Saturday 6 June 2020

'First Man on the Moon' by Rosie Garland

Upon landing, Johannes Kepler looks back at Earth, a blue-green ball tossed high in lunar sky. He makes the grunt of satisfaction known to his most intimate friends, dips quill and writes: one can only experience such homesick affection when one admires a beloved object from afar.

His first steps stagger. Despite the wine steeped in opium, the damp sponges squeezed into his nostrils, he cannot shake off queasiness. Four hours in the arms of demons is the most enervating method of transportation imaginable, more exhausting than a haycart bounced over rocks.

He fans his cheek, scorching beneath a sun that seems so much closer than on Earth. On his return, he will advertise the attractions of this kingdom. Let Spain and France squabble over the Americas. Before him stretches the pinnacle and prize of new-found lands.

When selecting colonists, neither desk-bound men nor dandies deserve such high adventure. Sailors, perhaps; men accustomed to defying the ocean’s titanic pressures. He pauses, ink dripping onto his shoe.

No. Far better to send old women to break the ground of these grey hills. Unruly crones dried-out from riding goats and broom-handles, skilled in the throwing-off of Europe’s heavy air. If they can cover the wide face of a continent in the wink of one night’s eye, travelling to the Moon will be a trifle. Besides, they are accustomed to congress with devils, so will mate readily with Moon-men. Their offspring shall build mansions suited to men of high estate.

He consults his pocket watch. Lights the bonfire at the hour arranged, so that his wife
knows to prepare the goose and parsnips in readiness for his return. He grits
his teeth, waits for angels.

'The first man on the moon' was previously published in Lunate.

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