Daniel Enjay Wong


Daniel Enjay Wong received his BA from Stanford University and plans to attend medical school. His stories have appeared in Tin House, PANK, Spork Press, Monkeybicycle, JMWW, and elsewhere. He lives in Los Angeles. Find out more at www.dwong.net.

Heart of Glass

Mrs. Walker sat alone. I recognized her immediately. I thought it was funny because a Blondie song was playing, and she kind of looked like Blondie from the comic strip. She still had that big yellow nest of hair.

Until then, I’d really only known her as the astronaut’s wife. Rich Walker was the most famous person in our town. When he and Mrs. Walker came to our school’s Space Adventure Day last year, he introduced her only as “my love.” I remembered her smiling the way a lot of my friends’ moms smiled. Like it stung.

I wandered between empty chairs to the back of the room where Mrs. Walker was sitting. Earlier in the afternoon, the second space shuttle ever built had launched Rich Walker and his team into orbit. For five days, they would circle our heads. Mrs. Walker had rented out the community center for the after party and invited everyone I’d ever known. We re-watched the launch on a TV. There were moon pies, star-shaped Jell-O molds, and even cupcakes topped with edible miniature spacecraft.

Now, everything swam in our bellies. The party had fallen into a lull, and Mrs. Walker and I were the only ones in the back of the room. The other kids watched cartoons on the TV while the adults smoked outside.

I’d never seen Mrs. Walker without her husband. It was like approaching a wild animal. As I came closer I saw that someone had left crayons out, and Mrs. Walker was doodling on the butcher paper that covered her table. I always wondered what adults drew when they were bored.

“What are you drawing?” I asked. I’d never spoken to her before.

Mrs. Walker looked at me. She might have been surprised to see me there, but her expression looked like she was watching me through a thick pane of glass. “Just my name, darling,” she said. “Do you ever practice your own signature?”

I looked down at the repeated pattern of curls she’d drawn. “Your name is Arlene,” I said.

Then I looked back up and the glass was gone. Arlene was there, in the room, staring at me. Her face gathered together in places, like she was going to cry or laugh or sneeze. She leaned in so close that I could see light yellow hairs on her cheeks. I was sure the miniature space shuttle in my stomach was going to blast itself out of my throat. Then Arlene gazed up to the high ceiling, and I knew she wasn’t thinking of Rich in space because she didn’t have the look of love. She bobbed her skyward head to Blondie for a bit. Then she picked up her crayon and put it to the paper again: “You are my heart.” She didn’t actually write “heart,” she drew it.

For me. The heart was for me. My body filled with lightning, and the electricity jumped down my arms and into my hands. I grabbed a crayon and wrote, “I love you.” I knew I was doing something wrong because Arlene wasn’t family, and kids weren’t supposed to love adults, but I couldn’t let her disappear behind that glass again. Arlene read my message. She rested her chin on her fist and asked, “Really? Are you sure?” She seemed to regard the issue seriously, which I liked. Most adults talked to children the way they talked to dogs. “People say ‘love’ a lot when they don’t actually mean it.” She brought her hands together like a tent on the table. “I need to be sure. Do you love me?”

The space shuttle inside my body had now become a tractor, pushing its way out. She wanted me to say yes, I was certain. If I didn’t obey, I foresaw disaster. Either she would tell my mom what I’d said, or the party would end, or Rich Walker’s space shuttle would collide with an asteroid.

“Yes,” I said. “I love you.”

Arlene blinked a few times. Then she dropped her head and nodded, like I had delivered bad news. “Thank you.” She got up, slipped her purse off the back of her chair, and left.

Rich Walker touched down to Earth five days later, his mission complete, and a month after that, he and Arlene filed for divorce. Both of them moved out of town. I don’t think they would have survived the gossip anyway. Neighbors said that it was because space had changed Rich. Arlene realized she was sleeping with a stranger. At least that’s what they’d heard.

“It’s a sad thing,” said my mom the day someone bought the Walkers’ house. We were cleaning up the dinner table. “But it’s true. Astronauts get this disease. The doctors can’t figure out what it is. They go to space, they come back, and it’s all they talk about. They can’t stop thinking about space.”

I set a plate down in the sink and rubbed my face. My eyes felt like balls of yarn. I’d spent the entire day at the arcade, playing Space Invaders until everything I looked at appeared to be growing endlessly.

“Are you alright, honey? Take a shower, you’ll feel better. I’ll finish the rest.”

As soon as the hot water hit me, I could barely stay awake. I wanted to curl up on the floor of the shower and sleep, but I was afraid of drowning. I got out and went straight to bed without drying my hair. That night, I dreamed that Arlene’s hairstyle was contagious. Looking someone in the eye was enough to transmit the disease. Soon, the whole town had hair like birds' nests.

I woke up to a dark blue sky outside. I went to my mom’s bedroom and tapped her shoulder. “Mom. Mom. Rich Walker got divorced because I told his wife that I loved her.”

My mom wasn’t sleeping. She spoke with her eyes still closed. “Mmm. It’s so funny, I had a dream about space, too.” She opened her eyes, and they were puffy like she’d been crying. “You didn’t do that to them, baby. They were having trouble. That’s what adults do.” She sat up and scooted over. “You want to come into bed with me?”

I nodded. I climbed up and curled against my mom’s back. I felt safe. I pretended that she was an astronaut on the moon, and I was her tank of oxygen. She needed me to breathe. She couldn’t live without me. The longer I thought about this, the more I relaxed. I could tell whenever I was falling asleep because I started to think crazy thoughts, or things that didn’t really make sense. The last idea I remember having was that I really hoped that Arlene did love me back, wherever she was. I wished for her and Rich to have a fight about me, Rich’s face hard with rage upon discovering a love letter. He would see the heart. They would scream at one another. They would throw things, because that’s how adults demonstrated passion. I fell asleep to picture frames rotating in emptiness, plates breaking apart in zero gravity. Everything looked better in space.