‘Ground Control to Major Tom.’ The thin tune came from his mother’s mouth, not the radio which was spouting some rubbish about cruising down the Nile. ‘Take your protein pill and put your big hat on.’ John stood in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil, his mother was in her wing chair by the picture window in the lounge, a crochet rug over her knees. ‘I’m floating in the most pa-pa-queue-lee-ar way,’ she sang. ‘Rocket ma-an-aan-‘
He poured the boiling water over the teabags, gave it a swirl and a squeeze then poured out two mugs of tea.
‘That’s Elton, Mum. Not Bowie.’ He offered her the fine bone china mug with a pattern of bluebells which was her particular mug
‘Thank you dear… and I think it’s going to be a very long time-‘
‘That’s Elton. The first bit’s Bowie.’
‘I know, Jimmy, I know. But it’s what we sang, for fun.’
He worked hard at not smiling, not wanting to upset her. She was always doing this, getting his name wrong. Wrong facts, wrong lyrics, wrong singer.
‘Where what, dear?’
‘Where did you sing?’
‘Oh, at Mission Control.’
He did smile now, his mother didn’t have a passport, hadn’t been on an airplane, never been to America. He knew he shouldn’t contradict her, that it was considered bad practice to tell a dementia patient they were wrong. She’d been a clerk at the town hall all her working life.
‘I’m not the man they think I am at all, oh no, oh no… Rocket ma-an-aan-‘
It was surreal hearing mixed-up Bowie and Elton lyrics come out of his mother’s mouth, her hands folded neatly in her lap as if placed there when tidying up, her feet in rose pink velour slippers.
The singing stopped and she gazed out at the garden, its branches bare, the sodden earth a dull grey.
‘We sang it at Mission Control, the day Kennedy was shot and we knew, you see, we knew that was the end of it. Our spacemen would never go up with the Russians now.’ Her voice was clear and firm, the wavering gone as if her mind was momentarily connecting the memories despite the gaps caused by dementia.
John realised he was holding his breath, he exhaled. ‘But the Americans never went into space with the Russians.’
His mother smiled at him, it was an open smile full of love, and she used the tone she’d used when he was ten to explain a complicated piece of homework. She had been particularly good at physics, he remembered now.
‘We nearly did dear, Kennedy was going to sign, Khrushchev was going to sign but then Kennedy was shot and Brezhnev didn’t trust him and he got rid of him and that was that. Rocket ma-an-aan-‘
John stared at his mother, his almost 90-year old mother, without words. Was she talking about The Space Race?
‘Pass the Hob Nobs, dear.’
© Sandra Danby
[this story was first published at Ether Books as part of the ‘Flash Fortnight Challenge 2014]
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
SPACE: a #shortstory about Kennedy, Khrushchev, Bowie & Elton via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2vC