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The Cosmonaut's Child

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Alison Knight

The headset crackles. ‘Alyosha, go outside.’

In a minute. I’ll go outside in a minute. I caress the fabric surface of the airlock, though I can’t feel anything through the padded gloves encasing my fingers. Nevertheless, I am compelled to touch it, as if it were a holy relic. I summon up the memory of its closely woven texture. It’s an extension of the metal womb that’s kept me safe from what lies beyond. A kind of farewell to this life I have known. Whatever happens next happens for the first time. To anyone. I will never be the same again.

Am I afraid? Yes. No. I must be dignified. The world is watching. But my wife waits at home. Staring at the telephone. Willing it not to ring. Because that would mean only one thing. I am not afraid for myself. I am afraid for my wife. I keep secrets from her. I could not tell her where I was going, what I was doing. But she guessed, as women do, that I was marked for this mission. ‘Take care, Alyosha,’ she said. I stroked the mound of her belly. She clung to me a moment longer than is her custom, then pushed me away. Meaning, please don’t die. But we cannot speak of it. ‘Take care, Dasha,’ I said. Meaning, please don’t let this baby die. I cannot bear another loss.

The headset crackles. ‘Alyosha, the lock is air-tight. Open the hatch.’

I stare at the hatch. Grip the wheel. Turn it. I feel the lock give. It’s not too late. I could stop, reverse the wheel. Stay safe inside. But I won’t. I tug the wheel further to the left with my padded paws. The wheel turns. The hatch shakes and opens. I hold my breath. Surely the drum of my heartbeat can be heard on Earth.

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