caught migrants from across the border?” I ask this as though
didn’t know why, earlier, she’d slipped out my back
clutched the stiff-from-grunge burlap sack that had belonged to her
momma—gone since this one was an infant.
flashes her seven-year-old version of an adult’s waning
Her, “Grandpap, you know I wanted to catch aliens from outer
space,” rides on morning breath.
those kinds of aliens,” I say. The newfangled toy brings to
daddy’s dome portable radio, buried in the basement under
yesteryears. This gadget likely vacuums floors, babysits toddlers,
and bakes pies. My gnarled knuckles thum-thump the smooth, seamless,
and solid metal. I nod. Good quality. Some fool wasted big bucks on
plastic chairs, we inspect her latest find. She kneels on young knees
and I roost on old butt. During the last sub-zero freeze, I’d
dismantled my ancient oak skeletons-–six seats, twenty-four
and six backrests. The short burst of warmth from my wood stove
hadn’t justified the rare antiques’ fate.
mumble, “Great discovery,” Up this close, her
sweep my liver-spotted hand. And, my naked eyes—naked because
can’t find my damn glasses again—see that her
multiplied faster than she’d grown in inches.
glasses, I can still sum up our spent years. Her seven compared to my
sixty-seven. Thankful that we can’t tally future time, I
concentrate on here-and-now with my only grandchild. “You
not a toy that flew from a kid’s yard?” My question
denture-goop. Stuff I don’t bother with the rest of the year.
for sure from outer space, Grandpap.” Her eyes, the bright
that remind me of extinct summer skies, search mine for reassurance.
“Extra-ter-ez-three-allz rode in it.”
camouflage my chuckle inside a fake, fist-cough. “Ever hear
shakes a tiny finger as though to scold. “Those are pretend.
These,” she taps the toy with pink, dirt-caked fingernails,
real.” Sand from the parched lakebed slides from her treasure
settles on my table. “One of them said they came from outer
nod. “Aha, speaking aliens from beyond our galaxy.”
brushes sand from the table, but I say, “Leave it
good is this old table if my granddaughter can’t plunk her
ship on it, huh?”
flashes her momma’s smile.
centuries, our healthy forests had provided wood for whatever
mankind wanted or needed. Humans’ thoughtless waste nudged
domino effect that killed trees and much more. So, if the table
croaks, plastic will be my oak. Plastic—only one cause of our
ruin—will outlast mankind and bacteria. “Were you
these aliens?” I ask.
shakes her head; auburn curls bounce. “They let me catch them
‘cause they wanted to tell me a secret.” She points
at a dimple
on the dome. “A pokey thing was here but it’s
gone.” She looks
up at me, eyes worried. “Did I break it?”
I decide, she lost the antenna to the toy’s remote, still
owner. “My daddy used a piece of clothes hanger for an
our old radio.” Sorry I’d mentioned it, I hope she
won’t ask me
to totter down steep basement stairs and find the radio antenna.
glances at my cane propped against the wall. “Were you scared
you had to use Great Grandpap’s just-in-case cane?”
that a child, bombarded with adult realities, searches for imagined
aliens for help, I say, “More like resigned.”
you jumped off your bunk bed and broke your ankle, and you had to
wear the pink cast all summer, you were resigned that you
do some fun things for a long time. I’m resigned that I have
keep the cane near.” I don’t add: Until my bitter
taps the dome. “The alien said he would save me if I kept
me, so I got re-zined and asked if he would save Daddy and Grandpap,
and he said, “Only you, child.”
gut-laugh, a rare occurrence, bursts from me. “Someday you
a famous storyteller.” And then I recall: Soon there will be
days. No nights. No stories. For anyone.
reflects her innocence, intelligence, curiosity. “When you
little, did spaceships fly from their yard to your yard?”
“Didn’t see any.
Heard rumors, though. They’re supposedly little like you but
gray, wrinkly skin.” I tap her forehead. “And just
peers at my face—probably imagines a purple eye nestled
bushy, gray brows. “What did you do for fun way back when you
my way back, my momma and daddy and I lived in this house. As you
know, it’s far from town, so I entertained myself. I climbed
apple tree, perched on fat limbs amongst green leaves, and I munched
firm, juicy apples. I daydreamed that spaceships zoomed from the
black side of the moon. Pretended to fly their crafts to exciting
don’t mention that the tree slowly died from lack of
nutrition-water-sunlight. I don’t admit that the largest
thumped like broken appendages onto the barren ground to become fuel
for warmth and for cooking.
her sing-song little-girl tone, she lists friend’s names,
colors, and favorite toys...
memory drifts: I grew, finished high school, and my parents passed
away. To earn a decent living, I provided handyman work for
neighboring ranchers. I married my soul mate, and our baby girl also
grew and married and had a child.
the rumor of mankind’s fate exploded into cold hard fact.
panic slithered across our planet. The promise of death distracted
some humans from killing each other. Some.
daughter passed; Black Lung Disease produces what it suggests.
block my grief and the news of our pending doom, I’d lugged
televisions, radios, and telephones to the basement. Had to keep the
damn mandatory government-issue I-tablet, donated to each
To Inform Citizens of Approaching Doom.
ward off fear, I tried to carve bird shapes from wood scraps. I chose
robins because they were vanishing, as were many species.
every swift pass of my sharp blade, paper-thin layers drifted like
fossilized feathers around my feet. With each slice, I wished that
something or someone would save my family and then me. Never
confessed my useless hope that still burns inside my foolish old
soul mate fueled our wood-burning stove with my carved feathers.
Eventually, each of my attempts—clunky, misshapen, and
into the fire.
kept one pair, attached at the wing-tips. My soul mate painted red on
the breasts, browns at the wings and tails, and tan at the beaks. She
glued beads for eyes, and announced, “They are us.”
drilled tiny holes at the bottoms of the robins and snipped and
inserted wires to resemble legs and talons. At some point, the
female’s legs and one male leg fell out. The Us birds perched
lopsided but inseparable on the kitchen windowsill.
toddling granddaughter wanted to play with the birds.
must perch up high to guard you.” I’d
young hand pats my old hand. Brings me back to our futureless
present. “Can a grandpap climb a
with help from my tiny, freckled granddaughter.”
imagine her straining to shove me upward into what is left of my
tree. And because I think that she imagines the same, smiles spread.
One across falsies. One over babies.
tap the dome. “Did you see these aliens?”
presses an ear against it. Auburn waves drape it.
to come out. I bet they look like us but are little, like
Her grin tugs. “With two, not-purple eyes.”
one is a hunter like her beloved grandma. Most mornings, I’d
our house and ignored our fate. She’d toddled beside Grandma
tracked imagined space beings. Grandma sought mankind’s
Two futile quests.
my wife and I told our granddaughter that she was our Whole Wide
World. Laughter filled our home until her daddy took her to the
city’s best education and himself to a better job. A
silence filled every crevice, every space, and every one of the two
left behind; and then there was one.
between the snail-crawl months when she’s with her father and
alone, she grows and I shrink; we age. Our annual reunion of almost
two full days separated by one night, where I sit and watch her
sleep, flashes in warp-speed.
peer at the blurry toy, mentally curse my absent glasses, and I ask,
“Where’d you find it?”
the dead lake that was called Clear Waters.” Her gap-tooth
spreads. “The alien inside told me to keep it near me, so I
it in my alien-catcher and dragged it here.”
glance at the dirt-encrusted burlap sack, dumped on her mud-caked
sneakers beside the back door.
thing there’s no water in the lake, huh?” I ask.
water was in the lake, I would’ve saved the aliens
‘cause I took
swimming lessons at the anti-gravity pool.”
pools nowadays can’t compare to the outside pools that
chlorine. Back then, joyful sounds of watersplashes and
laughter rang through clean air. Now, a newfangled anti-gravity tank
replaces the whole works. But, because she’s proud of her
skills, I say, “Grandma would have loved to see you
frown forms between once-upon-a-time sky-blue eyes. “Is
gone ‘cause water’s gone?”
our lake dried up, Grandma wore out, I guess.”
sorrows had overcome my mate’s heart and soul. Many dark
dim days since, I’ve envied her final choice.
slide the craft closer. It’s heavier than I expected.
everything is heavy, blurred, or gone. My familiar but pointless
yearning surges; I wish I could blanket my granddaughter with a pure
light of salvation. Why hadn’t we protected our young when we
the chance? If we’d vaguely envisioned the horrific results
thoughtless waste and polluting, could we have saved ourselves?
Insight, ignored. Hindsight, too late.
fingertips brush the toy’s symbols, gibberish to my naked
“Are these alien words?”
peer at the minute markings; I fake it. “It’s the
name of their
planet but I can’t pronounce it.” No need to admit
Grandpap’s eyesight, along with the rest of his useless self,
almost spent. How much longer, I wonder, will Almost last?
surrounds the old house. We eat her favorite: cheesy macaroni and hot
tea. Mine, bitter-black. Hers with two sugar cubes and a splash of
cream. She offers a cupcake and giggles as I hold palms up, form a
terrified expression, and shudder as though to ward off sweet
grossness. Yesterday, I’d traveled thirty miles to
outrageous prices—the cream, the sugar, and two chocolate
cupcakes—my secret favorite—one for each day.
my Whole Wide World,” I say.
licks chocolate frosting from tiny fingers; ecstasy, or a sugar high,
shines in her eyes.
in my plastic rocker which faces the front window, she snuggles on my
lap. Her warmth seeps into my cold bones. I re-tell the
happy-ever-after folktales that my mother had told and read to me. As
always, she says, “Tell me about Superman!”
I say, “is the man of steel who is stronger than a
faster than a speeding bullet, and can soar, up-up and away! And
superman always saves our whole wide world.”
ago, mankind had invented drawings and symbols with which to express
and to communicate. Eventually, words and illustrations formed
stories. Yet, we’ve ignored most spoken and written warnings.
Fairytale books became fuel. Now, happy-ever-after endings will never
dwell in children’s memories.
bedtime, I offer the princess towel—once her
allotted shower time. Through the closed door, above the shower
spray, and past her sing-voice—an impossibly high,
pitch—I call out the warning attached to monthly statements:
not drink the filtered, recycled spray!”
in flowery pajamas and fuzzy pink slippers, she emerges with damp
hair and rosy cheeks.
offer the feather-light sleep-bag, guaranteed to protect from our
sudden and extreme high or low temperatures.
grips toy and bag and slipper-shuffles outside—our secret
father will never allow in the city where pollution and crime kill.
in my rocker, I hold the carved robins. I pull the sharp talon from
the male and tuck it into my shirt pocket. My fingers trace the small
shapes. They are not feather-smooth. Tiny hearts do not flutter
inside soft, warm bodies because these birds lived only in my
soulmate’s imagination. I’ll dust them, and
before her daddy comes to take her away, I’ll give them to
birds will forever nest side by side, wingtip-to-wingtip. They will
no longer teeter.
tears will well when I tell her that the robins are symbols of
springtime and of Grandpap’s and Grandma’s love for
tell her that, no matter what, she and I will forever be inseparable.
wrap her little arms around me in a fierce hug. For the last time?
my window, I see her small shape, huddled in the sleep-bag and
surrounded by a twilight that’s uncertain if being born anew
dying out. Under my apple tree’s skeleton—-which
to burn because she needs the memory of sleeping-under-a-tree no
matter how wretched the damn thing—-she aims the flashlight
toward pollution-shrouded stars in search of a real Superman to save
her because Grandma tried but failed and Grandpap didn’t even
eventually guide her inside. She’ll sleep-mumble of aliens,
princesses, and Superman while I ask her to never forget me when
gone. She’ll say I’ll never be gone and kiss my
pull in her precious scent of life.
she’s settled in her mother’s childhood bed, the
hum will lull her back to slumber. I’ll return to plastic and
re-live every second of her visit. I can sleep after she leaves or
after I die. Whichever hits first.
night, I’ll sit alone and peer through my ghostly
window-reflection; I will find only thickening black air.
swipe at the tears that ride zigzag wrinkle crevices and tickle my
tissue-thin cheeks. In the midst of my gloomy thoughts, something
bright flickers. One of those flashes related to the old-age
shadow-spots floating on my eyes? There’s another damn flash.
another! “What the hell?”
a faint glow flickers from the toy which sits on dead ground that
once smelled of rich soil, deep roots, and lush grass. Of fresh
I mutter to the old house that has heard only my grumpy voice for the
past twelve months. “The battery holds a spark of life or the
owner’s frantically punching the remote button.” I
pull in and
let loose a shaky sigh. “Before her dad takes her to the
we’ll attempt to fly it.”
high-pitched Hummm worms through my musings. Has my
kicked up a notch? I tug earlobes. What’s worse, forever
dead silence or constantly enduring head-hums? I
peer at the faint glow behind the air crud. Am I seeing the moon?
During the daytime, our sun’s rays struggle to filter through
filthy air. At night, the moon’s shrouded glow looks anemic.
be the moon.
slashes. Not the familiar physical joint-ache. More a soul-ripping
despair. “What will happen to my little one with the eyes
bring back memories of summer skies?” My, question gets
with tears. “What of the tiny but brave alien-hunter with the
morning breath, the missing baby tooth, and the scattered
I call toward the ceiling, “What about all innocent young
never climbed a living tree, breathed clear air, or jumped into
healthy water? Is our planet punishing the offspring of those
steadily murdered it?”
me, something beep-beeps.
I glance at the I-Tablet on the floor. I’d ignored it for how
months or years? The screen is faint as though steadily expiring like
the rest of us. I lean down and knuckle-thump it; the government
announcement, even without my eyeglasses, glares up at me.
COMMITTEE REVEALS THAT, WITH THE AID FROM OUR ALIEN ALLIES, THE DEEP
OUTER-SPACE SHIP GATHERS CHILDREN TO TAKE TO OUR SISTER PLANET,
EARTH-TWO where pure air and
fresh water exist in abundance. A thriving colony has been formed
screen beeps, shrinks, blackens.
heart races. My fingers tremble. My questions burst: “What
World’s Children Committee? What alien allies? What sister
Have I disregarded my world for too long? Am I an ignorant,
opinionated old fool?” A sound from outside overwhelms my
“And, what the hell is that damn hum?”
struggle to my feet and grip the sill with one hand while the other
cradles the robins. Outside, the toy hovers beside the sleeping
thoughts collide. What if the craft is not a toy? She said a voice
from inside the dome told her to keep it near her so they could save
her. Was that a recording or a scam? If the antenna is missing, will
the drone not be able to make contact with the mother ship? Will the
extraterrestrials leave her trapped, here, on our dying Earth? Am I
rushes through my gnarled veins and pushes my ancient body and my
stubborn mind into action. I turn to totter down basement steps to
find the old radio but glance back, to where the small craft wobbles,
as though to fall useless to the ground. No time to struggle down the
stairs and to search through mounds of junk for the radio’s
antenna. No time left on this Earth for me to manage the
knee-killing, upward climb. I must not hide! I must save my
carved birds gripped in one fist, I grab my just-in-case cane, and I
shuffle to the back door. “Kick into gear, old
man,” I say as the
screen door creaks open and slaps behind me.
small craft wobbles beside my granddaughter, who sleeps in the bag
and dreams that her treasure and Superman are saving her playmates
and her dresses and her dolls and ...
shaky fingers run across the smooth dome. On the third try, I find
the indentation that had held the antenna before a little girl had
stuffed it into a grungy bag, dragged it through dirt, thumped it up
porch steps, pulled across the kitchen floor, and plunked it onto
Grandpap’s oak table. I pull the wire from my pocket and
into the dome’s dimple.
release the craft; it slow-motion sinks down and nestles onto fuzzy
pink slippers. A dome-shaped balloon out of air. Out of time. The
bird’s leg and claw aim upward as though to grasp something
wobbly legs, I stand beside her and wait. Do I dare dream that hope
is near? Is it too late? Will the ship leave her behind? Was the wire
an old man’s pathetic, last-minute, futile attempt? Should I
searched inside the alien-catcher sack for the antenna? Have I failed
tuck the carved robins between tiny, freckled hands. I pull in a
shaky lungful of tired air and push out, “The robins will
guard over you, and Grandpap will love you forever.”
whispered plea, as I back away from my only grandchild,
take her, please take her, please take her,” rides on gasping
heart pounds as I shuffle into the house. Settled on plastic, I glare
out at the toy that sits silent, dark, and useless on pink fuzzy
you…” Before I finish my curse that rides on
spittle and whistles
past falsies, the small craft darts upward toward a sudden flash of
brilliance that I’d never imagined. My heart, unaccustomed to
I’d thought to be a useless toy, enters a hovering ship with
diameter too humongous to tally.
from outer space?” My voice echoes the wonderment of my
sure real aliens?” Has my childhood wish come true or is this
unveiling of an old man’s brain-rot? Or, is this the
did I assume, because she is young and I am old, that she is wrong
and I am right? Why did I think, because I gave up the fight, that
all mankind had given up? And, why hadn’t I helped?
brilliant, blinding light dims to a soft glow which brings to mind a
healthy sunrise. It highlights the mother-ship’s engravings.
without glasses, what I couldn’t see with them: I see hope in
form of: EARTH-TWO
inside the ship’s many portals, young faces smile out at me.
important part of my wish comes true.” My whisper, like my
rants, gets caught in tears; these tears are not born from sadness or
fear or desperation. These are tears of relief. An emotion I thought
would never again surge.
nod and agree to what is offered: through memories, my granddaughter
and I will be forever inseparable. I press my palm against the window
pane; my final goodbye.
pure light of salvation blankets my yard, my tree, my house, and my
light, stronger than a locomotive, darts faster than a speeding
bullet and soars up, up and away to save Earth’s children.
the pathetic skeleton of my apple tree, pink fuzzy slippers wait
beside the feather-light sleep-bag—guaranteed to protect from
sudden and extreme high or low temperatures. The bag, empty of wooden
robins and living child, looks deflated.
I rock on hard plastic, and my smile, the rare one that has hidden
for too long, spreads over falsies. I hum Momma’s lullaby,
that I forgot to sing to my granddaughter when I had the chance. So
many wasted chances.
stare through my ghostly window reflection, I peer beyond Earth
dark air, and I search for Earth-Two and my Whole Wide World.