It’s a hot summer night, but Mom and I are inside the house watching television. Most evenings I would be out with the gang, playing hide and seek, Red Rover, or freeze tag. We could be sitting in the dark backyard telling ghost stories, or catching fireflies in old mayonnaise jars. But, no one is outdoors tonight. An eery blue glow is seen through front windows up and down the street. Everyone is waiting to see a man walk on the moon.
Daddy is on a business trip, watching alone in his room at the Holiday Inn. He said he would call when they landed so that we could all be “together in spirit” as the first astronaut stepped on the moon.
I am lying on my belly legs bent, swinging back and forth as I watch Walter Cronkite on our black and white Zenith. Kim likes to brag about their new color tv, but it doesn’t matter tonight. The moon pictures will be black and white.
“Why is it taking so long?” I ask Mom.
“I really don’t know,” Mom answers distractedly. She keeps pacing up and down the room.
“Why do you keep looking at the clock? I ask her.
“Your Daddy said he would call, and it’s late,” Mom answers, without looking at me.
She’s been acting weird since the Luau. The day after the party, she was cheerful and smiling when I came down to breakfast. She and Daddy kept sharing secret glances, and one time he came up behind her as she was frying bacon, and wrapped her in his arms kissing the back of her neck. Mom smiled and turned her head to kiss him full on the lips. I pretended to “close the curtains.” That’s what I do when they get all mushy in front of me. But she sometimes picks up the phone and dials a number, then quietly replaces the receiver without talking to anyone. Once I asked her what she was doing.
“Calling for the time,” she said briskly then asked me if I had washed my hands for lunch.
Mom looks out the front window then glances at me.
“I’m going to get the ice cream out of the freezer in the shed so we’re ready to celebrate,” she says as she begins to walk to the kitchen. She looks over her shoulder as she leaves the room.
“Stay here in case the phone rings, sweetie.”
“OK,” I answer, my eyes glued to the screen. Walter Cronkite has a model of the rocket and he is showing us what’s happening.
Finally the little space machine is getting closer to landing. I am listening to the astronauts calling out a bunch of numbers. And then they are down. They landed on the moon!
I turn around to celebrate with Mom, but she isn’t in the room.
“Mom?” I call out, but there’s no answer. I sigh and get up from the floor, walking towards the back door. I’m suddenly afraid to go to the shed. I hesitate at the back door, hand on the knob. The phone rings. I’m relieved as I run and pick up the receiver on the wall phone in the kitchen.
“Hello, Daddy,” I say before he can say a word.
“Hello, princess. Are you watching? Isn’t it great?”
“It’s cool Daddy. Will they fall off the moon when they start walking around? This has worried me since I heard the astronauts will be walking around on the big round moon.
“No, sugar. It’s like the big, round Earth. You don’t fall off do you?”
“Where’s your mother?”
Suddenly, I remembered that Mom wasn’t in the house. I instinctively knew I should not tell Daddy she had been gone all this time.
“She’s getting the ice cream out of the freezer. Hold on.”
I put the phone on the counter, and opened the screen door.
“Mom! Mom! Daddy’s on the phone.” I thought I heard whispers, but I slammed the door and ran back to the phone.
“She’s coming,” I said to Daddy and then I walked with the phone into the living room. We have an extra long cord so Mom can talk and iron, or sit on the sofa.
I heard Mom come in. She came through the living room empty handed and her lipstick was smudged.
“Here she is, bye Daddy.”
“Bye princess. See you soon”
I stared at Mom as I handed her the phone. She looked at me, then averted her eyes to the tv.
“Oh, look, here he comes,” she cried out. I turn and flop back down on my belly. My mother’s drama could not compete with the events unfolding on live television.
Mom and Daddy talked while the astronaut stepped carefully down the ladder steps.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong was standing on the moon!
Up and down the street you could hear shouts, cheers and clapping. Everyone was excited. We watched Buzz Aldrin step out and then watched the astronauts bunny hop around the moon’s surface, finally placing the American flag in the ground.
Later, I sat on the front stoop and licked my ice cream cone, staring up at the moon, bright in the sky. I wondered what it was like to be on the moon at this moment looking back at the Earth. To be so far from the ones you loved.
I heard Mom hang up the phone, and the house was suddenly quiet. As I sat there, looking at the moon, I heard my Mother crying.