This is a story that exists somewhere in the same universe as “Last one off the planet”. You can read Chapter 1 here and Chapter 2 here . This is in the same time as Chapter 2 but somewhere just somewhere far away.
There was a figurine put in that spot of the bookshelf where he left a whole. It was about 7 cm wide and in that spot now nested a figurine of Mary the virgin mother. She was wearing a light red gown with a large blue scarf wrapped around her body and head. Her hands were stretched out, palms facing outwards. Her little porcelain face slightly tilted to the right, eyes half closed looking at a point somewhere on the floor. Forever contemplating the colour of the carpet that was spread out in front of the bookshelf.
Before the figurine inhabited that spot it held a fairytale book. Irish folk fairy tales printed in an old looking font. It had been a fairly new book, made to look like something which has been passed down from generation to generation. A faded bright orange price sticker on the back of it indicated that it was likely purchased on a sale. I had a good view on that spot of the book cover whenever our father would sit on the side of my bed and read to us in the evenings. I had the biggest bed, because I was the oldest so he could comfortably find a spot to sit on while he read. My brothers shared a bunk bet and even though every evening they tried to convince him to sit on their bed it was just not comfortable for this fairly tall man to crouch under the top bunk bed to read. And not even us as kids trusted the structural integrity of the top bunk to carry more than just my skinny little brother.
He would hold the book open with one hand and a cup of tea usually with the other one. Where his thumb would rest on the back of the book was where the price tag had bin stuck on. 5,99 EUR. Maybe 7,99, it was so faded that it was hard to tell.
All that was but a distant memory now. He left. He left and never returned. He had to leave, at least this is what he told us. What everyone told us over and over again.
The last dinner we had together our mother made us were our church close and the dinner table was set like it would be Christmas. The white table cloth covered the large dining table and cloth napkins were placed beautifully on each plate. Mother acted like it was a lovely evening of celebration, she seemed almost cheerful. Thanking God for the gifts we have been granted and the opportunities our father has been blessed with. His expression was calm with a little smile around his lips. But I could tell something was bothering him. He was one of the pilots to leave earth. He was selected to explore what was beyond. His family was granted honour and a full payment of his life insurance. When the government admits that somebody is basically dying you know its a bad situation. Mother kept on going on about how incredibly proud she was of him and grasped his hand while she said that. He looked at her lovingly and kept on thanking her for her kind words and support.
My brothers didn’t quite understand what was going on and were dealing with each other like every dinner. Playing with little action figures they brought from the last school trip and fighting about the best piece of the roast dinner. ( The chicken thighs – obviously). I was so angry at them. How could they not understand what was happening. I couldn’t get a bite down and pushed the mashed potatoes from one side of the plate to the other.
“I will be working on this mission for all of us. For you guys to have a place to go to when you are grown up. You will maybe one day teach alien babies about our world. You can be an intergalactic teacher.”
He placed his hand on mine while saying that and I returned the gesture and traced his large hand with my free hand. He had these big strong hands where the hair would peak out of the shirt just a little bit. His touch was always warm and dry.
After that dinner we would often sit together in the living room looking at the news, listening for any updates on the exploration and hush whenever this missions name came up. But something always was off about the space. I kept on trying to understand what bothered me besides the incredible longing for my father. One day while staring somewhere into the nowhere I realised what had every so slightly changed the room. One of the rows of the books in the shelf was tilted.
“A book is missing”
“What do you mean?”
“There is a gap just there, and all the books have tilted”
My mother finally lifter her eyes from the news and stared at the spot for a bit silently.
She exalted heavily. As she would do often the past few weeks.
“Yes, odd … ” is all she managed.
Next day the little Mary virgin mother had moved in to that empty spot. Holding the other books now in place so they formed a perfectly neat row again.
I appreciated my mother not putting a new book in that space. It was forever left there. A gaping reminder of what is missing, at the same time honouring a memory.
I laid down in front of the bookshelf in the eyeline of the virgin Mary. I looked up at her like I did at the back of the book when our father was reading to us.
I tried to see his face in hers. I tried to imagine him in his bunk reading the book to us from somewhere light years away. I could feel warm tears rolling down the sides of my face, slowly soaking the carpet under my head. I didn’t bother wiping them away. I let her watch. I let him see. I didn’t have a virgin Mary sized hole in my chest that could be filled to not fall apart. It was a whole shaped like my father. It had the shape of him reading to us in the evening. It has the shape of his hug when I was upset or was fighting with my brothers. It was a vacuum that will be filled by many things to come.
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