Cara Mayo and Indrina Kanth

Cara Mayo

Fire in the Sky
By Indrina Kanth

Inspiration Piece

The space shuttle explodes while we’re waiting in the Planned Parenthood. Peter Jennings is conferencing a NASA engineer when you ask me who I want listed as my emergency contact.

“I don’t know. Does it ask for a relationship?”


“Leave it blank then.” I pretend not to notice that you’re putting your name down.

For a Saturday morning I feel the pace is slow. A woman is asleep in one of the chairs, still holding the coffee that has been in her hand as long as we have been there, until her daughter comes out from the back room, whispering her name. The woman jerks alert and looks at her girl for less than a second before she begins to gather the coats and scarves draped over her. In the far corner a man with a cast on his arm and a chubby woman next to him sit without looking at one another. She taps her foot in a steady rhythm while he sits still. A nurse comes through the door, says to them that they are ready. The woman follows the nurse without turning back. The man watches the door. We watch the television.

My earrings are heavy and catch on the scarf I’ve kept wrapped around my neck even though we have been inside for half an hour. I’m fixing them when I hear the protestor outside, a short Hispanic woman holding up a sign with a half-burned fetus on it. The poster is too large for one person, so instead of marching the sidewalk she leans against a car and yells at the people who pass by. Her accent is thick and too difficult to understand, but even without knowing exactly I can tell her words are not kind. I try to focus on the TV instead. The engineer calls them American heroes, and the way he says it, soft, as he looks down at his hands, I know he means it. You put your hand on my knee, then pull it away, and point to the section that asks if I have been through menopause yet.

“Hilarious,” I say, trying not to smile back. You are relaxed now. You were somber on the phone an hour ago. You listened and said you would bring me here. You had coffee for me when you picked me up, black with two sweet and lows.

We go through the first page together, writing out my lactose intolerance, animal hair allergies, and daily claritin prescription. When you write “once a month” where it asks how many periods I have I take the forms back and fill them out myself. We could always joke about things like this.

“Those guys were screwed from the get-go,” you say after a few minutes.

“What do you mean?”

“Foam shedding.” I don’t understand. “It’s what NASA calls it. There’s insulating foam on the shuttle that came off during the launch and hit the left wing. That damaged the thermal protection of the entire aircraft. So when they came back into the atmosphere, they exploded.”

“How do you know that?”

“That’s what the guy just said.”

“So did they know what happened? Did they know they were going to die?”

“Nah, probably not. Good thing, right? Spared them the burden of knowing too much.”

The form asks whether I have had children and whether I smoke marijuana. You watch my pen as I write down the answers. Your hair has gotten shaggy, brown hair that just covers your eyes, and you have stubble forming around your mouth and jaw. You are getting a pimple next to your left nostril, but otherwise your skin is clear, cold to the touch and milky white. You bite your bottom lip, you’re puzzled by something. I look down and see where you’re looking. Marital status.   I flash you a smile and check the box marked single. “I’m just not the marrying type, babe.”

“What type are you?” you ask, seriously.

“The type that falls for men with baby blue eyes.” Your eyes are brown. It comes out colder than I meant it to.

“So that’s all you want?” I know where this is going and I try to stop by looking back at the TV. “Just a random blue-eyed guy for five minutes on a Friday night?”

“You’re being rude.”

“Don’t you want someone who gives a shit about you?”

“That doesn’t matter.”


“Because that’s what I call you for.” You look at me, stung. I go back to the questions about my family history. Breast cancer, asthma, diabetes.

“I mean you are my friend and you take care of me,” I say after a minute.

“That’s not enough,” you say. We’ve had this conversation before. I go back to the TV and watch the shuttle explode again. I think of the astronauts, sitting in their seats, smiling at pictures of their husbands and wives and children on the controls, ready to wrap their arms around the ones they love and miss so much. And then I can’t hold it anymore and I start to cry. I go to the bathroom before you notice and slam the door behind me. I let cold water run down my cheeks. It’s messy and my shoulders shake. I cry into paper towels, muffling the sound and even with the astronauts and what I’m about to do I know I’m crying for you, because I can’t give you what you want.

I wipe my face and leave the bathroom. You are looking down at your phone, your fingers move fast over the keyboard. I know this is the last time we will be alone together.

“Hangman?” you ask when I sit down. I take out paper from my purse. My words are czar, caffeine, and cloudy. Yours are chartreuse, cheese, and bourgeoisie. Neither of us loses, and then they call my name.

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