Buzz is a short story about an experience between a grandfather young boy who has lost his mother, with elements of magical realism.
Jayden watched his grandfather jab a finger against the cellphone screen like the thing was guilty of something. He grinned as his grandfather’s eyes squinted and went wide or as he moved the screen closer and further away. In the end, his grandfather shrugged. Jayden fell back into the pillow on his bed, and his grandfather crossed his legs on a chair a short distance away.
You know there was a time when we didn’t have the Internet at all, his grandfather said. We just had to know things. Where things were and how things were done.
Didn’t have the Internet?
Nope. Can you imagine?
Jayden shook his head and said, How did you Google?
We didn’t. We had an Encyclopedia Britannica, the grandfather said.
Jayden's eyes went wide like the name was a recollection of some old holy book.
It had about everything you could imagine in it.
Like the Internet?
I suppose so. Maybe not as much as the Internet.
How did you play games?
We played them outside. We would kick cans or make sailboats float on the creek. We'd play football with a deflated ball if we had to. Sometimes we wouldn’t do anything at all but sit there and watch things.
That doesn't sound like a lot of fun, Jayden said.
Fun meant something different before. You’d have to use your imagination.
Your imagination. You know, when you just think things up in your head.
Where is she ever?
Jayden grinned and said, What did you imagine when you were a kid?
All kinds of things. We used to imagine we were old enough to drive when I was your age so that we could go out on the main street and pick up girls.
Girls were different back then too.
I don't like girls.
We didn't either, but we pretended we did. Because those guys, like on the shows we watched, they were cool.
I guess I like grandma.
His grandfather grinned and whispered, I guess I do too.
What else? Jayden said.
Well, you ever heard of Buzz Aldrin?
Jayden shook his head and said, I heard of Buzz Lightyear.
Same thing, I guess, his grandfather said. We used to dream of space, the grandfather said.
Uh huh, of going to outer space and seeing things and walking on things that no one ever set foot on.
Why didn't you?
Oh, I don't know. I suppose the school was too hard. I'm a bit of a blockhead.
There was one time Harry McKinsey drank old rainwater out of a rusted trough. No one might have done or seen that before.
What’s a trough?
Something that doesn’t matter anymore.
Can I imagine?
Sure you can, his grandfather said.
About space, Jayden said.
I don't see why not.
What should I imagine about space?
His grandfather shrugged and said, With space, you can imagine just about anything you want, I think, because there’s no tellin.
Okay, Jayden said.
He closed his eyes, and his body became tense beneath the blankets. His hands curled over where the sheet crested, and his eyelids fluttered.
Don't imagine too hard, or you might break something.
Jayden relaxed some.
What do you see? his grandfather asked.
Stars. A bazillion of them.
That’s an awful lot of stars.
Yeah, Jayden said.
Jayden looked at his grandfather through his space helmet. Sweat trickled down his forehead, and the red light of the GO button blinked and reflected in the gold-tinted glass. He nodded once to his grandfather in the seat next to him, and his grandfather nodded back. Jayden slammed his whole fist against the button, and it turned green.
Commencing the launch sequence, a female voice said robotically from within the ship.
Everything shook. Jayden gripped the arms of his captain's chair and stared forward through the crew compartment's forward windows, watching the stars humming around in distant space like lost light bugs. Suddenly, the stars became long white streaks coming, and just as Jayden became a mix of frightened and anxious, his grandfather put a hand on his, and they shot through the stars together.
As they traveled through the black expanse, strange planets emerged from behind blue and white and red stars. Great terrestrial planes of Jell-O wobbled on unknown axes. Aliens with hands for heads and eyes for bellybuttons waved and blinked from disc-shaped spaceships. Jayden and his grandfather waved back. Space stations made of colorful building blocks bobbed, nudging swiss cheese asteroids from their path. Then, suddenly, Jayden and his grandfather's ship splashed into a waving stream of white, and Jayden flinched before looking at his grandfather.
The Milky Way, his grandfather said.
Oh. Where are the cows?
His grandfather pointed to the compartment window. Jayden looked, and there they were. Black and brown cows mooed and spun hopelessly in space, seeming not to mind the lack of gravity as their mouths churned some unknown space food. Jayden laughed. Some planets were dense cities without a patch of grass, while others were lush, endless forests. One alien world had two arms out to its sides, and it waved them in unison like someone that didn't know how to swim.
We have to go higher, Jayden said.
His grandfather nodded, and Jayden went for the controls and hit UP and held it there. The ship floated higher into space, and Jayden knew it because he started going through space clouds, and the sky turned from black to blue. His grandfather looked at the clouds and grinned.
I didn't know there were clouds in space, his grandfather said.
If you go high enough, there is.
Oh, I see.
Grandpa, what did you want to do in space?
Well, I wanted to walk on the moon. That's what I imagined when I was a boy your age.
Walk on the moon?
Yep. We’d pick up moon rocks and bring them home to your great grandma and grandpa.
Did they keep the rocks?
They kept an awful lot of rocks if I remember right.
Jayden smiled and kept holding the UP button. White clouds huddled far below them now, and his grandfather leaned back and looked out the two observation windows on the top of the crew compartment to try and see what was above them.
How high are we going? his grandfather said.
Just a little higher.
Did you know that there are a billion trillion stars in our universe?
Jayden shook his head and said, How many times is that on my hands?
Like fifty billion?
That seems close enough.
That’s a lot, Jayden said.
The air in the cabin became richer and fragrant of flowers. Light poured into the crew compartment, and Jayden’s grandfather raised a gloved hand over the glass of his helmet to protect his eyes. The light cycled in chromatic waves of color, like rainbows through a waterfall. Jayden's grandfather lowered his hand and watched the luminescence in quiet awe. Beeping and rattling sounds within the ship muted. Jayden looked at his grandfather, and his grandfather looked back.
What’s happening? his grandfather asked.
I think we’re there.
Yeah. Heaven is above space.
His grandfather looked out the window again, and they erupted over a thick plateau of clouds. Cities of white, polished marble jutted out each way, and golden roads thread through the white, puffy shelf. Winged and robed people walked between the tall architecture but stopped to stare at the ship.
Jayden leaned forward and released the UP button and watched the people crowd below, their wings fluttering like excited birds. Many cheered and pointed, with amazed, open mouths. Then a blast of golden light rose from behind the swell of buildings, striking the ship like the morning sun. Jayden’s grandfather squinted and looked away, but saw his grandson smiling, unbuckled from his seat, bathing in the immense light. He whispered something.
Jayden closed his eyes, and the light faded before his closed eyelids. The winged crowds disappeared into a slow, black mist that hissed like blowing leaves. Jayden's breath steadied, and he fell back into his chair. His head lolled gently to one side.
When all the light was gone, Jayden's grandfather surged up in his seat and blinked his eyes until he saw his grandson asleep in the bed, a smile still on his face. He stood from the chair and stretched, glancing at a picture of Jayden and his mother on the dresser. He went to it. He lifted the small, wooden frame and brushed a thumb across the two in the image and put it back down. He kissed Jayden's forehead and left the room before heading downstairs to his wife, who was in the kitchen, making coffee and cutting up an apple.
You been up there for a while now, she said.
There was an awful lot going on.
Uh huh. Well, I made coffee. You want any? I know it’s late.
I’ll take a cup.
She made him a cup, with cream and the sugar the way he’d wanted it for the previous forty years. He stopped her at the second spoonful of sugar by placing a hand on her shoulder from behind.
I love you, he whispered to her. I know I ain't always been the best man, and things ain't always been right no matter how hard I tried to make them, but I love you, and that’s all I want to say, I guess.
She looked over her shoulder and laughed. She tipped her blushing face and said, You alright?
I’m alright. Never been alrighter.
She smirked and put the next spoonful of sugar into the cup and handed it to him and said, I love you too, you crazy old man. Now get your head out of the clouds and come over here and sit with me.
And he did just that.