Eunice Striker took a mirror from her desk drawer, looked around to make sure no one was looking, then licked a tissue and wiped the grease off the sides of her nose with it. She sat back, relieved, drumming her fingers on a small porcelain cat she kept on her desk.
“You got a minute, Eunice?” It was Beryl, the boss’s secretary.
“Sure.” Eunice relaxed, looking at the clock and noting it was only ten minutes till lunchtime. “What’s on your mind, hun?” Beryl was a sweetie, no mistake, and Eunice always had time for her.
Beryl smoothed her olive-green linen skirt down over her hips and took a seat. She looked around to make sure no one in the sparsely populated office was within earshot. “Look, it’s Vashti.”
Eunice felt shocked. Vashti seemed a quiet, kind type. “Why, what’s up?”
Beryl blushed. “Look, nothing’s wrong, it’s just … it’s just…”
“C’mon, spit it out, hun.”
“Well, it’s just … it’s just,” Beryl lowered her voice, “Vashti’s building something in our backyard, something … huge.”
Was that all! Eunice felt relieved. “Like what?”
“Like a … well, like a … spaceship!”
“Everything alright, ladies?” It was Edgar Krantz, their boss.
“Yes, everything’s fine,” Beryl replied, blushing.
“OK,” Krantz’s round red face reddened even more, “just I see you ladies through my office window, talking when you should be typing, that is, unless you got something you want to share?”
Beryl forced a smile. “No, all is well.”
Eunice tried to put it out of her mind, but the preposterous idea of building a spaceship of one’s own kept nagging her. The following day she went to Edgar Krantz’s office at lunch time, relieved to see Beryl there on her own.
Before she had time to say a word, Beryl stood up. “He’s going to launch this afternoon, that’s what he says!”
“Look,” said Eunice calmly, “people can’t just build spacecraft in their back gardens, let alone fire them into space!”
“That’s what I used to think,” said Beryl, with tears in her eyes, “but now I don’t know, I really don’t know, look at this.” She handed over a photograph of Vashti. It was signed and dated with today’s date. ‘Goodbye, I will always love you, but space exploration comes first, Vashti xx’.
“Look,” Eunice said, “I don’t know what Vashti’s playing at but it’s bullshit, a pack of nonsense!”
“Oh, do you really think so?” Beryl wiped her eyes.
“It’s some kind of practical joke Vashti’s playing on you. You wait and see. Or else he needs serious medical help!” She looked out of the office window to see Edgar Krantz’s bulky figure lumbering down the corridor towards them. “Look, I gotta go. Catch you later.”
As Eunice drove home that evening she mulled the matter over. She’d only met Vashti a handful of times but now she thought about it, she remembered he’d been a pilot for Air India and he was some kind of engineer too. She’d seen bits of car engine laid all over their drive on one visit. “Just fixing the swirl flaps,” he’d said, laughing, his teeth surprisingly white against his handsome brown face. And come to think of it, he’d built a large workshop at the back of their house. And they had, what, maybe an acre of land? Big enough to build something like that, maybe. But, no, it was silly, of course he couldn’t!
She stopped at a junction and smiled to herself as she looked at the bemused face of the driver behind in her rear-view mirror. She drove a gold Cadillac which still retained its left-hand drive, something she’d gotten used to, but which was unusual in England. Thinking to stop off at the supermarket, she was surprised to find a crowd gathered outside. She parked and went over.
“Hey, what’s happening?”
A man with swept-back yellow-grey hair and a long beaky nose grinned, showing brown teeth with black gaps in several places. “They say there’s gonna be a spaceship launching. Some fellah goin’ up in a home-made spaceship!”
“There she blows!” yelled someone, gesturing frantically way across town. They all turned to watch a silver steel cylinder rise on a pillar of flame and smoke to a thunderous roar. Everyone was out in the street now. Cars had stopped and occupants decamped. “Look, dad, it’s a spaceship!” a child’s strident yell proclaimed.
Eunice watched, incredulous, as it rose higher and higher, pouring out fire until finally, after what seemed an age, it was just the tiniest of tiny dots in the sky. Then it struck her. It had come from a different part of the city to where Vashti and Beryl lived. That didn’t make sense. She felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to a handsome, smiling, brown face. “Vashti!”
He grinned. “Problems with fuel delivery.”
“But … then who?”
Vashti laughed. “Oh, there were a few of us working on spaceships. It was kind of a race. Looks like Mikhail got there first.”
“Then, will you still be going?”
Vashti smiled. “No, I’d rather be with Beryl than sitting on the moon by myself, waiting to be rescued.”
“Oh.” Eunice felt relief for her friend.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d better get home to my wife.” He winked “Let me know if you find anyone who wants a spaceship, one careful owner!”
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