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One Small Step


“Strike three!” 

As the umpire’s right hand punched a hole in the sky, Carl Logan jumped to his feet.  “Bullshit, ump!”

The small crowd of Little League parents turned in unison toward Carl, then looked away just as quickly, some rolling their eyes.

“That was way outside,” Carl shouted.

Roger Logan slumped toward the dugout, the bat dragging a trail in the red dirt. 

“Carl, be quiet!” From the dugout, the firm voice of Roger’s coach, Fred Smalls, rang in Roger’s ears.

“Please don’t yell at him, coach,” Roger pleaded quietly.

Fred laid a hand on Roger’s shoulder.

“Pay attention, ump,” Carl barked.



Footprint On The Moon


Climbing into the front seat, Roger adjusted his baseball cap and leaned against the door. 

“You almost had it there, buddy,” Carl said.

Roger nodded.

“That second pitch, the first time you were up…you dropped your shoulder just a little on that swing.” Carl swung his arm through the air, and dipped his right shoulder. His arm bumped the steering wheel, but it didn’t faze him. “See what I mean? You need to keep that shoulder up there…level.”

"I know, Dad. You’ve told me a thousand times.”

“Well, that’s okay son. You know, even the best hitters need to be reminded. It’s what makes them great, you know? They work hard at it.”

Roger nodded.

Carl reached over and pulled the boy against him. “You’ll get ‘em next time, bud.”

“You’re right, Dad.” Roger closed his eyes and waited for his dad to let go and start the car.


Earthrise Astronaut Photo


“You want to practice after we’re done eating?” Carl popped a piece of steak into his mouth and chewed eagerly, bending slightly over his plate.

“I’m pretty tired, Dad.” Roger poked his fork into his baked potato.

"You should have seen him today, honey. He just missed really tying into this one pitch.” Carl swung his arms above his plate.

“Careful, sweetheart.” Laurie held a hand out as if she was trying to block Carl’s swing.  She shot a sympathetic look toward Roger.  “I was kind of hoping I could get you guys to join me watching the Apollo flight coverage after we’re done here.”
 
“Oh, is that on tonight?” Carl asked.

Roger’s eyes lit up. “They’re going to land tonight, aren’t they?”

“You know that stuff’s not real, don’t you?” Carl rested his fists on either side of his plate, leaning toward Roger.

“Carl!” Laurie said.

“What do you mean?” Roger asked.

“Those guys aren’t really going to land on the moon,” Carl said. “The government is just making it look that way.”

“Carl, I’m warning you.” Laurie stood, taking her plate toward the kitchen.

“Dad, that’s not true.” Roger frowned, mashing up a quarter of his baked potato with his fork.

Carl shrugged, twisting his head to one side. “Hey, go ahead and believe it if you want. No skin off my nose.”

Roger sighed.

Carl leaned closer. “The Orioles and the Angels are playing tonight. Wouldn’t you rather listen to Boog Powell than that fake moon landing?”

Roger ignored his father, going back to his food.

“Suit yourself,” Carl said. “When the truth comes out, though, don’t say I didn’t tell you.”

“Yeah right, Dad.”

Carl shook his head. “You’ll see.”

Laurie returned from the kitchen. “Leave him alone, Carl.”


Reflecting Helmet


Laurie set up TV tables in front of the couch, and brought out three bowls of popcorn and three aluminum glasses filled to the rim with Pepsi and ice. Carl crossed the room and turned on the radio.

“Carl, what are you doing?”

“I just want to hear what the score is.”

“Come on, Dad…they’re showing the view of the moon from the lunar module.”

 “This will just take a second. Besides, you can still see.”

But the announcer did not mention the score for several minutes. Carl stood next to the radio while they went through three batters. Roger and Laurie munched on popcorn, their jaws working hard.

“Come on, Carl. We can’t hear the television.”

Carl held up his pointer finger.

“Oh, I hate it when you do that,” Laurie muttered.

Carl pinched his lips and shot her a look.  The announcer described Dave McNally throwing a curveball to the outside corner, striking out Rod Carew.

“Oooh, that must have been a nice pitch,” Carl said.

“Come on, Dad.”

Carl turned. “Did you hear that, son? That’s the best hitter in the American League, and he had him completely fooled.”

As Carl was talking, the announcer gave the score. Roger pointed at the radio. “It’s 6-4 Orioles,” he said.

Carl turned back to the radio, as if he might catch the score by looking at it. “Are you sure?”

 “Da-ad.”

“Carl, would you please stop? The boy is not stupid.”

Carl whirled. “Did I say he was stupid?”

“Just turn it off, please.” Laurie dipped her hand into her popcorn.

Carl raised his brow, then reached over, still looking at his wife, and flipped off the switch.

Onscreen, the lunar module floated through the black sky, and the muffled voices of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin exchanged information with Mission Control.

“Will you look at that picture?” Laurie said. “I can’t believe what they can do these days with technology.”

“Yeah, Dad. Look at that. You still think it’s fake?” Roger said.

“It is fake!” Carl said. “I read an article.”

Laurie shook her head.

The commentators stated that the lunar module was expected to land in about twenty minutes. Armstrong and Aldrin gave readings, and sweating men in black headsets studied their instruments, cigarettes burning in  nearby ash trays. 

Carl stretched, yawning loudly. He sighed. “I’ve got that big sales meeting in the morning.”

Neither Laurie nor Roger responded, keeping their focus on the television, chewing on the last of their popcorn. Carl had not touched his own popcorn.

“You guys don’t want to hear about my meeting?”

Laurie lowered her chin, gazing at Carl from the tops of her eyes. “Carl, you have this meeting every Monday.”

Carl leaned forward. “This one’s big, though.”

“Oh, Carl, please.”

“What?” Carl swiveled in his chair.

“Would you stop?”

Carl threw his hands up—a tired, listless motion.

“Don’t you think this is exciting, Dad?”

“It’s a thrill a minute.”

“Carl, would it be possible for you to just pretend, just for one night?” Laurie slapped her palms against her thighs. 

“Pretend what?”

Laurie pulled at the back of her long dark hair and twirled it around her finger. “If I have to tell you…”

Carl shrugged, throwing himself against the chair back. “Ow.” He reached up and grabbed his shoulder, holding it with his opposing hand.  “Damn, that hurt.”

Roger watched a man with a blond crew cut lean against the console, his white sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His headset was locked around his ears, and a cigarette hung from his lips.

“T minus twelve minutes, thirty-nine seconds,” a muffled voice announced.

“Do you want your popcorn, Dad?” Roger asked.

Carl shook his head. He was still feeling his shoulder, rotating it in its socket.

“You want to split it, Mom?” Roger asked.

“You go ahead, honey.” Laurie smiled.

“Let’s share.” Roger picked up Carl’s bowl and walked toward his mother.

“No, really, Roger…you go ahead. I need to watch my weight anyway.”

“No you don’t,” Carl said.

Laurie smiled, lowering her chin. “Oh, flattery is it now?”

Carl leaned forward. “Do you guys mind if I check the score again?”

“Da-ad.”

“Just for a second.” Carl stood.

“Make it fast,” Laurie said.

Carl trotted toward the radio. “I will.” He flipped the switch on.

Paul Blair hit a ground ball to the shortstop, and Mark Belanger fielded it, throwing Blair out. Curt Gowdy’s mellow voice then announced. “Now we’ve got a young kid coming up pinch hit for Davey Johnson. This kid was just called up earlier today, so this is his first bat in the big leagues.” Gowdy announced the batter’s name, and Carl took a sudden step back. Laurie looked up from her bowl of popcorn.

“Did he say Tom Harding?”

Carl nodded.

“Is that the same Tom Harding?”

Carl nodded again, and he staggered back to the sofa.

“Can I turn the radio off?” Roger asked.

“Yes, go ahead,” Laurie said, and Carl didn’t protest, so Roger stood up and turned the dial.

Roger noticed his mother glancing over toward Carl, and he could feel that the mood had shifted.

Laurie stood up and sat next to her husband.  She laid a hand on his knee.  “You were better than him.”

Carl sighed and stood, leaving the room. Roger heard the door to their bedroom close.

“Does he know that guy?” Roger asked.

Laurie nodded. “They were on the same team in the minors.”

“Oh.”

The bright yellow moon filled the television screen, its dips and craters shadowing the picture.

“Will you look at that? “Laurie’s voice went soft and dreamy.

Roger studied the image. “I didn’t know the moon was so rough.”

“I didn’t, either.”

They sat silently for a moment, and the picture switched back to Mission Control.

“Mom?”

“Yeah, honey?”

“Was Dad really as good as he says he was?”

Laurie sighed, rubbing her hand over Roger’s bristled head. “Well, son…you know some of the stories your father tells…they’re not exactly lies, but…”

Roger nodded. “Yeah, I know.”

“But you know the story he tells about that one scout…the one who discovered Roberto Clemente?”

“How could I forget?”

Laurie playfully slapped Roger’s upper arm. “That story is true. I was there.”

Roger turned to her. “It is?”

Laurie nodded.

“He said that Dad was as good as Mazeroski?”

“Well…he said he could be.”

“Wow.”

"He really was a very good player, Roger.”

“And when he got hurt…?”

Laurie turned away. “It was the hardest thing that ever happened to him.”

Roger felt a sudden surge of emotion, but he blinked it away. “They’re getting close,” he said, pointing at the television.


Aldrin Steps On The Moon

For the next half hour, Laurie and Roger silently watched as the network switched from the camera inside the lunar module to one mounted outside, and back to Mission Control. The calm voices of the astronauts and the technicians baffled Roger. He couldn’t imagine being involved in something so exciting and sounding so relaxed.  The lunar module floated into perfect position, and while the various participants exchanged information in their electronic foghorn voices, the mechanical spider drifted toward the grey landscape like a dandelion seed. Laurie grabbed Roger’s hand just before the padded feet settled against the surface of the moon.
           
“The Eagle has landed,” Armstrong announced without fanfare.

Roger heard a sniffle, and he turned to see that his mother was crying a little. He leaned his head against her shoulder. He heard the bedroom door open, and Carl came strolling back into the room, dropping like a stone into the chair where Laurie had been sitting.  He glanced at Laurie and Roger, then turned to the television.

“I guess they made it, huh?”

Laurie nodded.

“Are you crying?” Carl asked, and he leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees.

Laurie wiped her cheek. “No.”

Carl chuckled, then fell back against the cushion. “You’re so funny. You watch people get their limbs sawed off every day, and it doesn’t faze you a bit. Then this…” He motioned toward the television. “This makes you cry.”

 “It was very moving,” Laurie said. “It’s really a shame you missed it, Carl. It’s an important moment in our history.”

“Yeah, I s’pose.” Carl sighed, rubbing his chin. “Are they going to get out and walk around now?”

Roger nodded. “They are, Dad. You really need to see this part.”

Carl scratched the back of his neck, grimacing as if the pain was more than he could bear. “I guess I could watch for a little while. Got that meeting in the morning.”

Roger looked at the clock. It was only 7:30, and he knew that his father rarely went to bed before 10:00, but he decided not to mention this.

Armstrong and Aldrin made preparations to leave the lunar module while the ground crew relayed their instructions and encouragement.

“Dad?”

“Yeah Roger.” Carl’s eyes did not move from the screen.

“Would you tell me the story about that scout again?”

Carl sat up. “Which one?”

 “The guy who discovered Clemente.”

Carl blinked, several times. “You really want to hear that one?”

Roger nodded, and watched his father closely as he related the familiar details.  Carl pantomimed scooping grounders, and throwing to first. “I was firing bullets that day, Rog…underhand, three-quarters, straight over the top…it didn’t matter. I had my rhythm.”

Roger smiled.  “And he came right down out of the stands?”

“He did. He came down there and walked right up to me, right there in the field.”

“After the game?”

“No, this was before the game, when we were warming up.”

“And what did he say?”

“He said, ‘I think you got a future with this club, kid.’”

“What about Bill Mazeroski? Didn’t he say something about Bill Mazeroski?”

“That was later, in a letter he wrote to the manager.”

“Wow.” Roger felt his cheeks shining red. “Did you have a good game that night?”

“Look, he’s opening the door.” Laurie pointed at the television, and they watched in quiet reverence while the big metal door swung open. Armstrong emerged from inside the craft, moving stiff-legged, like a robot, in the heavy white suit. Carl swiveled his body toward the television, still leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees. His hands were locked together, like a prayer, between his legs.

Armstrong descended the ladder, stepping down like a joint-less animal.  Roger was amazed that, although Armstrong’s motions were so stiff, he also bounced on each step like a helium balloon. He gripped both rails with his massive gloves.

Roger and Laurie’s popcorn bowls sat empty, and the aluminum glasses were streaked with moisture. Laurie held Carl’s half-filled bowl in her lap.

Armstrong bounced from the last rung of the ladder, raising a small puff of moon dust. His voice filtered over thousands of miles of space, and through the irregularities of human technology, and filled the tinny speaker of the Logan’s Sears television. “That’s one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind.”

Roger watched his father sit up a little bit straighter, then stand. Carl’s eyes remained focused on the screen at first, but after a moment, he glanced over at the sofa, and as Armstrong bounded out into the vast gray dessert, Carl sidestepped his way over to the sofa, where he sat down between Roger and Laurie. He draped an arm across the back of the sofa, behind Laurie’s back, and she settled into his shoulder.

“Wow,” Carl said, dipping his hand into the bowl of popcorn.

The Logans watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bound across the colorless landscape for several silent minutes. Carl munched on popcorn, and Laurie rested her head against his shoulder.  Roger felt like moving closer to them, but he didn’t.

When his father finished his popcorn, Roger looked over at him. Carl and Laurie were still completely absorbed in the action on the television.

“Dad, do you remember whether you had a good game that night…the night the scout saw you?”

Carl looked over at him. “Let’s wait and talk about that another time, son.” He reached over, resting his big hand on Roger’s shoulder. And when Roger felt his father’s touch, gently against his shoulder, it felt as if the hand had traveled for miles and miles.


The Eagle Returns


Russell Rowland's first novel, In Open Spaces (HarperCollins, 2002) was named one of the 2002 Best of the West by the Salt Lake City Tribune .
Publisher's Weekly called it an 'outstanding debut' and gave it a starred review.  He currently teaches online with Gotham Writer's Workshops and  was a recent MacDowell fellow.




Photos courtesy of  NASA
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In Open Spaces
In Open Spaces

A breathtaking saga set in rural  Montana.







































































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In Open Spaces
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