in a cryogenic state while I continued to drift with the shattered remains of the ship around the moon’s gravitational field. I drifted for thirty-eight years. On August 19th, 2009 my body was discovered by an unannounced Chinese space mission. I was revived in Beijing by October. I remember the stark white room I was kept in and the nurses who attended me as I awoke from a state of paralysis. It was a time that passed in blissful numbness. By December 1st I was officially declared property of the United States of America.

I was kept at the Pentagon for six months until the government decided I was entirely harmless both to society and myself. It was only then that I found out that the other seven members of the Humboldt had died in space. My parents and almost everyone I knew from Earth before the mission was dead. My sister, still living in upstate New York, refused to see me, believing I was some cruel hoax put on by NASA to gain popularity. I was engaged to a sweet Catholic girl before I left on the mission. My fiancée is still alive. She is married with three grown children. Her husband used to run a lucrative doughnut company and converted when he married her. I tell people I am happy she moved on with her life. I cannot bring myself to see her.

In all my time in China, Arlington, and onwards, I have not removed my space suit. Therapists tell me that it has something to do with shock. That might be true. Some call it my refuge. It’s more than that. My suit has become my only form of identity. I choose to believe that Jonathan Robert Anderson, son of an auto mechanic, died with his crew.

I was quite popular on talk shows for a while but the public lost interest when they realized that I wasn’t charismatic. There have been three books, a short lived TV series, and a state of depression all in my name. For about two weeks there was a woman who followed me around whenever I left my house. She had founded an on-line organization that believed I was the reincarnation of the savior Jesus Christ. The New York Times wrote an article about her claiming she had schizophrenia and had been deranged for years. She didn’t and hasn’t. I took her out for a coffee once and tried to explain who I was. She was perfectly sane, if not a bit too exuberant for my taste. It was nice to talk to someone who wasn’t paid to care about how I felt.

The United States Government used to take an acute interest in my day to day affairs. They wanted me to blog. They hired an expensive therapist for me to talk to, his name was Mel Gibson. Mr. Gibson said he liked me because I didn’t make any jokes about his name. I stopped seeing him when the government cut my budget. They do not want me to get a job. They pay for a shitty apartment in the outlaying area of Washington DC and give me enough of a stipend to live off of. They signed me up for classes at a yoga studio I have never been to. They gave me books and movies about what happened in the eighties, nineties, and early two thousands. They tell me to just relax and spend the rest of my days reacquainting myself with the world. Physically, I am twenty seven.

I went to the Air and Space Museum to see the recovered segments of the Humboldt. They had a special display for them. The simply worded memorandum stated that the Humboldt was the only US space ship to ever suffer fatal pressure damage in space. That note card knew more about my mission than I did. I was mentioned several times. Some of the guides included me in their tours that day.

I started going to strip clubs to meet girls. It was the one place where no one questioned my space suit. They all thought it was some strange fetish. The girls were nice to me. I stopped going after several months, I was tired of being hassled by the other patrons,  and joined a small group of recovering agoraphobics. One woman hadn’t left her house for fifty years. I admired her for that. I tell everyone that my space suit is a way to protect myself against the world. It is sometimes true.

I started seeing a girl from that group. She had been abused by a previous boyfriend and liked that she could not touch my skin. She said she felt safe with me, that she had not felt this safe with anyone else. Her name was Abby Johnson. She liked to dress up in costumes and together we would ring doorbells and pretend like we did not know that is wasn’t Halloween. She liked introducing me to everything I had missed while I was in space. I liked playing her the songs I remembered from when I was a boy. I should be old enough to be her grandfather.

We took a vacation together back to New Paltz. She wanted to see where I’d grown up. We walked down the main road towards my parents’ house and I told her what had changed since I’d last seen it. We watched a red haired woman and her dog go up the driveway my father drove out of every week day and unlock the door my mother had repainted when I was thirteen. We didn’t knock. Abby wanted to.

After about three months together, she wanted to sleep with me. She usually spent the night in my apartment since she didn’t have her own place. We ate dinner and watched the latest episode of The Office on TV. She unbuttoned her shirt and her pants until she stood naked except for her socks on the cheap wooden floorboards.. She wanted me to do the same. We stood silently in my apartment, not moving at all, until she started crying. She shouted at me, asking me why it always had to be her to make a move and didn’t I understand how hard she was trying and didn’t I care enough to put in a little effort and didn’t I love her at all. She left my apartment and went to spend the night at her parents. She left me two days later.

I tried to kill myself six months ago, to throw my body into the Chesapeake. I was found three hours later by a disgruntled fisherman. They kept me in a hospital for four days, for shock they said, and in the end it was decided that my space suit protected me from the cold of the bay. Taxpayers’ money paid for my hospital stay. I gave up after that. I returned to DC and sat in apartment listening to drunken shouts and bottles breaking in the middle of the night. A man is sent once a week to make sure I’m still alive.

I remember, as a little boy in the suburbs of New York, catching fireflies with Tommy Pines and Bobby Kent on the hot July evenings before our mothers called us to dinner. We would run through the tall fields near the river with palms outstretched towards the tiny glows that shone bright in the brilliant dusk. We stuck them in Mason jars with twigs and leaves and watched them hit the glass and shine their yellowy light. Sometimes we left them overnight, forgetting to poke holes in the top of the jar with a stolen steak knife. We were told off for letting them die but we did it again the next day anyway. I remember being so happy then.

 

Hannah von Hemert is a baker living in Richmond, VA. She works too much and writes in her spare time.

Jen May is a Scorpio and artist living in Brooklyn, NY with 3 cats. She keeps a tumblr updated regularly with horoscope images and everything else.