The Spotted Calf
By Neal Hoskins
you told me you were leaving and i said where and you said far away and i said why and you said to find a new home in a starship and I said starships were small now so how would you fit and you said all they would take from you were cells and i said why would you even do that and you said because inside those cells there is you and i would guide them with my heart and i said guide them where and you said out there and pointed up to the stars and i said how far would you go and you said forever til you find a home and i said but how many planets are there and you said millions and i said but how many planets could we live in and you said just those in the special zone and i said are there planets like that and you said they all look like earth and that is where i am going and i said will you remember me and you said i am your father and will always know your hand and face and i said you would fade with all that distance between us and wouldn’t think of me and you said no you would be there for me out there in the bright night of space and that you would live again through our last days and i said which day and i said well don't forget this one we have together where we will be getting up and walking around our favourite city and you said how much you loved our sea and despite the swollen ocean and flaring light that arm in arm we would always be together and i said how can we be together and apart and you said you’d always have the time where we could still stroll in the grand city of P and i said the one when we took the old tram and you said yes that one and how fine it was with the front windows open and the clanking old frames that were taken out for summer and with such marvellous views to the great river D and the places where we’d laugh at the sound of the jumpy driver and the small boys taking a free ride on the back of the tram while shaking his old fists and you said on that day we could watch the port boats sailing in and listen to the merchants lining up the barrels and i said if you miss that how can you leave me and you said think of the old square and picture the coffee drinkers the guitarist on the corner and the sellers with their market stands and i said how will you remember the cafe de F and you said the way they served the lunch and the chicken and i replied the piri piri with warm rice and beans and i said how hungry we were and so immersed in our lightspeed conversation that we didn’t notice at the end of our meal all the staff had left the cafe was closed and no more and we were outside looking for a way back across the empty space and you said how thankful we were for the old blue bus when it turned a corner and flew downtown to the evening and the river and i said that nightfall brought its own problems that in the dark if you were not extra careful then you’d be taken away through another door that might open up and you said let's skip the bus and jump off to the beach again and i said yes let’s go there for i know my way home and you said where’s that and i said my house and you said but i don't live there anymore more and i said fine but there was a time when you’d thought you’d lost me and you said oh all the way back then and i said yes on the beach when i left early and you came to find me but took the wrong road and you said i missed you for hours and asked everyone on the beach and i looked in all the bars and i said for all that time i was there standing by our door and you said finally you are here and you shouted Matilde Matilde oh where have you been i thought you were lost and now you are back and i said i was terrified and you told me if ever i got lost go wait by the front door and i did and so many people had passed in the street and no-one was you and i said now you miss me so much you won't want to go to the stars and you said i must go to save us and i said stop and think about what you just said and you said why and i said because i’m your daughter and you’ll be here to look for me and you said you read in a fairytale that children who get lost become wild deer to protect them from the monsters and i said so if you leave me i'd become a great deer, a golden deer you said and i said a real gold deer and you said be careful what you wish for and i wished and wished that you’d stay here with me and you said you’ll be gone for a long time and i said i don’t understand and you said we’ve been through this time before and i said you’d be a spaceman now and you’d be looking for a home and you said try and understand about space and time and i said that’s what i did and you said read about the first man in space and so i did and i went back to 1961 and you said yes that’s the year when this all started and the only reason you could be there now and I said what did this man do in space and you said he floated and i said what in and you said in a spaceship and i said my daddy is in a starship now and you said well this man was just above earth and as high as a big balloon could go to where the darkness began and when he went into space he missed his daughters and i said did he come back to earth and you said we all come back to earth and i said but what did he think when he came back again and that’s when the message came through and you said read this aloud and i said what a man this daddy is and how much his family missed him and you said read it again just hear what he says it is always so hard to come back down to earth.
I saw a woman and a girl. They were standing beside a spotted calf and gazing at me with such curiosity. I started walking towards them and they began to walk towards me. But the nearer they got to me, the slower their steps became. I was still wearing my flaming orange spacesuit and they were probably frightened by it. They had never seen anything like it before.
Yuri Gagarin, 12 April 1961
Neal Hoskins works in publishing. His fictions have appeared in Stinging Fly, Ambit and Richard Skinner’s 14 magazine. He is currently at work on a novel in verse based around the life of Joseph Wilson Swan. He posts on Instagram @wingedchariot.