It Is the Summer of Skylab
Skylab has orbited Earth for a long time. In the end, its decaying orbit makes it clear: the spent and sickened space shuttle is coming home.
The news is filled with speculation as to where the U.S.’s first space station will plunge back to Earth. Kyle and Cheri joke that they should pack a lunch, spray paint a big target on a white sheet and use it as a picnic blanket.
Instead, they do what they always do. Wait for his folks to leave for swing shift at Todd Shipyard and fuck in Kyle’s boyhood room.
“You should have been here last night," Kyle says afterward. "My mom outdid herself. She and Chuck were blotto. She started in on how no one appreciates her, how we don’t care if she lives or dies. For the grand finale, she lifted her nightgown and peed on the living room floor.”
“Jesus Christ!” But Cheri’s reaction is perfunctory. She’s become used to such stories. “Oh, I’m on my period; forgot to tell you.”
“Here.” Kyle dips for his T-shirt. Automatically, Cheri throws an arm across him so he doesn’t fall. He stuffs his shirt under her rear. Will they ever again be so careless with the sharing of their bodies? The carnal fluids, the nicknames for genitals. They’d learned on each other. Mainly in Kyle’s car, a huge gray beater he likes to call the land shark.
“I gotta pee. Then I’m making popcorn.” Naked, Kyle rolls out of the bed. Hits the floor with a little jump. His belly jiggles.
Cheri knows Kyle’s sci-fi books and World War II maps by heart. Has dozed clutching the now-eyeless teddy bear Kyle’s father, Big Kyle, left him when he took off. Kyle is a year older than Cheri. So it’s been his prom, then hers. His graduation. Hers. They have recently been fired from Anthony’s Pizza Paradise, for advising the owner that the minimum wage has gone up 10 cents an hour. Later today there is an interview at the 99-cent Theater on Crenshaw and PCH. They saw Rocky II last night, to check the place out. If they land the gig, they’ll pretend they are only friends.
Cheri spies a paperback-sized volume on his desk, green with a blank spine. Kyle keeps a diary? Idly, she opens it. A list of couples: Kyle’s name is paired with Janice, Cheri’s best friend since second grade. Cheri’s is matched with a name she doesn’t even recognize. She knows Kyle well enough to piece together it’s his post-apocalyptic wish list. A few supplies are listed as needed for the new community of eight to “FLOURISH.”
She thumbs back to last April, when she and Kyle lost their virginity together. It had actually been sort of lovely and romantic. Kyle had a buddy who worked at the Knight’s Retreat in Lomita. He’d set them up in a vacant room, very clean, left a pile of vending machine goodies on the dresser.
“A ‘cherry’ time,” is scrawled in Kyle’s green book. That’s it. Just a smirky note in the top corner. The main entry covers a chemistry exam, an upcoming wresting match.
“Yoo hoo!” Kyle elbows the door ajar, holding the bowl of popcorn on one hand. With the other, he dangles her used tampon. In their hurry for bed, she’d left it on the corner of the tub.
Cheri and Kyle are compatible in an extremely basic way that they allow to fill every minute of their time. Cheri understands this. Knows that her oft-uttered wish to attend college in Northampton, Massachusetts, will never become manifest. She has gotten as far as marking flecked cardigans and corduroy dirndls in the Sears catalog, but in fact has applied to no college anywhere.
NASA hasn’t planned for the shuttle’s return, or where all those pieces would scatter. There have been zero resources committed to delay its re-entry or neutralize it to float around forever as space junk or blunt what was about to happen somewhere on Earth.
The chances are slim that Skylab will land in the Rancho San Pedro housing project near the Port of Los Angeles. But it could happen. Skylab, emerging from the misty smog to find Kyle and Cheri.
She thought of Kyle’s vision. Certainly, they would remain unscathed. The world around them might be torched black. But she and Kyle and their ready cohort in the Rancho San Pedro housing project—well, they had provisions.
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