“Tang and Atomic Fireballs”
Once we had Tang and although I never liked it, my brother and I drank it because we were told it was made for astronauts and other flyers. I remember that my family went to Vandenburg Air Force base to visit my mother’s friend Francis and her husband Major Fick. The Ficks were air force people who had travelled all over the world and seemed so exotic to me. I thought of Vandenburg AFB in a hazy blue light, of a dreaming place for rocket scientists, engineers, and astronauts. The Ficks lived in family housing at Cape Hart. The housing was all very modest, long winding streets of small, low to the ground houses. Houses almost like ours with its flat roof and slump block walls. I thought their home would be much grander because my father was not a Major in the air force, and we hadn’t travelled anywhere except to Nevada and over to the coast at Pismo beach. I thought of the geniuses who worked on the 86,000 acres at the base and the labs, and manufacturing hangers, where impossible to understand formulas, and fantastic-looking equipment was stored and hung, where brain-power kept the booster rockets burning, and where strange perfumes seeped into the skies, sulfuric and foul. When the day was over I imagined how the doors to hangars were shut tight and wives put on pearl earrings for their Majors, Colonels, and Generals and went to the building for cocktails and dancing. The cocktails were named things like the Payload, Coffin Launcher, and Polar Orbit. Major Fick and my father went somewhere that night, but our mothers stayed at the house visiting in the kitchen over coffee and tea. Francis was a tea drinker. The Ficks had four children, two boys and two girls. We stayed in the bedrooms and had contests to see who could suck on their atomic fireball the longest before the heat of it became too much and one of us spit it out onto the rug. The rooms of the house were dark, and everything was a mess, clothes everywhere, toys scattered, dishes not done, beds not made. I knew what my mother was probably thinking about her best friend’s housekeeping. I knew I would hear about it on the way home. And yet, at the same time, their home was full of what was once called oriental art, beautiful hand carved sculpture of historical figures, small jade lions, woven bamboo, dragon tapestries, and paintings from their life in Taiwan.
“The Bird–Shaped Cloud”
A bird shaped cloud drifts by with a cherub inside. Drafts of grey heat lift the tiny angel into the rafters where its wings become trapped inside and there is no getting down. The bird shaped cloud drifts through my window and a tiny bit of rain pours onto the floor where my space crawler and sky patrol flying saucers sit abandoned in the late spring light. My pajamas have space men on them and track moon dust all over the room, at night. I sleep but not without fear, not without tender tears and rowdy voices from next door, where these kids are hopping up and down on their beds. I see them through my window in the fading light; I hear their laughter and when one gets a little too rough and the other cries out and the mother runs up and yells, what’s going on? When she leaves, they pretend sleep and continue with their roughhousing but quietly in the moonlight. Occasionally my space men get distracted and turn their cameras on the window next door and it throws everything into white shadows, playing against the walls; the kids stop what they are doing and stare caught in the screen; they seem captured, afraid to move, their hollow eyes stare back as the space men move toward them on a current of air between our houses, our windows. They peer into the boys’ room. I can hear whimpering and realize one boy is crying. The older boy puts his arm around the smaller boy. After a long while their camera light begins to fade and once it does, the boys fall back onto their beds. I can no longer see them and the space men return to my room silently through the open window and they too begin to drift. They seem fatigued by this encounter. The space men beckon the cherub to hurry as they gather their instruments. The cherub is anxious, begins fluttering its wings, bustling like a tiny bird, its wings stuck in the soft cotton of the cloud. At one point the cherub flutters so hard to free itself of the cloud and falls on my bed where an invisible star burns. I am becoming warm from the heat of the invisible star, from the fluttering of cherub wings, and then suddenly, it lifts off, darts toward the growing light. One of the space men grabs the fleeing angel and hides it in his shadow. It’s too late to sleep, the firelight is upon everything and the bird-shaped cloud breaks apart. I can hear the kids next door yelling and laughing as they run down the stairs for breakfast.
Sandra Florence has been writing and teaching in Tucson, Arizona for the last forty years. She taught at the University of Arizona, at Pima Community College, and in community education settings working with refugees, the homeless, adolescent parents, women in recovery, and juveniles at risk. She is the recipient of two NEH grants, The National Conversation on American Pluralism and Identity, and the second in 2015 entitled Border Culture in the Classroom and in the Public Square. She has published scholarly articles on writing and healing and writing as a tool for public dialogue. She published a book of poems, entitled, The Radiant City, in 2015. In 2021, Midway Journal nominated Sandra for the Pushcart Prize for her short story “Café Metropole”.