The Great Bear and the Spoon
Zora's little brother was building a rocket in the backyard. A cardboard refrigerator box that he painted royal blue and cut windows into with safety scissors, windows shaped like five-point stars. Jump ropes, extension cords and fishing wire were superglued onto the top, spilling down every side and curling up on the grass. The engine was a rusting mini gymnastics trampoline, dug out from the back of Zora's closet. The nose was a stolen traffic cone.
Whenever I came to see Zora that summer, Leo was out there tinkering with his rocket, swarmed by gnats and sweating through his shirt under the afternoon sun. Some days he called us for a "mission," banging on Zora's door in his syncopated five-tap code. She and I would drive to Target or the hardware store with the AC system roaring, check items off a list written in red crayon. Today it was raspberries. wrench. electric food slicer. puffy coat.
"Why the coat?" I asked Zora as she stood fumbling through her purse for her point card at the checkout counter.
"Insulation. It's cold in space."
I reached over to push a strand of hair out of her face, but she shrugged away, narrowing her eyes at me. "Don't distract me, Sophie. Did you see where I put the card last time?"
Back at the house, we dropped the shopping bags on the lawn by the rocket — Leo had disappeared inside of it, his small hand poking out the window to show us where to leave the supplies — and headed to Zora's room. The air was stale and humid behind the closed door. Kicking off her shoes, Zora collapsed onto her bed, the tangled-up sheets patterned with purple flowers. "Evil weather," she said, peeling her tank top off and dropping it to the floor. Her dark hair fanned out around her in knotted tendrils that looked almost botanical, droplets of sweat running down her chest from her collarbone. I joined her on the bed and kissed her parted lips, tasting salt and some chemical banana flavor from her SPF chapstick.
Once, there had been many things that we loved to do together. A million questions to ask each other, all these answers to be surprised and inspired and turned on by. Myths of abundance.
Ever since graduation, though, all we did when I came over was fuck and then work on Zora's 1000-piece puzzle in loaded silence. It was of the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Photo on the box showed blue-green water and curving bodies of white marble, shining beneath a cloudless sky. After two weeks we only had the borders done, and a few clumps here and there — a column, a sculpted waist, foam on the water.
As the lethargic sun began to set, cloaking Zora's room in shadow, we sat on the wood floor in our underwear, sliding the jigsaw pieces around.
"I can't find the last part of the horse's head. Is it over by you?"
I ran a finger over the pieces around me, shook my head. "All this marble looks the same to me."
Zora shot an irritated glance at me. "That's because you aren't looking close enough."
Something about her tone made me want to rip the puzzle apart. I slid my eyes shut, leaning back on my hands. "We used to talk about going to Italy together. The dresses we would wear, the food we would eat. The poems you would write for me. Like a suburb-born Petrarch."
"We were stupid kids," Zora said, "who had just watched a documentary on the Renaissance in history class."
"I know you bought this puzzle for that. To test me. If I'd remember."
"What good would that do me?" A click as Zora snapped a piece into place. "There. I was sitting on it the whole time."
We worked without another word as it grew dark out. My legs grew numb against the hard floor, tingling when I stood up again. Told Zora I was going to grab a glass of water, but I found myself in the backyard instead.
Leo was standing in motionless front of his rocket with his hands on his hips, and didn't notice I was beside him until I said his name. His damp curls were flattened under a captain's hat that was too big for him. He had on a safari vest with stuffed pockets, bright orange light-up sneakers. Spiderman band-aids on both his knees.
"You get to see my launch, Soph." He gave me a toothy grin. "Keep it a secret. I'm going to that star, right up there."
It was a rare clear night, everything in hyperfocus. The Earth felt fragile. I had a strange awareness of it beneath me, the underground rivers of fire, the slow rotation, as I followed Leo's finger to a star in the handle of the Big Dipper.
"That constellation is Ursa Major," he whispered. "Great Bear."
"No, isn't that the Big—"
"Yeah, yeah, it's both." Leo was rocking back and forth on his heels. "Dipper is inside the bear, in the tail. The part versus the whole, we named both so we have more stories to tell. Drawing pictures everywhere in the sky! Great Bear is the third largest constellation. It's my favorite because it's a hunted animal that got saved by the gods, that's Callisto, she was a nymph and Little Bear is another constellation too, it's her son. I don't care so much about the spoon, though."
I looked back at the house. Zora had turned the lights on in her room.
"Your sister," I began.
Leo looked at me, whites of his eyes glassy in the dark. "She's been crying about you a lot, lately."
Not in front of me, I thought. Yet his words still caused an ache.
As I stared at Zora's window, Leo climbed into the refrigerator box, pulling a pair of aviation goggles on. He motioned for me to back up, as he threw candy wrappers and apple cores out of the window. I stepped away from the rocket, stifling a laugh. Leo was tangling with some wires, pulling them in to his chest and tying knots. Then. suddenly, he dropped a lit match down to the springs of the trampoline. The synthetic fabric started to burn.
I lunged forward to try and stop the fire from catching. "Leo, Leo, come on," I shouted. "It's not funny anymore."
But then the rocket began to rise into the air, and I stopped in my tracks. The entire trampoline was swallowed by flame, leaving a column of smoke in the rocket's wake as it shook and sputtered its way into the night sky. It moved fast, past the roof of the house in just a few seconds. Leo stared out the star-shaped window at me, laughing hysterically, eyes wide with wonder.
"I'm really going to see the bear!"
I called after him until my throat was raw. Until the rocket was just a glowing speck in the night sky, like a lost balloon. Until I thought I heard him yell one last thing, something like a cry for help.
Sylvan Lebrun is a student and fiction writer living in Tokyo, Japan. In the fall, Sylvan will begin her undergraduate degree at Yale University. Her work has been previously published in Heavy Feather Review, Bending Genres, Lammergeier
, among others. She is a fiction editor for EX/POST MAGAZINE
. She loves walks in the mountains and dead languages. Twitter: @sylvanlebrun