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Sent to the Sky
The snow-white structure appeared crystallized as it sparkled in the gleaming sun, sending light beams down to the earth that stretched below it. An old man shakily raised his hand, putting his thumb to his eyebrow, to block the blinding light. Next to the towering crystal, the man looked like a grasshopper at the foot of an apple tree.
Alfred could only think of his grandson as he stood in his spot, a few hundred feet from the base of the shuttle. Gasps could be heard throughout the crowd, standing behind the ply board barriers, as they stared at the giant rocket with looks of amazement. One child sat on his father’s shoulders, a look of pure joy on his tiny, youthful face.
An image of a little boy gazing at the stars began reeling through the old man’s brain like an internal movie. Alfred remembered giving his grandson a telescope for his twelfth birthday. As Jimmy set it on the back porch and ogled at constellations and planets, his eyes were lit with excitement, a sight Alfred could never forget, nor wish too.
A man in a white uniform walked past him, pulling him from his thoughts. On the man’s arm was a golden patch with a picture of an aircraft and the word NASA stitched in the center. The man glanced at Alfred as he walked past him on the other side of the barriers, with a look of pity on his face.
“Mr. Roan,” he said as he gave a nod.
Albert merely stared at him. The scene he had caused earlier had the NASA members treating him differently. If he had been any younger, Alfred knew his earlier behavior might not have been tolerated, but at ninety-three years old, he was treated with a great amount of respect. Alfred looked at the now passed NASA member with sadness. That man had never done him any wrong, but he represented the group that was the reason Alfred was standing on the ground right now, and not strapped into a space harness.
NASA never had any intention of sending him up in the shuttle, but just pretended so they could push him aside. Didn’t they understand how important this was to him? Alfred didn’t care if the trip would probably kill him, Jimmy was like his son, and if it was what Jimmy wanted, than Alfred would see to it.
Alfred remembered the day that Jimmy finished his training period at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Jimmy had called him the day after, his voice almost as excited as that day he had gotten his first telescope. Being an astronaut had been his grandson’s dream every since he was a boy, and Alfred’s heart had been filled with joy when he reached that goal.
It was fitting that Jimmy wanted his ashes spread in space after he passed away. It’s where his heart had always been, up in the stars, and he wanted a piece of himself up there forever. Alfred began to discuss with NASA about bringing Jimmy’s remains up on their next mission right after his death, and Jimmy’s former comrades and friends were happy to oblige. But they apparently didn’t, however, agree with Alfred’s wishes to spread the ashes himself.
“He was like my son, Kent. I thought you understand that I need to be the one to do this?” The old man’s voice was scratchy and strained.
“It’s not safe Alfred, and you’re a fool to want to try. Jim’s memory will be just as honored with one of our men doing the job than if it was yourself.”
“It’s got to be me. I’m healthy for an old timer. I don’t need to pass your stupid training. Just send me up.”
“Alfred, even if I was okay with breaking protocol, the trip would more than likely kill you and--”
“I don’t care. You told me I could do it. You told me you’d send me up.”
“I’m sorry. You know I can’t let you.”
“It’s how he would have wanted it…he was my son Kent…he was like my son.”
“I’m sorry.” Kent turned around and walked through the steel framed doors.
Alfred stared after him. After standing there for almost a minute, he turned around, a grunt passed through his lips, and he left the building.
Everyone had stared at him as he had left the room yesterday. His raised, raspy voice hadn’t escaped anyone’s ears. Alfred had been furious at the time, but having time to think about it, knew that Kent was just doing what he thought was right. Still, lying to an old man didn’t seem like responsible behavior to him.
A sudden rouse of cheering erupted and Alfred saw that three men in bright orange suits were now crossing the metal bridge that connected the steel framed tower to the shuttle. The sight was bittersweet for the old man. To him, it was Jimmy’s death all over again. Around one year ago, Alfred had stood watching Jimmy cross the wire bridge into the shuttle that he never returned from. Yet today, the men, now fully crossed, represented the closure of his grandson and the end of a miraculous life.
After the excitement died down, nothing happened for another thirty minutes, until it was announced the countdown would be starting. Once again, the on-looking people let out cheers of anticipation for the astronaut strangers, and for a few, dear family members. The countdown was at fifteen seconds. While it hurt Alfred to watch the shimmering beast that was the rocket, it was also a time of happiness, as he knew his grandson was going home.
“Three!” the crowd shouted.
Alfred rubbed his cheek, his white, scraggly beard tickling his hand. He looked up at the sky, the sun setting so far off.
“Two!” The voices were so loud that on the ground they almost seemed to rival the rocket’s noises. Alfred looked towards the shuttle, at where he knew the flight deck was. Finally, together everyone yelled in unison,
The old man smiled, closed his eyes, and imagined sitting next to a young Jimmy in that shuttle, flying into the glimmering sky.