We are not astronauts. We didn’t get here on purpose. Thom and Alia were riding ahead of me, side by side, in love like always, down a long stretch of road somewhere in New Mexico. We were the only ones on the highway, our engines revved for miles. The boom of our motors echoed into armadillo ears and pinged off cactus needles. It was us and the night sky, a big full moon and the desert.
I sped up. I wanted to pass the lovebirds. They were so happy: Alia with her bubblegum pink helmet, always touching a hand to her faceguard, blowing a kiss at Thom. It made me happy to see my younger sister like that, it did. But I wanted something too. And the moon looked so big and so full, I thought, I’d cradle it in my arms if I could. So I rode faster, hoping that I’d catch up to it, like it were waiting for me on the horizon.
And then, like Earth forgot it had gravity, my wheels lifted off the ground and drifted up. My denim pants slid quick, but only slightly, down the taught leather cushion pressed against my bottom. I didn’t know what was happening, but I felt a sinking in my chest, pleasant and serious, like waiting for a rollercoaster to drop. I looked back at Thom and Alia and lifted my hand above my head and said Woohoo! in anticipation. I was in the sky. From above them I heard Alia laugh while Thom said a deep, loud Holy shit!
Soon, they were flying too. All of us were headed up and up and up towards the deepening black space. Below us, the desert became a sandbox surrounded by fresh green grass in a familiar backyard, the whole of the landscape growing smaller as we rode. Our motors still sung, but now they sang against nothing. We were on our way to the moon.
When our wheels touched down, Alia threw her hands in the air. We lined up all in one row and raced from a nearby crater to one far away. When I won, Thom said Rae, you son of a bitch! and then we raced again. For a moment, we were moon tourists, a real moon squad. We cruised through crags and craters, dust swept and kept apart from our roads on home, waiting for something to happen or waiting for the long backwards descent. We popped wheelies up the sides of moon rock mountains. We didn’t need gas. Nothing broke. We rode our motorcycles like they were meant for lunar roads. We wore our leather jackets like bright white spacesuits.
Soon, we dumped sand from our worn leather boots and wiped chalk dust from the shields across our eyes. I breathed in the air of the moon and felt something like happy. We have been this way for hours.
Alia kickstands her bike and Thom does the same. They scale a jagged hill and perch on the landing, overlooking the washed-grey world. Their big helmet heads distort their bodies tiny, silhouettes like green alien shadows holding hands against a star-heft sky. I take a picture in my mind and think, this is what love looks like. Perhaps, I think, one day I can know for sure.
I shout, I’m going to ride around some more, and they give me a thumbs up. I thumbs up them back and speed off, smoke and dust mixing together in the puff of air behind me. There is so much nothing all around, but I feel full and all of a sudden, heavy. I am far away from Thom and Alia when I slow my bike down and dismount to lie flat, face-first against the ground.
My forehead sinks into the padding of my helmet as my helmet digs into the crust of the ground. I wish that my arms were long enough to wrap around the whole ancient rock and carry it home with me to Earth. I wish I could shrink it until it fit into my beige-walled bedroom and became only mine.
I exhale and breath fills the empty space in my helmet. I feel some type of relief, like I am allowed to stop smiling, stop pretending, for the first time tonight. I’ve felt this type of relief before, when we were young, and Alia’s hair appeared in loose strands before her head crept down from the top bunk.
She’d say, Are you still awake? and each time I’d pretend to be asleep. I didn’t want her to think we were friends, but secretly I loved it when she tried. Then she caught me. She said, I saw your eyes wide open you fake, and I burst out laughing, feeling dumb and relieved, and we talked all night after that. It feels that same way now, that relief—that first airy in-and-out breath after you’ve come clean on a lie.
A distant humming grows louder until I recognize the familiar sound of tires over rock, and then the hum becomes a hive of bees buzzing in my ears. Thom and Alia are riding, probably searching for me. I perk up for them. They keep getting closer and closer until we are all within the same visual space. And it looks like there is something else now, a fourth, cradled in Alia’s arm, but I can’t tell yet because they’re still too far away and dust is caked into my dirtied helmet.
Thom is doing one long wheelie. His back dips so low to the ground it looks like the bike is upright and running toward me on metal pipe legs. Alia sits stiff on her seat, one hand clutched to her chest, the other gripped to the handle. She is screaming my name, I think, but her lips aren’t moving and so it might just be a ringing in my ears. We all catch up to one another, me and Thom and Alia and a little dusty baby.
Alia says, We found him! and Thom says, Isn’t he cute? and the only thing I say is, Oh my god, over and over again.
My arm curls around his sweet potato sized body, he’s so small. His bones prickle under his thin green skin, like a just-hatched bird dropped from his mother’s nest. Even with his lightbulb head, his weight feels like air, or like nothing at all. I’m afraid I will crush him, but his space black eyes, wet and thick seeming, tell me that he is just fine. He has the smallest slit of a mouth, and I think already that he is something that feels loved.
Hello, little baby, I tell him before my hand reaches to my helmet, an instinct, trying to wipe tears that have pooled around my eyes.
Alia says, C’mon, you can’t be sad like that now, Rae, not here, and Thom touches her on the arm as if to say Be nice.
All of a sudden, I am a guest in their space. My legs are aware of their bones and how firmly they are planted on the ground, like if they moved they’d be as fragile as the baby’s, and Thom and Alia would insist that I sit on their antique rock chair because they’d sense my discomfort. For the first time in the night my lips feel dry and cracked, the walls of my mouth coated in hardening glue. There is no water, but I’d be too afraid to admit that I’m thirsty anyway. I stroke the baby’s bulbous head some more, zeroing in on his presence in my arms and ignoring my presence on Thom and Alia’s moon.
What will you name him? I ask, harboring myself in a neutral topic, but they say they don’t know yet.
What will he eat? they say they will figure it out.
Will he be okay on Earth? they assure me he will be fine:
We are fine here, aren’t we?
I say, I guess so, you’re right, though I’m not sure I agree.
We are all silent as the baby squirms in my arms. We look like ashen versions of ourselves, our bikes covered in grit and filth, our bodies like dust bunnies under a worn-in family couch. Alia’s hands motion for the baby. She kisses him on the forehead. Thom smiles at them both. You’re an aunt, she says, isn’t that exciting? Her voice is much softer than I’ve ever known it, her movements gentler and more assured. I cannot picture her as a child anymore, even though I know she used to be one. I cannot picture what the moon looked like when it shone through our bedroom window, or if our bedroom window even faced the moon at all.
Thom sits on his bike and is about to start the engine when Alia points a stern finger and tells him to stop. She says the baby is tired and needs to sleep. They say they are going to find a quiet place to put him down, even though the whole moon is silent except for us. We walk our bikes in opposite directions until I am alone.
The cool leather seat feels familiar when I mount myself on top of the bike. I ride fast in the direction of Earth on the horizon, it’s massive and wonderful and colorful in every way the moon is not. I ride, hoping somehow to freefall from the sky and land safely on a patch of apple-green grass somewhere in a city I’ve never been to. Maybe I will learn a language that I’ve never heard. Or perhaps I can land in the middle of an ocean and climb aboard fisherman’s rusty boat, help him reel in fish by the net load in exchange for pennies and a hot briny meal. Or maybe I can freefall right into my bed, only it will be the bed from my childhood, and Alia will be there on the top bunk, leaning over in the implacable moonlight, and I will learn how to be a better pretender.