Lola half challenged me to write the story using the remaining five words... and you know I love a challenge.
The title is from one of my favourite Billy Bragg songs “New England” - ‘I saw two shooting stars last night/ I wished on them, but they were only satellites/ is it wrong to wish on space hardware?... I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care.
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?
The risk to human life or property was very small, the TV said as twenty-six pieces of satellite broke into space junk and entered the atmosphere. They had debris trackers but couldn’t warn people until twenty-five minutes before it hit. So much for advanced technology. They could put it up there but couldn’t get it back down.
It was a freak accident. Everyone said that. As if by saying how rare it was would make his daughter less dead?
He was an undertaker. He dealt with death every day but even his brilliant skills of facial reconstruction were defeated. A useless lump of space flotsam that had fallen inexorably to earth after its batteries had gone flat and it had served the fleetingly short term of its unnatural life.
At least rubbish at sea washed gently ashore, it didn’t fall on ten year old girls waiting at the bus stop.
Was it flotsam or jetsam? He could never remember the difference. And he was annoyed that he was even thinking about it. It was just junk.
She was what was important.
He wouldn’t allow interviews no matter how long they hung outside his home shoving cameras and microphones in his face. Someone had given them a shot of her in her school uniform but they stopped showing it after a while; it was just too tragic to see her bright smile and her pig tails held high and tight with the dolphin clips.
He insisted on preparing her body himself. He was determined that not a single part of the foreign object would go to her grave with her, even if he had to chisel the molten metal from her bones. He was hammering away when he heard the news bulletin on the TV. He had put on her favourite soap opera for her, the one set at the beach resort in Australia but they interrupted with a breaking news report.
The news anchor breathlessly relayed that there had been another victim of the satellite crash, a dolphin at the water park. It had survived. This allowed them to be happy about the news. Some good news at last. They had the human interest angle now.
He stared at the screen.
How odd. She had been reading a book on dolphins and had been listening to them ‘talk’ on her iPod. That was why she hadn’t noticed the meteor shower. She was obsessed with them.
He wrote the trainer’s name on the back of an envelope.
His wife had died years ago and he stood alone at the funeral. For some reason he kept the chisel and the envelope in his pocket. He kept touching them gently during the service.
Afterwards he found it hard to continue his work. Touching other bodies felt wrong. Disloyal. He shut the funeral home, packed a small bag and took a train to the coast.
They had been to the waterpark before, of course they had. Every single school holiday if he could take the time. He wished they had come more often, but death didn’t wait. He knew that. He had always felt honoured to help others into the next world, now he wasn’t so sure that it existed; not if freak accidents happened to innocent girls.
He asked at the office if he could speak to the trainer. They explained that she was very busy today. He explained who he was.
“Oh,” said the lady at the counter. “I’ll call her for you.”
He waited nervously, clutching the envelope and wondering what he was doing there.
She looked tired; more tired than she had on the news. “He’s not well,” she said.
She took him to the pool.
He knew what a healthy dolphin looked like and this one swam listlessly.
“What’s his name?” he asked.
“Cha-cha.” She shrugged. “It’s not very dignified, but they have a naming competition and the park owners chose that.”
“How old is he?”
“He’s ten. That’s quite old for a captive dolphin. They live much longer in the wild.”
“Ten.” It was just too coincidental. “My daughter was ten.”
“I noticed that.”
“That seems… significant.”
He came back the next day. He brought her lunch. He didn’t think she was looking after herself. They talked. She was the first person he had talked to about himself in years. They felt joined by the tragedy.
He couldn’t remember who suggested it, that Cha-cha would probably be happier in the wild.
They exchanged a weighted look.
It took a couple of days to organise. He rented a horse trailer. She had keys to the enclosure. “It’ll cost me my job,” she said.
He just nodded.
The dolphins trusted her and they seemed to know what they were doing. They were silent. The chisel propped the gate open. The dolphin had lost weight but still weighed 150 kilograms. He threw himself onto a rubber sheet when she asked him to. They dragged him onto a flat trolley and then rolled it up ramps into the trailer. Buckets of water poured over him kept his skin wet.
They reversed the procedure at the beach. A couple of surfers helped. It had taken much longer than they planned and the sun was rising by the time they got Cha-cha into the water. He ate some fish out of their hands and then he swam away. He wasn’t listless now.
It made the news.
They stood in the press conference and held hands and just said that it seemed like the right thing to do.
The park didn’t press charges, the public loved them. Cha-cha probably would have died. They kept in touch with the surfers. They said they saw him occasionally.
They sold the funeral home and moved to another coastal town. If anyone ever asked how they met, they just smiled and said it was in very unusual circumstances.
© AM Gray 2013