In this ORIGINS, Kathy Fish discusses the origins of her haunting piece, “Space Man,” published in Keyhole Digest.
It’s not often that I take on Death in my fiction, but last March, a writer friend of mine died and I wrote my short piece, “Space Man” as a sort of response, or dedication, I’m not sure. At 160 words, it’s the shortest story I’ve ever written. Later of course, I realized that I’d written the story for myself.
Bob was a part of a group of us who have been workshopping our stories online for many years. I had never met him in person. Most everything I knew about the man I learned from his stories, which were often autobiographical.
What I knew: he was a Californian, he was a veteran, he’d been piloting his life from a wheelchair since an accident many years before, he was writing a novel called “Space Man”, he loved surfing and he really loved and appreciated pretty girls. I knew, we all knew, that his health was a fragile thing. We were always in fear of losing him.
Since our group works with five word prompts each day and since the day we learned of Bob’s death was my day to choose the words, these are the ones I gave to the group:
I wrote Space Man at the top of a piece of paper and circled it. I looked out the window and thought. I really wanted to write about this. I didn’t want to skirt the issue of Death, but I couldn’t seem to go at it directly. And I didn’t want to write something cloying. I thought about Bob and who he was. When I finally started to write, it came very quickly.
In the story, I transformed my friend into an astronaut and put him behind the controls of a failing space craft. I wanted to show fear, but also, tremendous courage in the face of death. Most of all, what I wanted to show was his un-tethering, his release. Because Bob had a great sense of humor, I settled upon a fairly comic image of the Space Man and the ship, cartwheeling away from each other in space.
And because I want and need to believe there is such a thing as transcendence, because it makes me feel better, I gave my Space Man a warm, wise feminine voice whispering in his ear, telling him (and me) not to fear, that anything’s possible. Anything at all.
I ended on an image I knew my friend Bob would love, that of a pretty girl walking towards him with a surfboard under her arm. Though I didn’t mention it, for Bob, she was wearing a bikini.
Many thanks to Peter Cole, editor of Keyhole, who published this very short piece in one of his Keyhole Digests, which are printed out and distributed free all throughout Peter’s home base of Nashville, TN. The story can be downloaded here.