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Tuesday, 3/1/11 – Rocket To The Moon

Author’s Note: Some stories are meant to be read. Other stories, like this one, are best when told aloud. There is nuance in spoken word that cannot be conveyed in print.

From before sunrise until after nightfall, neighbors heard loud rattling and banging sounds coming from Ralph’s garage.

Had the sounds come from any other garage, neighbors might have complained, but the sounds were Ralph’s and everyone knew that Ralph was crazy. Harmless, but crazy.

Had it been winter, they never would have heard his putterings, but this was spring and every window was open wide to the warm, blossom-scented breezes.  

Not meaning to be unfriendly but hoping to get some sleep, Ben got up from bed, threw on his robe then walked downstairs and across the lawn to Ralph’s garage. He waited for the noise inside to stop then knocked on the door.

It took a little while and a few more crashing sounds before Ralph opened the door and invited Ben inside.

“It’s almost done,” Ralph said, pointing to the big silver cone standing twelve feet tall, its pointed tip only inches below the workshop ceiling. “Just needs a couple more things and the rocket will be ready. You could be the first to ride in it,” he suggested. “Going to the moon.”

Ben thanked Ralph and explained that it was late and that he really needed to get some sleep. He asked if Ralph could call it a night and put the finishing touches on the rocket ship in the morning.

Checking his watch, Ralph apologized. “I’m sorry, time just got away from me.”

Back in bed, Ben told his wife about the rocket. In the morning, he left for work and before he returned all the neighbors knew what was in Ralph’s garage.

All day the neighbors had talked Ralph’s rocket and at supper Ben’s wife told him what they had said. They said it will never fly. He doesn’t know enough to build a rocket. He’s just crazy. Used scraps from his basement and parts from the junk yard across town. But, except for Ben, no one else had seen the rocket.

Shortly after dinner, the banging stopped.

Having heard talk of rockets, children had gathered in front of Ralph’s house hoping for a glimpse.

“It’s ready!” he shouted as he banged open the garage door. “Tomorrow! Tomorrow we fly to the moon! Early! We take off early!”

Ralph’s excitement infected the children. They ran as fast as they could from where they had been standing in the street to the open door on the side of Ralph’s garage. Peering in, the sight of the rocket lifted their spirits even higher.

“Lunch!” Ralph called from behind them, “Don’t forget to pack lunch! It will be a long trip!”

In their beds that night, the children couldn’t sleep. And, in the morning, before Ralph puts his feet on the floor, the children were lined up outside of his garage waiting to be let in. And in their excitement, none of them thought it strange that the rocket was built inside the garage rather than outside, behind the house or in a field. No, that doesn’t matter because they are going. They are going to the moon and they are excited.

When Ralph opens the garage, the children rush in and climb up the three rungs on the ladder into the rocket. Before closing the door, Ralph tells them all that this will be a long and dangerous trip. He asks if anyone wants to leave but no one does. He sees them seated nervously clutching lunch bags stained with fried chicken grease and damp with pickle juice.

Ralph pulls the rocket door shut and starts the countdown. Breathless with anticipation, the children count backward with him. Nine, eight, seven…

When they get to zero there is a great rattling from under the rocket and the children all sink back in their seats. Through the windows they watch what is outside moving past. Amazed, they don’t notice that Ralph is cranking at window shade levers; they just see that the sky is moving past them.

And, pretty soon, it is stars moving past them and Ralph tells them to sit back and relax because it will be a long time before they get to the moon. The moon is far away.

The children do, they relax and they continue to watch the stars move slowly past them outside the windows. Eventually, they get hungry and they open their picnic lunches and they eat their fried chicken, and their sandwiches, and their pickles.

While they eat, the ship hits some turbulence. It shakes and rattles and some of them become afraid but it quickly passes.

Someone points, there!, a shooting star! They all strain their eyes to see in the darkness outside. Soon, another star flies by, then another. They watch then oooh, ahhh, and clap just like at the fireworks.

Then they see the moon creeping in from the corner of the window while Ralph is busy pushing levers and checking dials.

He scratches his head and checks the dials again.

“I’m sorry,” he says, “it’s much too dangerous for us to land. We have to go back.”

The children are disappointed. They have come this far. They want to walk with jumpy giant steps through powdery moon dust.

Seeing their disappointment, Ralph checks the dials again.

“No,” he says, “we cannot land but we can circle the moon. Here, look, we will soon pass over the dark side.”

The children press their faces to the window as Ralph turns the crank. Outside, the moon moves through its phases, from full to crescent to just a thin outline before going dark.

With a sense of urgency, Ralph tells them about reentering the earth’s atmosphere. He tells them to sit back deep in their seats – and they do.

And, for a final time, the rocket rattles and bangs as it heads home.

Then, with a single thump, the rocket is back, where they started, in Ralph’s garage. And, the children can’t wait to tell their parents what a wonderful trip they’ve had.

Alone in the garage, Ralph takes a claw-hammer and starts carefully pulling nails out of the side of the rocket. Maybe, he thinks, it’s time to build a submarine.


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