Rocket Sketch

I met Prince of Space in 1954, six stories before I hit the cement. A giant lobster had knocked me off my roof. Prince swooped his shiny rocket and plucked me out of the air like I was a ball of dandelion seeds. His tights were smeared with jet fuel and he smiled and I was in love.

It’s difficult enough for a man to love another man, but I was in love with an intergalactic super hero.

The problems started on our first date. He secreted me into Mysterian Mansion like I was contraband and we made love. When I woke up, I was in an alley on the other side of town.

“Human teleportation device,” he explained. “I can’t risk your being here in the mornings. My coworkers.”

“Get your own place.” I pulled his cape from his confident shoulders. “Let’s get our own place.”

But I woke up behind a gas station and nothing changed.

I moved to DC and got a job serving burgers to teenagers in the suburbs. He never thanked me for moving. Never asked where I lived. Never even called me by name. I kept a silver receiver so his teleporter could teleport me, and I watched him save people on TV: Prince of Space choking off a volcano, Prince of Space atomizing Communists, Prince of Space subduing the five-faced demon from Dimension Y. When he finally teleported me to his bedroom, he was so exhausted the sex wasn’t any good. But I didn’t care. I was in love. Watching him sleep was enough. Idly poking my pinky finger into his navel. Tucking my arm under his head. Petting the boyish wisps of hair on his chest.

One night his arm was in a sling and there were bite marks on his back. “The teeth,” he kept saying, shaking in my arms. “The teeth.” I stayed up all night like a dutiful nursemaid, and in the morning I was still there.

A knock came at the door, pulling him out of a heavy sleep. “Shit!” he said, looking at me like I was unarranged furniture.

“Prince? Varnoff needed you in the lab two hours ago.”

“Be there soon!” He grabbed a little slice of steel on the end table and pointed it at me.

“Now, wait here,” I said. “Breakfast—”

He teleported me carelessly, to say the least; I materialized over the Potomac and the freezing brown water made swimming near impossible. A hobo wrapped in a filthy trench coat fished me out.

“Get off me. I can do it myself,” I snarled, pushing the hobo away.

“You were fixed to die in there, Mister. If I hadn’t ta…oh, to Hell with you.” He turned his back on me, shaking his head.

I lost my teleportation receiver to the river. If Prince of Space wanted me, he’d have to find me.

*

Months went by without a word. I started making plans to return to Brooklyn. My life became a predictable flow of fries and malt sodas, rotten kids with comfortable lives and nothing to do.

Two weeks before my lease ended, I was carrying a plate of grilled slop when the ground shook and the diner’s lights died. Prince of Space crashed back-first through the windows, tights in shreds and helmet all cracked. I crawled over to him, wincing at the crinkling sheet glass collecting in my palms and knees. Something slimy lurked in the dark out front.

“Paul,” he said. “Paul.”

The beast hunting him was a living plant, face like a sunflower with fangs. I dragged Prince behind the bar, the plant-thing’s vines groping for us, and I killed the pilot lights on the industrial grills. A leaf tentacle curled around the corner and grabbed my ankle—I sliced it off with a butcher knife.

Prince of Space’s cape was flame-retardant. I balled us underneath and struck a match.

After the fire, I went to Mysterian Mansion with the ambulance, and for a change, I walked right through the front doors. His teammates were warm and welcoming. I met Doctor Varnoff and Vulture Woman. The Living Brain said “hello” inside my head and I knew there were no secrets safe from him.

Half of Prince’s face was burned to a crisp. He slipped me a new receiver when nobody was looking.

*

I was packing keepsakes when the receiver warped me to Prince’s bedroom, where I found a tuxedo on the mattress, and a note: Put this on. Teleporting in ten minutes. Love, PoS.

Done dressing on time, I blinked out of the room and if it wasn’t for the bandage covering the left side of his face, I probably wouldn’t have recognized him, my Prince of Space, standing in the White House’s rose garden in a matching tux, the noise of a cocktail party coming from nearby windows.

“President Eisenhower wants to meet you,” he said, smiling like he did on the day he saved me.

Speechless, I wrapped my arms around him.

He pushed me away.

“Not so close, Paul, not like that.”

“What?”

“Don’t you see? You saved my life. You’re a hero now.”

“I-I don’t understand.” I took a step back.

“You’ve given us proper context.”

“Proper context?”

“Relax, relax,” he said, soothing a frightened puppy. “Nothing’s changed. Things have just become more…convenient.”

I wanted to punch his one good eye, but found myself hugging him instead, squeezing him while he wiggled like one of his monsters. “Damn it, Paul. Stop. Now, let’s get in there. You’re to be made an honorary member of the Mysterians tonight.” He brushed at my shoulders. “I can’t wait to introduce you to Senator McCarthy.”

“Go on,” I said. “I need a second to compose myself.”

“Okay,” he said. “Okay.”

And then he was gone, swallowed by yellow light and clinking wineglasses. I looked at the teleporter I’d just stolen from him.

“Convenient.”

I set a random destination and pushed the button.

About the Author:

J. W. Shumate earned his MFA from West Virginia University. He teaches and writes in Boston.

Image Credit: © Kreatiw / Dollar Photo Club