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How to be an Astronaut

I am standing in front of a room full of people reading out a story. The room is dark. I am wearing a head torch so I can read the story. My hands are shaking. The story is about me getting drunk and having sex with a person. A lot of people in the room know about me getting drunk and having sex with a person. I did not know the name of the person I had sex with.

 

After I have read the story I wander round the room and don’t know what to say. I have already said over a thousand words in a row. Sometimes when I approach a group of people one of them will say something positive and either clasp my arm briefly or touch the upper section of my arm. I am approaching as many groups of people as possible so I get the highest number of positive things said to me. I am feeling happy. This is partly because I have been told a lot of positive things but also because I have drunk around five bottles of beer. The number of people in the room is decreasing. The amount of beer in the room has already decreased to zero. This is worrying as the two main things I want are alcohol and people.

 

There is a person I want a lot standing and talking about some objects I arranged on and near a wall. I think that I should go and talk to the person. If I crashed into the person while we were both in cars I would definitely talk to the person about the arrangement of solid waves in the shell of their vehicle, perhaps implying that they should permit the serendipitous beauty of the incident to assuage their feelings. I go to talk to the person. The person did not see me say over a thousand words in a row so I feel like they are less likely to object to me talking to them. The person does not know that I arranged the objects on the wall but expresses enthusiasm over their arrangement. I express modesty and reciprocal enthusiasm. The person has been alive for a slightly shorter period of time than me and has a friend that I know. The person will shortly be leaving this part of the planet to go to another part of the planet which has curry and elephants. I tell the person how much I love curry and elephants because they are two of my favourite things. The person laughs and their pupils dilate and I want to kiss the lips of the person. The person tells me that they like curry and elephants too and I am about to lift the bottom section of my top item of clothing and put it over my head and be happy like the people in the moving boxes who chase the white dot when I use my ears to detect a change of tone. The person’s pupils contract as they say but and then they start telling me that they are also going to elephant and curry land to find out where they are as a person. This is stupid because they will be in elephant and curry land. A better game to play would be to wear a lot of warm clothing and an oxygen mask and take medicine to make you very sleepy then get in a suitcase and get your friend to take the suitcase to the airport and fly it somewhere and then try and find yourself when the medicine wears off and you get out of the suitcase. Once I did not know where I was as a person then I realised I was in a bush outside a multi-storey car park and I had been sick on myself. The person also says they want to find out where their head is at. This is stupid because your head has to be on top of your neck otherwise you will die. The person is acknowledging their own stupidity to a degree by speaking in a silly voice and waving their arms around. I do not understand why they are still going if they know it is silly. I want to ride an elephant with the person. The person leaves.

 

Me and three friends lock up the room where we have arranged objects. We begin walking to the pub. Other people who have been waiting outside the room begin walking to the pub with us. One of these people has a dog. The person with a dog suggests we should go to a different pub where dogs are allowed. I don’t want to go to the pub they suggest. The dog doesn’t care which pub we go to. The dog will not be buying drinks once we reach the pub so the dog’s opinion does not matter. On the street there are people I know who are going to the pub I want to go to. I walk to the pub with them. The people I am walking with say more positive things to me and I think about what I am going to drink whilst feeling uncertain. Uncertainty is my automatic reaction to positive things, closely followed by distrust.

 

The pub we are in is very large and very cheap. As I walk in I feel sad then think ‘economies of scale’ and then walk to the bar. There is another person at the bar that I know. They say positive things to me and I feel good about everything and wait for my beer to come and pay not very much money for it and I go and sit down and feel good about everything.

 

People are talking and sometimes I am talking and I am feeling good and drinking my beer and finishing my beer and buying another beer and feeling good and not paying much and talking more and feeling good and buying another beer. Me and a person I like wearing glasses finish our beers at the same time and look at each other. We walk up to the bar and talk about what type of beer we want to drink. A very drunk person comes up and tells us what type of beer we should drink. Me and the person with glasses find this funny because we are drunk too. A person leans over the bar:

 

‘Is it ok if I pay by card?’

 

‘Yeh.’

 

‘Can I have thirty jagerbombs?’

 

‘Yeh.’

 

A drunk person leans over the bar:

 

‘Can I pay by card as well?’

 

‘Of course’

 

‘Can I have thirty jagerbombs?’

 

‘I’m afraid I can’t give you thirty’

 

‘How many can I have?’

 

‘I can give you eight’

 

I watch the drunk person drink their eight drinks very fast then walk away from the bar slowly. I ask for a double whiskey with my beer.  There are two people I know here who I want to have sex with. Ideally I would like to have sex with both of them at the same time. They are near me at the bar. They do not know each other. One of the people I want to sleep with is licking salt off their arm. The person is with two of their friends. They are all licking salt off their arms. I am not really listening to the person that I want to sleep with who is licking salt off their arm because they are mainly just telling me mundane things they have done like taking drugs or dreams they have had about their teeth falling out whilst pregnant or that their dad died two years ago. I didn’t know that the person’s dad was dead. I feel very guilty because dads dying is not a mundane thing. I say I am sorry but probably do not sound sincere. The person says it is ok even though it isn’t and then say that they haven’t been working as a proper human being for a while and that is why they take drugs. I want to hug the person in a platonic way. I need to urinate. I walk down stairs and urinate and feel sad about dead dads.

 

The two people I want to have sex with are talking by the bar. I walk over to them. The person with the dead dad leaves to go and hold a tiny fire near themselves in the cold. The person I am left with tells me how irritating they find the other person and talks for a long period of time about the fact that the other person talks for long periods of time without letting the other person talk. When the person stops talking I say yes and feel guilty and then they start talking again.

 

When I think about the two people I want to have sex with talking I envisage both of them standing four hundred metres apart with powerful hoses. A successful conversation in such a situation would be represented by a point two hundred metres from either contestant at which the twin liquid forces would meet head on, allowing the conversationalists to observe the dispersion patterns produced as their collective perceptual outflows collide. In this situation I imagine the combatants liberally soaking each other, streams never crossing, eyes closed, clothes translucent.

 

The demi-orphan does not return to the bar.

 

The bar is closing.

 

I am in another bar. Me and the person I want to have sex with are having a conversation. The drinks in this bar are very cheap so I bought one for the other person. We are in an empty part of the bar. One of my friends comes in and tells us that they are sitting at another place in the bar. My friend waits until the person I want to have sex with has gone away and then asks whether or not they interrupted anything and I tell them not to worry and we go and sit down.

 

I am trying to calculate how much money the four other people have had spent on them so they could listen to older people tell them about elephant and curry land. The four people speak like the people who went to elephant and curry land and took it over until all the people that were there before them sat down. Me sitting down has not had the desired effect because they are still all sitting down.

 

I am walking towards the place where I will sleep. It is unclear where I will sleep. We are walking past the entrance of a graveyard. The person I want to have sex with takes hold of my arm so I end up turning towards them. Their pupils are dilated and it is dark. They open their mouth:

 

‘Have you ever been in this graveyard at night?’

 

‘No.’ This is true. I have not been in a lot of places at night.

 

‘Should we go in?’

 

‘Yeh.’

 

I do not care that there are femurs and tibias beneath us. This neither attracts nor repels me. I feel like the fact that you want to go into a graveyard repels me because it is not a bedroom which is a better place to have sex because it is warmer and padded. You suggesting we lie down attracts me because I like having sex lying down.

 

‘Look at the stars.’

 

It is dark and I am lying on my back with my eyes open. I feel like there was no need for you to suggest I look at the stars. It is going to happen whether you like it or not. You start talking again:

 

‘They’re so much brighter in here, away from all the streetlamps.’

 

We are at most maybe twenty metres from a streetlamp. In any case the fluctuations in the quantity of electromagnetic radiation given out by the stars is, within this time frame, imperceptible to our naked eyes. Your further supposition that the graveyard is free of light pollution mitigates it to a degree, in that we can probably see more stars here than if we were lying on the pavement directly under a streetlight but I suspect the overall change is marginal at best.

 

‘Stars are so amazing’ the person says. I say yes, then say to myself in a funny voice ‘not as amazing as me fucking you’ then realise with growing disappointment that it is definitely too cold to have sex.

 

‘The universe is just so big’ says the person I wanted to have sex with. My initial thought is ‘not as big as my cock’ in the same stupid voice, then I remember the ambient temperature. I do not think it is in fact accurate to say that the universe is big. Perhaps saying the universe is bigger would be more accurate, implying both the universe’s continuing expansion and that the universe is bigger than anything, even elephants. However elephants are part of the universe so the statement ‘the universe is bigger than elephants’ is no more enlightening than saying ‘this baked product containing dried fruit is larger than the dried fruit it contains’, indeed it is no more enlightening than the dried fruit contained in the baked product telling you this. In any case to imply the universe has a size in the first place is dimwitted, as, at least speaking ontologically, the universe is an absolute. I try and persuade myself that I misheard the person and that what they actually said  was ‘The universe is. Elephants are just so big’ and that I still want to fuck them and this cold, wet interlude is simply to make the warm, wet sex seem even better.

 

‘The stars you see in the desert are just so amazing’ says the person. Now I am expected to say ‘wow you went to a desert’ but I don’t because deserts are a stupid place to go because they are devoid of water which you need to stay alive and tend to suffer from extreme temperatures.  I say ‘I grew up in an area with very low levels of light pollution’ because it is relevant and quantifiably true. In the area I grew up in there is an observatory that was built recently. It is a far better place to look at the stars than this graveyard and is probably a better place to have sex too.

 

The person asks me a question which I am not expecting because if we both had hosepipes I would be curled in the foetal position while the other person subjected me to their terrifyingly mundane neurological excreta. I answer the question and then ask the same question. They tell me their mother is ill and their father is bad person, then they ask me if I can tell. I say no, then wonder if I am bad about knowing about peoples’ parents and think ‘ill mother, bad father, dead father, bad mother’ then worry about the person with the dead father. An old dead man who is famous for having a beard would probably be happy about the question the person asks next:

 

‘Have you ever really had sex?’

 

I say yes, because I have. I think about having sex.

 

‘I mean really had sex?’

 

I say yes again and carry on thinking about sex. The person carries on talking:

 

‘Because, when you really click with someone the physical side just completely slips away.’

 

I think ‘you’re using too much lube then’ and experience a strong desire for the smell of foetid, unwashed bedding. I say no then think ‘you should hold on harder’ then ‘you should try bondage.’

 

‘When you really have sex it’s just so amazing.’

 

I lie on my back and look at the stars and think about being an astronaut and that it is probably very peaceful but also that it is unlikely that I will ever get to be an astronaut. I am hoping if I stay quiet for long enough the other person will go quiet. I have been being an astronaut for a while now.

 

This story is on the shortlist for The White Review Short Story Prize. The winner will be announced on 25 April 2013. 

 



ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR


is a writer and artist based in Edinburgh. He was shortlisted for the White Review Short Story Prize 2013.