Dieterich & Barnes The Coral Casino

[Living Music Duplication; 2016]

Styles: extravehicular activity, improvisation, perihelion
Others: Bill Orcutt, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Bad News From Houston

“Look out the window. Watch them. Write about them. Drink a beer and then go to bed.”

I‘m a breath from a protest, but my editor, Geoff Tod, a man built like a stack of partially deflated exercise balls, is stuffing cubes of provolone in the hole below his mustache and I realize the conversation is over. I say thank you, and the air-lock door slides shut behind me.

It’s not a bad gig, writing copy in space. When you’re the new guy, though, you do what Geoff Tod, the only man capable of getting genuine cubed cheese into Low Earth orbit, tells you. I trudge down a narrow corridor, through another air-lock door, into the station’s big main hub. I skirt past the small line forming at the café hocking space coffee. The taste is right, but the gravity-play screws with the way the liquid feels on your tongue, so we all call it ghost coffee, except for Geoff Tod, because that human pile of memory foam manages to get Dunkin Donuts to go with his cheese cubes.

I settle myself against the big window that faces a few of the docking modules. I yawn, pull out a notepad, pull the assignment email up on my phone:

OBSERVE THE ENGINEERS. DESCRIBE THEIR OPERATION.

I yawn again. I look out the window.

Two spacesuited figures begin the crawling, deliberate odyssey from the dock’s hatch, hand by hand, a spacewalk traversing one foot a minute. They reach the lander’s broadside, broad letters branding it The Coral Casino.

Dumb name, I scratch in the yellow legal. I yawn big, close my eyes, shift my head back a little. I prepare to watch a 40-minute drag of a space minuet.

I open my eyes and the minuet explodes.

Two figures in space start to circle each other around the body of the lander, poking its parts with apparent casualness. They run their hands along the vessel’s edges, feeling for…? I have no idea what’s at work with The Coral Casino, what’s wrong, what’s exerting, but I blink and start to see that the two people outside the window are equally innocent to the plan. They’re making this up, I scribble, never looking down. The action is absolutely deliberate, hands scuttling, finding edges, and pushing out small explosions of gesture that hinge somewhere in the operation. But the operators aren’t set on fixing a wrongness, and all I can do is nod: resolution isn’t the goal. ART, I write in the notebook, IS DISCOVERY. Because there’s no time given to reconsideration, no space for rethink or retread. Any communication between them is in a language they’re writing now. ART, I write, IS RECONSTRUCTING, SHOVING HAPPY UNKNOWNS INTO NEW MOMENTS. Art is intrepid. Because when they finish their improvisations, their momentary uncoveries, the operators don’t even look back at The Coral Casino. They’re moving, hand by hand, pulling themselves back into the space station, and this thing they’ve made, The Coral Casino, is going into space. They’ll never see it again, maybe. It’ll land on a comet, maybe. It’ll combust leaving orbit, maybe.

I wipe the water from my eye brims, water that settled because I did not blink. I am standing in a hallway. There is a window of incalculable depth, and then there is a span of dead cold air. But the fabric separating my faculties from the electricity in space is transparent. I can rub my fingers together, feel the barrier disappear between the makers making it and me getting it.

I run to the dock module, past space ghost coffee, past Geoff Tod’s cheese office stink. Two figures are shedding spacesuits, transforming back into people I can recognize as people.

“How did you do that?” I say.

“I don’t know. You… move your hand… all the time,” says one.

“Yeah. Moving your hands all the time,” says the other.

“Yeah. Barely. But enough.”

Links: Living Music Duplication

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