James Flowerdew

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Watching the Skyships

It had been wet earlier on in the day, and the streets were shining in the light of the setting sun.
Too cold to be a nice prospect but looking interesting enough not to be a world that you wished out of as soon as you entered it. Right now, the buildings around him were soaring cliffs where a greyer darker day would have had them a labyrinthine jail. Right now, the adverts were creating crazy colourful patterns on the walls and the pavements where they usually just reminded him of dreams that he frequently did not share and definitely could not buy.

As they walked along the street, father, and son. Both would instinctively flinch away to avoid the blast of water and warm air as the Cars rushed past, the warning hum changing pitch as they rushed past, and water splashing as they went.

Generally, picking Ethan up was a mixture of emotions for Jack. The drag of getting out and walking to school, and the nervous glances at the playground make it feel a challenge and a chore, but It was one of the times they really talked.

Maybe not today though, Ethan seemed happy enough in his own world.

Ethan had a toy spaceship in one hand and a school bag on the shoulder of the other. Still at the age where sometimes a walk would become a run or even a dance. He was semi skipping and holding his spaceship appropriate to the enactment of it's flying. Watching it bob up and down as the boy skipped looked funny in an illusion-breaking “physics can't do this” kind of way. He was also quietly making an engine thrust noise and muttering adventurous talk to himself.

Listening to his games was a mixture of the usual worrying over-violent fantasies of a child, and a naked wonder at the possibilities that were. An adventure irresistible, and a link to a memory as precious to father as the game was to son.

Jack remembered when Ethan was just a bit younger, playing those games with him. Frequently a game of wills steering each other as much as it was a game of role play. Ethan was getting a bit old for his father to join in now. Those games were largely his own now. Maybe soon Ethan would stop altogether, as he was beginning to show a degree of self-consciousness with his friends.

“How was school today?”, and then a pause, and then “Ethan?”.

“Oh fine!”

“Did Anything interesting happen?”

“Not really!”

Ethan wanted to return to space.

It was funny. Since people actually started going to space gradually the noises that kids made started to change. They still did the thruster noises, “whoosh”, but now they often made the purrs of the air ventilation systems and copied the feedback noises of the traveller consoles. Aliens spoke with digital translator voices. Battles had the dull popping of air weapons in the place of zaps and pows.

A random thought popped into Jack's head.

“I wonder if we ever really will meet aliens?”
“Like real ones, raygun zapping chatty aliens, not weird dead fish.”

Then Ethan pulled him back to reality by skipping just a little too close to the road when another car slid by.

“Get back off the road!” he shouted, and Ethan stopped, sidestepped, and then resumed his play at what seemed to be what he considered as close to the road as was permitted.

In complete oblivion to his earlier statement, Ethan suddenly piped up.

“We had science today! The teacher made a floating train with a magnetic track.”
“I was the one who knew what it was first, so I was allowed to help build it.”

“Well done!”, and then a remark that he'd almost immediately regret.

“Those hours surfing videos have paid off, then.”

Truth is, Ethan was a clever lad. Clever than his father, who knew this fact well and was very proud of it. He was kind of hoping that his son would get into maths or computers and get a nice clerical job and was looking for something encouraging to say.

“Look, dad, a Skyship!”

There it was, distant, and yet big enough to cover the setting sun with its ridiculously precarious and asymmetrical shape. You could almost pick out the rungs of its structure as it gradually ascended.

At possibly once a month, the sight was also still rare enough to capture attention, if not for fanfare and festivity. If you saw it you may mention it as a feature of your day, part of your response to how your day had been if nothing more meaningful had occurred.

Both of them stopped and watched a minute.

Somehow the stupidity of the shapes of these things only added to the wonder. The huge scaffolding disk with chaotic protrusions towing up what effectively were box shape buildings constructed with the same aerodynamic grace that shipment containers had. He kind of knew the science behind them. Something to do with gravitational fields, and that's why they had no need for the elegance of old fashioned planes.

Some of these things were indeed elegant. Usually, the ones designed for rich sightseers. They were usually modelled after the Zeppelins or luxury boats of bygone years.

Some of them were not. The particular Skyship that they were watching was quite literally a mess of scaffold with largely windowless boxes almost dangling below. The most notable romantic feature was the array of flashing hazard lights on its extremities. It still had a weird charm that would captivate all but the incredibly busy or unimaginative.

“Skyship” was such a crappy name, what moronic marketer had come up with, or had rather not come up with a non-name like that?

“Dad, do you think I'll ever get to go to space?”

Jack found himself actually thinking it out, would Ethan ever go to space?

Could he do that? How could he be so stupid?

Yes, thousands of people went to space now, researchers, holidaymakers, miners even. But they were the rich, already being trained at school, or the military, god forbid! Probably the only way any of the kids at ethan's school could even dream of getting to space from Ethan's school would be through the army, and that would be a dream indeed.

Maybe one day, someone from around here would climb far enough up the corporate ladder to pay for an excursion, but even that window seat, set of headphones, and the weightless feeling was a long shot.

But only super achievers had even a look in.

Somehow when Jack was little the technology was unknown enough for a parent to believe that it really might happen to their son, although notably, Jack's parents had not.

They had been right, Jack's career had largely been vacant. He'd worked briefly on a shop floor moving products around and helping confused customers find whatever they needed. He'd had a few crazy ideas, and believed enough to take them from the dinner table and the pub to message boards and potential investors. He'd worked in a cafe for a week, he was clumsy.

Joblessness was not the evil that it once was, and for that he was grateful. He had drifted from useless sponger to just plain useless as he had approached age, and the population had shifted from fifty to eighty per cent unemployment. He watched videos, played games, did not enough housework, and picked his son up from school. His wife, Elise, had part-time work at a call centre, so theoretically he was a house husband.

“Dad, dad!”

Ethan pulled him back. This was now, and he had a question to answer. Desperately he searched his mind for the appropriate answer. Was it a blow to the Jack the child that he would not go to space? Was it not a bigger blow to him now?


It fell out, and Ethan looked up at him, with a 'trying to be clever' look that smiled more than any other expression could have done.

“I'd need to do well at school, wouldn't I?”
“Yes, you'd need to prove that you're very clever, and maybe you'd get a place at a university.”

They were dreaming, and as the conversation began to move more fluently it became clear that Ethan was quite aware of this. The odd phrase sneaked in where both would reassure the other.

It could happen. It didn't need to. What mattered was that one of them believed the other strong enough. That school days could be faced with the knowledge that a great reward lay at the end. It was only too evident to Ethan that such a reward may end up proving elusive, but right now this dream was needed.

Sooner or later, distractions would probably come. Maybe love, maybe music, or a desire to fit in would push the stars aside. Maybe something more sensible would entice him away with promises of security and comfort, but Jack would not.

They chatted all the way to the stairs, and the ten-minute elevator ride was a departure lounge. Jack had always wanted to go to space, and the sheer level of depth of knowledge, or at least guesswork, still helped furnish Ethan's dreams, even if they no longer had any starring roles.

They watched episode 6 of Titan's gate.

Click on a title below and your browser will read it aloud for you.


This page is very experimental, and the stories here are not child friendly.

Mobile phones don't seem to work with it.

They are also not necessarily good ;).

t: 07407 345 880 | e: james@jamesflowerdew.com

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