Deep Space

Ellie leaned over his balcony, as a gust of wind pushed through the desert grass. A pack of coyotes gathered around the red rock, their howling beckoning her to leave the confines of her father's apartment. Their silhouettes stood against the backdrop of a million distant suns. She watched them duck behind hills and the saguaro cacti and imagined herself doing many things – quitting her day job, sailing to the Galapagos, lying beneath the night sky 1000 miles away…

Instead she went inside, where her father had closed the curtains. She was visiting him for the weekend. While he spent some time telling her about his hometown in Iran, with its light air and ancient ruins, he was mostly in his office, watching BBC or reading articles about space.

She cracked the door to his office. The artificial light highlighted his scalp and formed a halo of white hair around his head. His belly no longer filled the fabric of his shirt; it hung loosely on his shoulders. His skin sagged around his neck and mouth, tough from enduring decades of harsh sun. While his outsides showed signs of aging, they showed no signs of the tumors growing inside him. No one had put a time stamp on her father's life, but guessing from his constant coughing and fatigue, he probably had only a few months to live.

"What are you doing dad?" she asked. In his hand he held a flat piece of metal with little gray dots.

"Making a computer." He held up the CPU. As he started to explain the process to her, she watched him screw and unscrew parts, arranging what looked like scraps of metal into a plastic box. She had no desire to learn, but she listened anyway.

"Nah shit," he said when he realized he put in one of the parts backwards. Even with a magnifying glass in his hands, his shaky fingers struggled to work the screw driver. She watched him fumble around, before getting frustrated, and unscrewing the parts herself. Once they were free, he stared at them, turning them and rearranging them as if they would form a clear picture. The longer he worked the more disjoined his computer became, until it was just a collection of parts on his carpet, half-broken like all the rest of his technology, which included everything from old fax machines to broken laser printers to a box of keyboards he hoarded "in case of emergency."

"You should take a break," she said. "Why don't we watch a movie together or play some backgammon?"

"I'm almost finished."

An hour later her dad was still examining the computer parts with a magnifying glass; his eyes fixed on the parts like they were slides and he was looking for cancer. She expected him to shoo her from his office, like he always did when she was a kid, unless he wanted to show her his latest gizmo or educate her on the foundations of anatomy. Instead he put away his screw driver, frowned and went to his fridge, and, like always, prepared grapes and Haagen Dazs ice cream. That's when she noticed her novel on his peninsula, the bookmark still wedged between the beginning pages.

"Would you like a grape?" he asked.

She shook her head. "No thank you."

"Hey dad," she said. "You should read the book I wrote."

"I will. Don't worry." Even as he carried his grapes into his room, he left her book on the peninsula. The oxygen tank beeped in the background. Before he fell asleep, she picked out his clothes for the next day and made sure he hadn't forgotten to turn off his computer. When she finished, she went out into the balcony and started writing, imagining how it would feel to fly across the desert. She tapped away on her keyboard, until the paragraphs dissolved the feelings inside of her until she forgot everything she was feeling.

Dad woke up an hour later.

"Go inside, it's cold," he said, scrunching up his face.

Pt. 2

He woke up at 7 a.m., just like he did every day. He had tea and toast for breakfast. When she woke up at 11:45 a.m., he had the computer parts spread across his office. He was studying the diagram, reading the words out loud, slowly to himself. As she entered the room, he shooed her and told her to come back when she'd changed out of her pajamas.

"This diagram is stupid." He cursed at the little parts for a bit. "Do you want to learn about CPU?"

"Not right now. I have to go." She patted him on the head, and then headed to work at the local science museum's café.

For hours she stood behind the counter, serving mac and cheese and coca cola to school children. An angry lady complained her steak was undercooked because it still had pink on the inside, and then complained that it tasted bad when she cooked out all the pink. This was after a 5-year-old threw up all over his teacher and she spent half-an-hour cleaning vomit from the floor.

"This place is so cool. Don't you love working here?" a customer asked

"I do," she said. "Sometimes."

Even though she didn't smoke, she took a smoke break. Outside hung a poster for the latest museum advertisement. REAL HUMANS, it read, depicting a human skeleton underneath.

She remembered the summer 20 years ago when she burned her hand on the car door in the parking lot at the DC Natural History Museum. Her dad forced her to look at dead bodies as he read all of the subtext. When they got to an exhibit on the ear, her father had asked her:

"Do you know what the cochlea is?"

She pushed through the line of people to get to the next cadaver. "Is it between your legs?"

"No! It's in your ear."

"Dad, I don't really care what the cochlea is."

He started to explain the inner working of the cochlea, but she didn't really listen. She held her blistered hand, and people crowded around the exhibits.

"I don't really like Science," she admitted.

"What do you want to do?"

"I don't know. Write. Act. Something else."

"Writing is a stupid job."

"It's better than hanging out at a hospital all day."

"You know nothing."

Going against the chaos of the crowd, she walked out of the exhibit and into the sun, where the heat warmed – and eventually burned – her already blistered hand. As she sat in the alley, the ground hot enough to burn a bare foot, she thought about how her father had been right. Even when her check came in, it wasn't enough to make a living, hence why she worked part-time jobs. Had it been worth it? Some days she wasn't sure.

Paul, her manager, saw her sitting outside, not smoking a cigarette like she was suppose to. "You feeling okay?" Paul asked her. "How is your old man doing?"

"Not too well. He's been pretty grumpy," she said. Paul offered her a cigarette. Even though she didn't smoke, she accepted his offer.

"Has he read your book yet?"


"Maybe if you tell him it's about space, he'll read it."

"He already knows we don't have much in common." She inhaled the harsh flames, which scratched her throat.

"That's not true. I thought you both played video games?"

She smiled, remembering how they used to play Halo together when she was 10 and he was 60. "We did make a good team," she said.

"How old is he again?"

"79," she said.

"Damn he's old."

"I know."

"I'm guessing you were an accident."

"I like to think of myself as a happy surprise."

Pt. 3

She pulled into the empty parking lot of the museum, and wheeled her father up to the entrance, where a metal sign spelled out MUSEUM in rusted iron letters. The exhibit was tucked away in the corner of the museum, where the crowds thinned. On a blank yellow wall read the words, "The Human Experience." There was a human female posed behind a glass case. The body was cut open to reveal a model of the lungs – pig's lungs, which filled with air when she pressed a button. Next to it, displayed a stomach on a platform, a plastic brain in a glass jar. She wondered how all the body parts could fit in one person, all interconnected, falling apart at different rates.

Eventually she wheeled him into a dark, empty room. A projector lit up the blank wall, showing a graphic of a child in the womb before zooming into her cells, and then into her atoms, which were mostly empty space. The video finished with a clip comparing the body to the universe.

"Hey dad, wasn't that cool?" Her father had fallen asleep in his wheelchair.

He woke up and started coughing, so aggressive it was like he was trying to turn himself inside out.

"I'm tired," he said. "I want to go home."

"Are you sure you don't want to see the dinosaur bones?"


His bedroom reminded her of a hospital bed. The walls were painted sea green to calm and lighthouse paintings filled the wall, the last remainder of his mom's things, which were sold when she passed away a couple years ago. Until that point, he was a man of routine, getting up at 7 a.m. and going to bed at 10 p.m. Every day he wore a button-down shirt with a pocket, khacki pants and a clean shaven face. Now he wore pajamas. The little grey hairs looked like shards of metal shimmering on his face.

He spent the evening putting together the last bits of his computer, mixing and matching old and new parts. She took a run through the desert, her lungs strong, her legs fast, her ears sensitive to her feet hitting the gravel. She could have run further – for miles into the peak of the night, but she felt guilty leaving her father alone, where the only thing that hadn't failed him was his mind. She came back and found her father in the living room, examining her book as if it were a foreign object. He bent back the front cover, pressed his glasses against his face, and read the first sentence, out loud.

"Mr. Cone lived in a big house."

"Mr. Kuhn."

"Kuhn?" he asked.

"Like Tycoon."

"You know in Farsi that means butt. If you go to Iran and read this book, they laugh at you."

"I know." She laughed. "Just read it."

He read the first page out loud, stumbling over the words and asking her questions every time he got confused. Midway through his sentence, he started coughing, like he was fighting to say the words, so instead, she read the story to him. His eyes kept opening and shutting, until she read the last word of the short story.

"That's the end," she said. "What did you think of it?"

"Very nice," he said. "Good job."

"You want me to read another one?"

"Maybe tomorrow?"

"You promise?"


"I love you, dad."

"I love you too, Ellie."

The television screen went black and the lights around the neighborhood went out one by one, revealing an abundance of stars in the sky. Her father had already fallen asleep on the couch. She could hear the soft howling of the coyotes; the cool desert breeze beckoned her. But instead of getting in her car and going home, she stood at her father's window like she was his satellite, close, but with miles between them. His chest rose and fell. Unlike her father, she had the rest of her life to wander through the desert. As her father snored on the couch, she covered him with a blanket.