He was her alligator, fair and square. She’d won him at the county fair
some ten years back. It was just a little thing then, of course, but it was the
only prize she’d ever won, so she kept him. Most of the kids at that ball toss
game on the midway simply took their prize (if that’s what you could call it)
to the lake which ran beside the fairgrounds and let it go free. Most had been
talked into this by their mothers who quickly saw the impracticality of such a
pet. The barkers took advantage of this and simply re-captured the little
terrors at a bend further down the lake so as not to be noticed by the punters.
This is why this particular game wasn’t rigged like the rest of the tests of
skill on the midway. Nearly everybody won at this stall. It didn’t cost them
anything in prizes and they made plenty in tokens to play.
But Rosalee didn’t know anything about this. All she knew was
that she’d won something for the first time in her life and it felt good. She
didn’t care that it was an alligator. All she cared about was that her luck had
finally turned and she was going to ride that train for as long as possible.
She made a little wood and wire cage for her alligator so she could take him
with her wherever she went. Her second grade teacher was amused that first day
and decided to incorporate it into the science module of the day. The whole
class learned the difference between alligators and crocodiles, learned what
kind of food they preferred, learned how to take care of them. The second day
her teacher wasn’t as amused. By the end of the week she politely asked Rosalee
to leave him at home from now on, the lesson was over and the joke had worn
thin. But Rosalee wasn’t budging. He was her good luck charm and she had no intention
of ever being more than a few feet away from him. They reached a compromise and
put her in a desk next to the window. Her father was somehow roped into
cobbling together a pen for the ever-growing beast that was situated just
outside. They could both see each other, and she could even reach out her hand
and stroke its rough scales.
Rosalee was the only person who could pet the alligator.
Everybody else he snapped at – especially the vet. She took him to her family
vet for the first check up and all the cats and dogs in the waiting room
huddled under their owner’s chairs while Rosalee was filling out the forms.
When she got to the part on the form for the “name” for the alligator, she
stopped. She didn’t know his name. He’d never told her, but then again she’d
not thought to ask. She didn’t think now was a good time, a name being such a
private thing and this being such a public place, so she wrote “None Yet.”
20 minutes later the nurse called out “Nunyette”. Rosalee
looked around, noticed nobody else got up, looked at the nurse holding her
clipboard, noticed her hand waiving her into the hallway where the exam rooms
were. The nurse was all smiles until she noticed it was an alligator in tow. He
was on a leash, as per office policy, but she was still apprehensive.
The alligator was well behaved up until the vet tried to take
his temperature. They never went back. It was either that or be sued.
It turned out the alligator was a better prize than Rosalee
could’ve ever expected. He was a good protector, didn’t need any entertaining,
and caught all his own food. She didn’t think of him as a pet, but she sure
didn’t think of him as her “baby” like some did about their animal companions.
Ten years later she took him to the town‘s grand coming-out fête as her date.
She knew it would mean she’d never get an invitation to join the Junior League,
but she was OK with that.
She’d always wanted to be an astronaut, ever since she
discovered that plastic helmet in her grandparent’s attic. It had a green visor
that turned the world a magical, alien color when she put it on her head. It
was so much more than wearing tinted sunglasses. Everywhere she looked was
altered. There was no “normal” sneaking in her peripheral vision. That was
covered with the helmet. Sounds were different too – more muffled, more
distant. It made her feel safer, more peaceful, more powerful to wear it.
She was born in a time before there were words for what she
was. “Gifted” they knew for sure, but there was more. She was sensitive,
perhaps overly so. Now she would say it was a gift to feel in an unfeeling
world, but then she thought it a challenge, if not a curse. It was hard to keep
friends. She made them like anyone else. It was easy in the jumble that was
public school. People became friends easily, often for no other reason than
survival. They joined up out of some instinct that said it was dangerous to go
alone into that minefield of strange rules and stranger adults. Best to connect
with others who are equally lost or oppressed. This is why cliques formed after
all. Once the obvious groups were created by hobby or skill, what was often
left were the oddballs, the misfits, the loners. They connected as a way of
self-protection, an unspoken union with no dues or representatives
She’d fit in these groups for about a month or so, just long
enough for her or them to quietly decide that there wasn’t a fit after all and
one side or the other would quit spending time with each other. Thankfully this
was before the era of social media, or as she thought of it now, anti-social
She was 50 now – far past the age of recruits to astronaut
school. She was in good shape and probably could have endured the training, but
it wasn’t even an option. Or so she thought. She looked it up. There were no
age restrictions. The oldest so far was 46. She’d been telling herself “no”
without even asking the question. She just assumed it wasn’t possible, so for
her, it wasn’t. Maybe deep down her former friends knew this about her – knew
her lonely fear of failure, her feckless worry. Perhaps they were afraid of
catching her secret disease of failing before she even began.
But she was a different person now. There had been growth on
her part. It was a blend of self-help books and counseling that finally pushed
her over the edge of her fear. It was like she’d been forever standing at the
cliffside, afraid of falling to her death – all the while not realizing she had
How could birds know they were birds after all? Their wings
were behind them. Their mothers appeared as if by magic. How could they know
they too had that same magic, waiting to be revealed?
Perhaps her fair-weather friends had done her a favor after
all, without even realizing it. By quietly abandoning her, she’d learned to
value her own company. She’d learned how to be her own friend and how to take
care of things herself. These turned out to be valuable traits in an astronaut.
Because now that is exactly what she was determined to
become. She applied to the program, confident and beaming. She saved up her
money and quit her job so she could commit all her energy to this. There was no
backing out. There was no Plan B. It was A for Astronaut all the way. The moon (at
least) or bust. No glass ceiling for her – she was going to smash through it
with her rocketship.
The program had changed a lot since she had first looked into
it. Every few years she’d read about astronauts or space and think of it as a
loss love, or perhaps a lost dream. Now it was far less physically demanding
and far more mental and emotional – and perhaps even spiritual. Now they didn’t
have to endure many G-Forces, being spun about in centrifuges to ensure they
could survive the ordeal of acceleration and reentry. No, being an astronaut
was a lot easier since the invention of the Hop. Just strap the Hop onto your
wrist, set the dials, and away you went. Within a matter of the blink of an eye
you were there instead of here. Scientist’s weren’t sure how it
worked, but they’d said the same about prescription drugs for years and that
never stopped them. All they knew was that they got the results they were
All she was looking for was a chance, so they gave it to her.
Training now was about how to interact with aliens on other planets. Of course,
they weren’t “aliens” while on their home planet. She was. She was the odd one
out, the anomaly when she was there. She was the one who had to adapt
well enough to observe them and be able to return home in one piece. You never
knew what might happen. Just judging how earth people treated their alien
visitors, she knew anything was possible, so it was important to be as
nonthreatening as possible.
It wasn’t possible to assume that the environment would be
hospitable. She’d have to wear a spacesuit to protect against air that wasn’t
of the right balance of gases for human, or ultraviolet rays that were too
harsh, or gravity that was too high or too low. The spaceship had to become the
spacesuit – able to provide a protective shell around the person to make it
possible to explore in safety.
The government had long ago given up the idea of a space
program, so it was handled by other private investors. They were generally in
the tourist trade or in real estate, looking for a place for humans to go when
they got bored.
So now she was testing out the suit in New York City. It
wasn’t New New York – that was in Proxima Centauri 4, of course. But she had to
practice somewhere, and you couldn’t get more alien than a big city that was
populated with all sorts of people. So she’d Hop to New York or Nashville, or
Mumbai or Mongolia, walking around and trying to interact with people. Part of
it was getting used to being stared at and not reacting.
The suits had built-in translators, thankfully, but that only
went so far. She had to understand the meaning beneath the words – the true
message that was being conveyed. That would prove to be the most useful trait
of any astronaut, and that was the one skill that couldn’t be taught. But it
was hard to test for too. You couldn’t just ask someone if they could get along
with anyone. Of course they’d say yes. It had to be proven, time and again,
through various experiments, like what she was doing now.
Long ago, the space program gave precedence to ex-military
for their astronauts. These days, they discovered that ex-retail was the best
way to go. Those people had to know how to be diplomatic at all times, and how
to keep the peace without a weapon. Not true with military folk, who were used
to solving problems with their weapons instead of their words. Peaceful
coexistence was the goal – not colonizing. They learned long ago that it was
best to work and live together with a variety of beings. Too much homogeneity
led to stagnation, an endless loop that would spiral back in on itself
eventually, strangling ideas.