It Wasn't Stockhausen's
Bill is actually not much given to reading but he believes in good manners and here is the thing: once he lets go of the old scepticism a funny restlessness starts to waken in him with each new page. He inhales the raft of smells that must come from the fingerprints that have touched this book, hundreds of them, perfumed, nicotine stained, antiseptic, all impressed on the paper. It’s good, maybe even a little addictive. He could put the book down but he could also read just one more paragraph. This new compulsion is prompted not by morphine but a wild ecstasy for the unknown and it is genuine, oh how it’s genuine! Bill hasn’t had a true feeling like this since he can’t remember when. He isn’t sure he understands it all correctly but still; faithfully he reads about the Gemini reconnaissance missions and how the moon’s gravitational field meant the Eagle landed four miles from its aim point. The lunar surface is like a dirty beach, he learns, but also perfect as plaster of Paris, lonely and forbidding, or brilliant, the astronauts can’t seem to decide. In many ways the consultant oncologist is a genius, but she is also wrong about one important thing: it is not the same moon wherever you are in the world. It is not even the same Earth.
There are nights when Bill falls asleep thinking he is inside the Apollo 8, but being caught in the trajectory of the moon this way is no bad thing. It’s a peaceful place to be. The motions of steering the rocket are as natural to him as eating and breathing. He closes his eyes and scans the radar for fatal mountain peaks, the ones that NASA hasn’t charted, and all the while they push on through a splendid, silent world, every movement as easy as being underwater. Below are the Sea of Crises and the Marsh of Sleep, names he could never have imagined really existing. Deep space is lavender coloured, spangled with exactly the sort of bright lights you’d see in a child’s drawing and all Bill can think is how beautiful it really is, how ready he is for the impact.
His sister visits sometimes. They joke about the irony of his bed being in E Bay, but it can’t dissipate the waiting or his worry that she isn’t taking care of herself properly. Ellen Hare has a tendency towards depression. It started when she was sixteen and before clocking any of the standard teenage milestones Bill had gotten to be an expert in recognizing the signs, a certain swooping grace to the way Ellen walked, a preoccupation with facts and lists, as if through the magic of numbers she could hold back tides, storms, war.