Brevity Sixteen

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To the Moon

By Jessica Handler

I see the telescope first. It's low and boxy, made of plywood, varnished like corn syrup. The handmade sign reads, as if hawking a tour of a kangaroo ranch or the arrival of a traveling circus,"see the moon." The sign is small, propped against an empty bucket, but it eclipses everything else on the summertime street. A twin sign announces "donations here." My conversation with my husband fades. He is still talking and ambling, earth bound, but me, the girl who failed college astronomy; I want to go to the moon.

Mr. Richman's cannon, I say, bouncing up and down on the balls of my feet.
My grandfather made a telescope when my mother was little. Twenty-five years
before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, local kids called it "Mr.
Richman's cannon" and tossed apples through what they believed was an
ordnance barrel. There was a telescope for a night in our backyard, too-
maybe that one, a generation later, carted the few miles to our house in my
grandfather's agonizingly slow ship of a car, the last lumbering Mercury on
earth. That telescope was cylindrical and gunmetal gray. I stood on a
kitchen chair dragged outdoors to reach it to see the moon. The moon stayed
far away.

This telescope looks like two wags banged it together in woodshop, and for a
moment, I wonder if it is a con. Will ink squirt in my eye as soon as my
face touches the wood? Once I get close enough to hand over my donation
(just a quarter, since I am unsure how to value a look at the moon and
no-one has put a price on it) I am startled by the telescope's solemnity.

The glass and mirrors deep inside the eyepiece are expensive, delicate
optics with a focused, mathematical purpose. The telescope body, however, is
almost innocent folk art, as long as half a church pew or two piano benches
in a line. Placed at the un-radical angle of a seesaw, it points 240,000
miles past my hip into the cloudless night sky. I look unaided at the moon,
a coin that's had a run-in with a balky vending machine.

I am a swimmer doing the crawl. I duck my head and look into the
eyepiece. It's topside, like an old fashioned camera. The moon inside makes
me gasp. I know it's the one above me, but here it's no bigger than a slice
of lemon, and crisp and clear as ice. It fills my sight, and I spy on the
lakes and mountains on the calcified surface. The moon steals my breath like
a punch. It's ageless. I consider Jules Verne and the romance of unthinkable
voyage, before the beeping sounds of Houston's mission control was broadcast
into homes. A television set -- also in an angular wooden cabinet-- was
ceremonially wheeled into my seventh grade classroom to watch a man, not the
first, bounce on the moon. Our teacher switched on that huge television and
lowered the lights. My head sagged to the desktop, where I napped on the
cool surface and slept through the first golf swing on the moon.

The moon on television is more television than moon. Snared from its natural
habitat, the planet becomes small and flat and tame. No luminance, no
chroma. No romance. The moon in the night sky, when we can see it through
weather or lights or a crowded mind is domesticated, an afterthought.
Catching sight of it over my house when I am walking from my car launches a
primitive struggle. I am not a NASA enthusiast; I don't read science fiction
or celebrate my monthly 'goddess cycle' by dancing circles in the woods.

Every so often, though, the real moon, big and shiny and grinning, makes me
feel the way a werewolf might. I need to stare and howl. I also need to put
the groceries away, to answer the phone I hear ringing in the house. I need
to look ahead, not up. I want to stand outside for hours. The moon shines
like a promise, and it makes me giddy.

With a wooden box and a whim, I got my own trip to the moon. I don't know or
care if I am looking east or west, to where the moon sets or rises. For
pocket change, I saw that things far away are sometimes within my reach.


Jessica Handler is a writer in Atlanta. Her journalism and essays have appeared in Southern Accents, The Washington Post, and Brain,Child Magazine. She is a student in the MFA program in Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte.

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