“Do you think anyone’s up there watching?” said Victor. His eyes remained fixated on the night sky, a look of serene thought in his eyes. We laid next to each other on a old stretched out blanket, one of the ones my Grandma made. It was too short to stop his growing body from overflowing onto the deck. Above us, a sea of tranquil nothingness brewed, scattered with specks of starlight from millions of years past. I thought to myself about how small we were. I imagined floating in space, hanging there suspended in an ocean of emptiness, in front of me a vast and vibrant nebula. As I’d float there and attempt to comprehend the awful majesty of nature’s true wonder, I’d imagine the sky above me turning into the pit beneath me, the ocean under me transforming into an infinite sky.
What’s to stop me from falling down? What’s to stop me from falling up? As I laid there with Victor I imagined the Earth was just a rock, in a massive and immeasurable ocean. I imagined gravity no longer holding us in for the ride, and falling down into the abyss, the Earth slowly fading from my sight as I watched the darkness around me grow deeper and deeper.
“What?” I replied.
“You know, aliens, stuff like that. God. Angels. Someone or something that knows we’re here.” My grandma said when she first met Victor that she liked him very much. She was an astronomer, and had met my grandfather at a planetarium in Arizona. It was very important to her that if neither of my parents cared about the stars, that someone in our family still did, because someday she would be up there too, and she wanted someone she trusted to look after her.
I sat up to look through the telescope again. Jupiter was nearly under the horizon. I scanned from body to body, not knowing what I was looking for. All I knew was that I wanted to go somewhere. Somewhere where I could be the first, a part of the mission that makes us want to explore again, that rekindles that spark of adventure that we lost once it stopped being cool and new to visit other worlds. My grandma always wanted to be an astronaut. She would tell me her dreams of spacewalking over Titan and Europa, of floating through the stars as if it were her very own cosmic playground. The more she talked about her unrealized dreams, the deeper her sadness seemed to become. I think what really took her down was Grandpa. She cried for days, saying it was unfair, that Jupiter had made a mistake, and had taken the wrong person. She was the one who had cancer, not him. She had felt too sick to go and drive to the post office that morning, so my grandfather insisted on going instead. She thought that it should have been her in that intersection.
It wasn’t too much later that she had to start living in the hospital. Her usual caring demeanor was replaced with a numbness to the outside world. She would become unresponsive to her daughter, and would turn sour when pressed for any response. I tried to enjoy what was left of her that I still recognized. I’d sit near her bed as she looked out the window with a blank stare, seemingly unfeeling until I’d ask her to tell me a story. That was the only way I could get her to talk any more. A faint smile would spread across her face. She’d tell me about her mother, my great grandmother, who was an immigrant from Spain. She said that to her mother, the idea of going to America was just as incredible for her as the idea of setting foot on Mars was for herself.
Eventually however, she grew tired of telling stories, and would resort back to her numbness and spend hours laying down staring out the window. One night, Victor came by, and had a package with him. He laid it out in front of my grandmother, who looked away from the window, first to the package then to him. She stared for a few seconds and then reached down to unwrap the package. Beneath the brown paper wrappings was an old, faded, bright blue telescope. My grandmother brought up the telescope in her hands, and they began to shake, her eyes filling with tears.
I looked at Victor, astounded, and he said, turning to my grandmother, “I heard Emma say that this telescope meant a lot to you when you were younger, but that you misplaced it a while ago.” Sixty years ago, when my grandmother and grandfather had just met, my grandfather bought her the telescope as a gift from the planetarium. They had used it together nearly every night, until they lost it in a crowd under a meteor shower thirty years ago. She always said that those nights beneath the stars were what made her fall in love.
“Someone was selling it on eBay, and I noticed an inscription on the side.” Victor turned over the telescope.
It read, “To Maria, you are more beautiful than the brightest star.”
She wiped the tears from her eyes, and after rubbing the simple metal casing of the telescope with her wet fingers, her tears turned from joy to sadness. She told me to take it away from her, that she just couldn’t deal with it right now. Victor looked concerned, looking to me to make sure he hadn't messed something up. I told him to leave Grandma and me alone for a few minutes. When he left the room, my grandma turned to me and said that she was sorry if she hurt Victor’s feelings. She said that she wasn’t in a place to relive emotions and thoughts from her past so vividly and physically.
She told me to leave her alone for the night, so she could get some rest. I convinced her to let me stay the night in her room, sleeping in one of the guest chairs across from her.
As I dreamt that night, I imagined what my grandmother was dreaming of. After all this time was she still longing for that adventure, that close and personal look into the operations of the universe? I imagined her dreaming of moonlight, she and Grandpa waltzing through a neverending sky, floating, unbounded by the restraints of gravity.
I woke to a shuffling noise. I opened my eyes to see my grandmother standing up at the window, her arm against the wall and her eye against the lens of her telescope.
She smiled. “He has beautiful eyes,” she said.
She died a few days later.
“Well?” pressed Victor. “Do you?”
I stepped back from the telescope, running my hands across its cold, worn metal shell. I looked to the horizon as Jupiter tucked itself away from view. I thought back to her, pictured once again her midnight waltz across the starry sky. I thought of her and Grandpa floating over Titan and Europa, forever in each other’s arms.
“Yeah.” I looked back to Victor. “I think there is.”