Restlessly terrestrial, he dreamt of leaving the earth. As a boy, he had wanted to be an astronaut; but in this, he had failed. This was the lot of most spatial daydreamers.
At school, his mind would wander, attention scattershot, always elsewhere, lessons spent in a fidgety haze, drifting off into space. The shrill pleas of blue-faced teachers were resolutely ignored. Unshakable, he refused to slip from his drift.
Of his orbital ambitions, he was soon disabused, his dreams, with relish, crushed by those around him. His fantasies, they insisted, would come to nought. It had been a blow, at such an early age to accept that one’s sole goal would remain unfulfilled, a sad acknowledgement that his future had stalled. How did one proceed through life after that?
Reluctantly fulfilling naysayers’ predictions, his childhood notions of interstellar exploration proved some remove from how his life unfolded. Not only had he failed to leave the planet, he had failed, even, to get beyond the continent of his birth, his country, his hometown. Forever grounded, he had never left the surface of the earth, had yet to defy gravity. For him there would be no half-measures. It would be space or nothing.
Steadfastly earthbound, he had failed to fulfil a future rendered in crayon. This did little to still his dreams. His school years long behind him he had moved on from the playground but not its promises. His classmates, no doubt, had advanced, put childish things away, pirates and cowboys humbled into servitude. He was of a more recalcitrant disposition.
In the corner of a field, his home, a caravan, had been converted in line with his fixation. It was a tumbledown abode, no longer mobile, mounted on bricks. He had transformed it into something approaching a lunar module. His imagination unhindered by age, he playacted his way into space. The walls he papered with tinfoil, a half-hearted Faraday cage. With a brush, he darkened the windows, painted over daylight. Suitably blackened, he spotted them with luminous stars. At night, a retractable screen in the ceiling revealed, through a skylight, a view of the heavens. By day, he scraped the illusion-shattering splatter of bird shit from his moonroof. He did what he could to forestall reality’s intrusion.
Its interior did not reflect genuine spacecraft, but rather televisual verisimilitude, the cardboard sets of half-remembered television programmes considered as documentary. His modifications had worked towards a fabricated ideal, a model of a model. It was primed not for easy living but simulation, home comforts neglected, a Formica interior transformed. Its cramped compactness, he felt, mirrored his cosmic counterparts, a compartmentalised existence. Budgetary restraints saw salvage as the dominant factor, recycled detritus, environmentally friendly eccentricities. Fashioned from an endless fly-tipped bounty, his was a rickety vision. Banks of defunct monitors, wrested from wreckage, were installed above a glut of buttons without function. Discarded dashboards housed all manner of dials and switches, an incoherent assemblage of apparatus. It was not a spaceworthy craft.
Growing older, alone, his yearning refused to abate. No special someone kept him tied to the earth. Having suffered the none-too subtle rebuttals of the town’s women, had he decided to cast a wider net? Was it possible he harboured dreams of intergalactic romance, companionship sought beyond the frontiers of his own solar system, light-speed dating his last chance? In his mind his own planet’s potential mates exhausted, it seemed unlikely that his soul mate lay beyond.
He would not perhaps make for the best galactic ambassador, an earthly envoy free-floating towards galaxies unknown. Encountering otherworldly creatures, a taciturn hermit nudged towards peacekeeping, he could hardly be deemed representative.
In the village pub, the addled and ravaged impressed unwanted opinions upon him. Overly vocal locals, those of a more conspiratorial bent, cast doubts upon man’s ventures into space, earnest drunks outlining, as they saw it, undeniable evidence of faked footage: unusual reflections, unaccountable flag-rippling breezes. He batted off their slurred dismissals. For him the moon landings were a pillar of religion, his whole reason for being justified by those tentative footsteps. He ignored as best he could their slobbered rants. What had destroyed their dreams? How had they arrived at such a state of disenchantment?
Increasingly, he distanced himself from dissenting voices, the belittling indignities of small talk, the encroachments of space invaders. The solitary existence, society had decreed, was the one for him. His efforts at engaging with the world always left him disappointed. People had no wonder in their lives. Removing himself from uncivilised company, he adhered to the international code for troubled souls: he kept himself to himself. He relaxed into galactic hermitude.
He became largely nocturnal. At night, dressed in a space suit, he would relax in his astral caravan. For his costume, a modified boiler suit and moon boots. Over his head, an adapted motorcycle helmet found in a lay-by. It was an outfit grown threadbare over the years. He had made efforts at repair, paraded nightly in the products of his feeble needlework, tattered, his stitchcraft not up to scratch, the shame of the slapdash astronaut. To his back, strapped haphazardly, an array of equipment and supplies: emergency oxygen, a trowel and Tupperware for the collection of moon rock samples.
Framed upon his wall, an astronautical hall of fame, those lucky few who had looked down upon humanity.
He maintained a one-way communication with such space programmes as still existed, their responses seemingly lost in the post. His hopes lay not with academic application but wish fulfilment, an ethereal approach, the hope of prayers answered. He tramped no practical path towards his goal. The mechanics of adult life, let alone space travel were beyond him. It was unlikely that his features would ever be distorted untowardly during g-force rehearsals.
And if his tin can was catapulted towards the stars? Unaccustomed to even short haul flights, the trip would no doubt find him sickening. Floating beyond the solar system, an unearthly turbulence would churn his nerves. Spiralling, whitening, gloved hands concealing bloodless knuckles. It was not a spacefaring craft, would never be tilted skywards on a launch pad, a countdown as he prepared to be jettisoned into space, adrift in the heavens, his humble sputnik orbiting.
His life became one lived in illusive perpetuity. Days were spent waiting for sunset. In his capsule, beneath the moon, cocooned, he watched the stars. Grounded, infinitesimal, he lost hours in contemplation of his cosmic insignificance. Supine, in his makeshift space suit he would settle beneath his window into other worlds, fall asleep beneath the heavens. His alarm would wake him before the sun intervened.
His nightly silence, his sea of tranquillity, was interrupted only when local children gathered to throw stones at this home. During these brief interludes, he liked to imagine that he was caught in an unexpected meteor shower, or navigating an asteroid field. They would not burst his bubble. Their jeers he found more difficult to dismiss by way of spatial account. Their bombardments were an attempt to rouse him from his lair, anger him into stepping out, disgruntled, the suburban spaceman. Rife rumours attested to his peculiar enthusiasms. For his own safety, he would stay inside his craft.
He could not recall with any clarity a catalyst that inclined him towards the stars, which witnessed the birth of astronomical desire. He had been born beyond the boom, the space race over by the time of his conception. He arrived into a post-space age. The moon a mountain conquered, never troubled again. Looking back to those looking forward, he imagined nightly bulletins of interstellar progress. He had missed the almost hallucinatory anthropomorphic beginnings: monkeys in spacesuits, canine cosmonauts. Had that really happened?
Nevertheless, his obsession was oddly nostalgic, the future viewed through the eyes of the past. From market stalls he purchased fifties comics, awash as they were with predictive architecture, lives lived in bubbles and domes, man sat beside robots during monorail commutes. This had not been how things had transpired. The cities of the future had yet to arrive. Promised jetpacks had failed to materialise.
Amid the caravan park’s canned inhabitants, his imagination soared. In his mind he conquered the moon and beyond. In the dead of night, he would moonwalk. Under starry skies, he would emerge resplendent. From his space suit snaked a length of vacuum hose, an umbilical link to the mother ship. Thus tethered he faked weightlessness. In slow motion, he aped space walks, emulated flickering footage, a patchwork astronaut moonwalking in suburbia.
The days of manned space flights seemed outmoded now, certainly those of an expeditionary nature. Would man ever make it as far as Mars? Space exploration had been an expensive tease, a leap beyond humanity’s threshold that had progressively waned. The chartered space flights of constant speculation were not designed with him in mind, their six figure tickets out of his range. In capsules, bored billionaires seeking ever more exclusive thrills.
Reluctantly succumbing to the conclusion that he would never make it into space, he considered less conventional ways of conquering the cosmos. He consulted local undertakers, made explicit his wishes. After his death, upon cremation, a cocktail mixed of his incinerated remains and light explosives, a firework fashioned, his body a posthumous rocket.
Shot cosmically, whose faces would be illuminated by his thunderous departure? There would be no neck-craning relatives, starry-eyed well-wishers. But he had no need of attendants. His will written, he bided time in his bodily manifestation, would count down his earthly days. Only in death would he achieve his life’s ambition. For a moment, at least, he would become one with the night sky.