“Mission Concept” – Fiction by Peter H.Z. Hsu

The Astronaut – Gandy Brodie, 1974

Our Summer 2017 issue, FLAPPERHOUSE #14, is sure to be a deep-flying, head-flipping odyssey. The issue launches next Wednesday, June 21, but in the meantime we’d like to offer a sneak peek of what to expect with Peter H.Z. Hsu’s trippy & unearthly flash fiction “Mission Concept.”

(Digital PDF copies of FLAPPERHOUSE #14 are currently available for pre-order; print copies available for order real soon…)

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The astronaut sometimes leaves the Earth to travel to the Moon. The Moon is very far away. Sometimes the astronaut travels further away than the Moon, much further. On these trips, the astronaut stays away for a very long time. The astronaut sometimes does not return.

The astronaut is sometimes a fighter pilot. The astronaut is sometimes a geologist. Sometimes an astronomer. Sometimes an electrical engineer. Sometimes the astronaut has a job specific to being an astronaut such as mission specialist or payload specialist or mission commander or administrative services manager. Sometimes the astronaut has a job that is not specific to being an astronaut. Sometimes the astronaut is a high school history teacher, an ordinary person making an extraordinary impact.

Sometimes the astronaut is an actor in a science fiction movie where he goes alone on a 40-year mission to a far-away solar system. When the astronaut returns, he walks a long, grey corridor to meet his lover. He is surprised at what he finds. The astronaut has grown old, but his lover has stayed young. This is scientifically inaccurate, yet this is what happens.

The astronaut touches his fingertips to his lover’s face. He stares. He recognizes her in her young face, her old eyes. He wants her. She is all he wants.

She says, “All is well. My lover has returned.”

He looks at his hand, still on her cheek. His hand is grey and dry like bone. His hand looks like a dead person’s hand, like a ghost hand.

He says, “No.”

His lover closes her eyes and turns her face. He takes his hand away. She backs away, head down. Then, without looking at him, she leaves.

The astronaut’s boss steps forward out of the shadows. He says to the astronaut, “You are quite an incredible astronaut.”

Still other times, the astronaut is the import-export guy. He is a father of two. He goes to China and sometimes to Vietnam. These trips are business trips. He goes many times a year. When he goes, he stays gone for a long time. Sometimes, when he returns, he checks into a motel and pretends that he’s still away.

When he comes home, he goes to dinner with his family. Everyone is nice to him. His wife is nice to him. His son is nice to him. His daughter is nice to him. They are Respectful. They are Thankful. They ask the astronaut about his trip. The astronaut answers. He thinks he has a lot to tell them. But he doesn’t. Everything he has to say, he is able to say in about 3 minutes. Then, for the rest of the dinner, everyone talks about the food and then also amongst themselves.

The morning after the dinner, the astronaut plays golf. He’s not good at golf. He doesn’t even like it. His friends like it. They are not astronauts. They are friendly though, and they are very funny. The astronaut laughs. It’s good to laugh. It’s all you can do sometimes.

The astronaut doesn’t understand what’s happening. The astronaut’s kids are older than he remembers. His son is gay. His son is tall, taller than the astronaut. The astronaut’s son is a grown man? The astronaut’s son is a tall, grown, gay man. The astronaut thinks this should upset him, but he is not upset.

His daughter tells him not to be upset.

The astronaut tells her he is not upset.

His daughter says okay then.

She then tells him she is applying for colleges. The colleges she is applying to are not selective, but they are all expensive. Her grades are average. The astronaut thinks he’ll have to make more money.

The astronaut’s wife says, “There’s enough money.”

“Yes,” says the astronaut. “But still, I should make more.”

“There’s enough,” says the astronaut’s wife.

“There’s enough,” says the astronaut’s son.

“There’s enough,” says the astronaut’s daughter.

“There’s enough,” says the astronaut. “But still.”

The astronaut’s job is to leave the Earth.

The astronaut travels very far away. The astronaut may not return.

When he does return, he’ll walk a long, grey corridor. He’ll find he has grown old, but everyone on the Earth has stayed young. This is scientifically impossible, yet it is what happens.

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PETER H.Z. HSU is a 2017 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. His fiction has been published in The Margins, Pinball, F(r)Online, and is forthcoming in Your Impossible Voice.

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