Monday, November 05, 2007


The moon grew old and fat and bald. The astronaut pretended to sleep. The nurse tied him up securely, into a contraption of leather and metal that was only five weeks old.
‘Would you like some water now,’ said the nurse. His hand smoothed a corner of the sheet. He was a little embarrassed.
‘I am not your father,’ said the astronaut. His eyes were tiny glimmers in the dark.
‘That’s not the right answer.’
‘I’m not your father.’
The nurse poured some water into a cup. It was two in the morning. There were two chairs, both of which were nailed to the floor.
‘Are you going to kill me?’ said the astronaut, clenching his fists at his sides. His veins were like thin gnarled roots.
‘That’s not the right question.’
‘Jesus. Jesus.’
The nurse drank the water from the cup. He sat down on one chair, dragged his buttocks across the seat, crossed his legs, uncrossed them, stood up.
‘I just had something to tell you,’ said the nurse, and began to remove his shirt. His shirt was a deep red. He removed it slowly, almost sensually. The astronaut saw in the milky light how hairy the nurse was. The astronaut had stared down the void. This was not a void.
‘Jesus,’ said the astronaut. He didn’t believe in God.
The nurse turned.

* * *

The nurse was the fifth person to speak up. He spoke in a measured tone devoid of surface emotion. He seemed to be reciting the contents of a work of fiction written in a rather mannered style. This inspired some unease in the circle. In his clean white clothing and greyish white canvas shoes the nurse was more disturbing than a doctor.

‘I work in an old people’s home. Last Tuesday one of my charges, a Mr Hewett, reached eighty-five years of age. He celebrated by smearing icing all over his shirt and crying by the window. There was something cinematic and nightmarish about the way the little party disintegrated into a parody of a funeral. The single baroque candle on the cake seemed like a cruel joke. Mrs Doherty, another of my charges, started rocking on her feet, letting out choked sobs. Lizzie, a fellow nurse, put her guitar down and went to comfort her. Mr Hewett curled up against the windowsill and refused to move. He has two sons and a daughter, all of whom are employed adults living in this country.’

The rest of the group froze unanimously to digest this. The nurse added as an afterthought, ‘I have violent urges sometimes.’

A woman swathed in a pink cashmere sweater reached out towards the nurse. The nurse’s arm was cool and hard under her soft palm. ‘Thank you, dear, for sharing that.’

The sixth person to speak up said, ‘I like to break into my neighbour’s beach house on summer evenings and lie naked on his roof under the stars. On such evenings I am an astronaut, suspended in the amniotic silence of space, connected by a fragile umbilical cord that technology birthed through the miracle of science.’

The nurse inspected the crescent spaces under his fingernails. The rest of the group failed to notice that they were dashed with blood and dirt.

‘So many of us wanted to be something, when we were children,’ said the woman in the pink sweater. I wanted to be a firefighter. My husband wanted to be the emperor. Of China.’ She laughed, quivering candyfloss and braces.

‘You don’t understand,’ said the sixth person. He was now looking at the nurse. The nurse was not looking at him. ‘You don’t understand at all. I am an astronaut.’

* * *

The nurse was walking back to his flat. He had had a hard day at work. He walked down what some would call a working-class neighbourhood.

Suddenly a spaceship landed. It was round, with many fiddly bits, and emitted lights that reminded the nurse of the lighting at a rave party when he had been seventeen. A neon girl had placed a pill on his tongue. She had been struck red by the lights. He, too, had been struck. And transformed.

The spaceship flicked open. A being came out that was probably not a human. The nurse thought that it was dressed like an astronaut. The nurse burrowed his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. If he actually stopped to think about it, the being was an astronaut.

The alien astronaut was short and had tentacles. It did something to the nurse’s brain and climbed back into the spaceship. The spaceship lifted off into the night. Soon it was no bigger than the full moon.

The nurse blinked. In his brain there was only one thought left.

He thought out loud.

Rosie Harding's cold cream jars full of family teeth.


(my dialogue assignment character picks were 'male nurse' and 'astronaut')

Isheeta Basu Mallik

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