Grandpa Always Came ThroughM. Stanley Bubien
My parents didn't get me. Not at all. Yeah, my Mom noticed that I liked to read. But that was it.
"Here Benny," she said a few weeks back. "I brought this for you."
I glanced up from the pages of C.J. Cherryh's "The Pride of Chanur," but when I realized she'd produced a dictionary-sized hard back, I frowned.
"The complete works!"
"Mom, I like Science Fiction. Not Shakespeare."
She smiled, "Oh, just give it a try."
I did. Boring. I preferred stuff about space, like flying ships and fighting battles. I figured by the time I'd be an astronaut, most of that'd be possible.
"By the way Benny," my Mom said after I returned the Shakespeare. "We're visiting your grandparents in two weeks. They have something special planned."
I made a quick calculation. "Can you change it?"
I rolled my eyes. My grandparents lived in Lancaster, California, just a few miles from Edwards Air Force Base. And everyone knew why that's important!
"The Space Shuttle's landing next week. If we're up there then, we could watch it!"
"Sorry. Dad's already taken the days off."
I knew I should've read that stupid Shakespeare!
The trip lasted three hours---three free, uninterrupted hours to read. Perfect!
I reached into my backpack but came up empty-handed. "Mom. Dad. Have you seen my book?"
"No," Mom answered. "What's it called?"
"'The Kif Strike Back.'"
"It was on the kitchen table."
My mouth dropped open. "You left it?"
"I didn't know you wanted it."
My voice cracked. "How could you leave it?"
"Ben!" Dad interrupted. "That's enough. If you wanted the book, it was your responsibility."
I swallowed hard. "Then can we stop at a bookstore or something?"
"Absolutely not," Dad replied.
Sinking in my seat, I whispered, "This trip sucks."
I did greet my grandparents with hugs, but I remained pretty-much silent even after Grandma passed out the iced tea.
"No sugar, Ben?"
I shook my head and took a sip. The sour liquid ran over the lump in my throat as if it were cooling hot iron.
"What's wrong, Ben?" Grandpa asked in his cigarette-roughened voice.
"He forgot his book," my Dad answered. "God forbid he'd actually have to talk to us."
"Awe," Grandpa grasped my arm. "What book was it?" I responded in a quiet voice. "Mmm," he glanced at his watch. "Maybe a ride later will help with that, then."
Yes! Grandpa always came through! "If it's still okay," I said to Grandma, "I'd like some sugar please." I swear my parents grinned at Grandpa.
Before leaving, Grandpa poured iced tea into a thermos. Kind of weird for a trip to the bookstore, but in the desert everything was far away. I made sure to use the bathroom.
We drove by tons of Joshua Trees, their thick limbs pointing every direction---even up. Exactly where I wanted to go some day. We came to a big intersection and beside the road lay a stoplight pole with the lights and everything still attached.
"Hmm," Grandpa pursed his lips. "Yep."
We turned, and the wheels hummed upon fresh asphalt. Over a shallow hill, Grandpa turned again at another downed stoplight, backing between a pair of scraggly trees.
"Iced tea?" Grandpa offered.
Strange place for a break, but the trees did block the sun. I tried not to guzzle, but I wanted to get to the bookstore. I wiped my mouth, "Done!"
"You're quick." Grandpa produced the thermos. "Have some more."
"Um. The bookstore might close."
"Yeah, I thought..."
"Oh no. But this is much better."
"I doubt it," I mumbled, but I don't think Grandpa heard. A police car had crested the hill. It pulled beside us, and the officer rolled down his window.
"Excuse me, sir, but you can't park---" he stopped short. "Oh, Robert! How you doin'?"
"Just fine. Showing my grandson the sights."
The policeman chuckled. "You'll soon have your fill!"
"Yesiree." Grandpa introduced us. I waved, thinking that it was kind of cool that he actually knew a policeman.
"You remember the drill," the officer said. "Stay put until I drive by again."
"We're friends from the Knights of Columbus," Grandpa explained as the officer sped away. "He told me about this place."
I looked around. "But there's nothing here."
Between sips, Grandpa asked about my book. Of course I had to explain the first two in the trilogy before he'd understand the third. I was about halfway done describing Chanur's ship when I felt a rumble. It made my chest vibrate. Neat, but a little scary too.
"Here she comes!" he said, almost spilling his tea as he leaned toward the windshield to peer out. His excitement took the scariness away.
Before we actually saw it, I knew it was a truck. A big one. And going really slowly.
"There she is!" he cried, pointing toward a huge black-and-white shape appearing over the hill. It was an airplane cockpit. Really wide and sort of flat on the bottom. The semi appeared below the cockpit.
That's when I spotted the NASA insignia.
"Grandpa!" I yelled. "Grandpa! It's... it's..."
The delta-winged body shined white on top, and black underneath.
"The Space Shuttle! No way!"
As it approached I could read the different insignias and markings, and I mouthed what each one meant.
"She's a beauty, ay!" Grandpa said grasping the steering wheel. "Look at that wingspan."
"Yeah. It's spread a hundred feet over the desert..." And I froze.
It was heading right toward us. And the wings went further than our car. It was going to hit us. "Grandpa! Grandpa! We better move!"
"Nah, we'll miss the best part."
Before I could reply, it was too late. The Shuttle was upon us. I mean, over us. Right over the car, and right over our heads! Close enough to see individual tiles.
Pointing up at different parts of the spacecraft, Grandpa described each. But I pointed too, filling in facts I knew. It seemed like we spent hours within the shadow of the Space Shuttle, searching together for heat-scars on its tiles.
Copyright ©2000 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.
Please contact the editor for free text versions of this very short story formatted for e-mail, usenet news, or ftp.