Escape from Gravity
Photograph by Yigit Gunel, Story by Amina Rose
The fragile contraption sat in space. It did not seem to be moving at all, in the weightless expanse, but Celeste knew it was in fact travelling at the rate of eighteen thousand miles per hour, or five miles per second. She gazed at Earth, filling the horizon, teeming with billions of people and thousands of cities. And on it, somewhere, vanishingly small, Pedro worked in his lab.
It had been that moment with Pedro that had hooked Celeste on space. Watching Pedro as they played in cardboard boxes on a hard pavement, as he overbalanced and fell over, she had wondered, bizarrely, why he didn’t just fall upwards, off the planet, and saw, for the first time, vividly, the immensity of Earth, and Earth’s magnetic field, so that although they seemed to be standing still, on top of still ground, in reality they were hurtling through space, spinning as they went, circling the sun and furthermore speeding away through space, the whole solar system rushing on.
It was a deep, intuitive understanding of something that until then had only been textbooks and teaching, and she felt dizzy with the wonder of it, of how they were kept fixed on the Earth’s surface, under the warm net of the atmosphere, instead of being sucked away by the unfathomable velocity of the universe. She had desperately wanted, from that moment, to see this happening from outer space, and imagined taking off in a rocket, travelling away from Earth, so that she could look back, and watch the planet revolving and racing round the sun and through the galaxy for all eternity.
Pedro had been a keen partner when she began building space stations out of cardboard boxes. He seemed to know exactly what she had in mind, as they rounded out the large boxes, his uncared-for curls and serious, chunky features bent on the task. They joined them together with tape, connecting tube to tube, lining them with biscuits, apples, cartons of juice, sleeping bags, comics, torches, and intercoms of cans and string. They would crouch at opposite ends of the complex base, and report on what they could see. Celeste saw stars, planets and swirling galaxies. But Pedro saw asteroids, UFOs and alien invaders, and put in selfless hours diverting them away from Earth. They would meet in the middle, over lemonade and cake, another scientific observation recorded, another disaster averted. Pedro’s face would shine all over with that sudden, surprising grin he had, and Celeste would feel that for a while she had almost - almost - escaped gravity and learned to fly. Yet gravity pervaded everything she did, from running up the stairs to pouring out milk to the arabesques and elastic leaps and pirouettes of her ballet class.
Alone in space, she posted another short film on Twitter, showing her as she swam through flimsy tubes, the sides stuffed with bags and wires and boxes. Nowhere is up, nowhere is down, she wrote, above her gracefully balletic motions that had mesmerised thousands on the planet’s surface. They would watch her floating over to her window on the world, from where she recognised continents by the cloud formations above them. She regularly shared snippets of information about her work in the space station, in part a factory for space-related parts and equipment, in part a physics and biology lab. We want to test the limits of endurance in space, she wrote.
Soon she would be back home in Georgetown, this particular stint over, to give her bones, her muscles, and her mental well-being the Earthy boost they needed. It was lonely on the Space Station, despite the other astronauts, and she did get tired of the same people in the same small area. Time slows here, she wrote. You don’t get a sense of the incredible speeds of space, any more than on the Earth. Then she clicked on her private messages; and her hands stilled. I miss you, the message said. Can we start over?
Pedro. Her companion, her mate, her other half. They played and worked together with an almost magnetic symbiosis – her adventurousness, his keen sense of purpose, the scenarios they believed in together. At school his favourite instrument was the microscope, hers the telescope. At university she studied physics, and he became wholly absorbed in biochemistry. For him chemistry was the foundation to all things, and he told her that it held the answers to the universe. For her, physics did that, and better. Both as they grew up shared a sense of urgency at the state of the planet, but, according to him, he was going to do something about it. He wondered how she could desert her own home, staring at galaxies when there was so much to fix on Earth. It was a difference of perspective that, ultimately, meant that their relationship had nowhere to go. You can’t live with someone when you fundamentally disagree with their values, he said to her. She had cried over him then, and almost – almost – switched direction, investigating jobs in environmental science for a while. But only for a while. She went to NASA, and the last she heard of him, he had joined a lab genetically engineering a bacterium that ate plastic, to release into the sea.
What was it about him that held her, held her still? Perhaps it was the instinctual way they had played and worked together, the way their interests were equally obsessive. Or perhaps it was simply his familiarity. She had known him all her life. Was it possible that he had changed? Or perhaps she could learn to love his work, if that was what it took. But could she give up her escape from gravity? She thought suddenly of his intent look giving way to that huge, genuine grin. Tears seeped from her eyes and hung in front of her, tiny globes rolling gently in the currents of air. She tapped out her reply to his message.
Amina Rose writes miniature stories and poetry. She teaches creative writing, makes the most of a tiny garden, and wishes she was a professional singer. She is interested in the environment, in physics, and in the planet as only one of countless rocks scattered in space.
Yigit Gunel got his first camera when he was 12. This led him to study Journalism; he got a bachelor’s degree graduating with a photography project in 2002. After that, he took an MFA in Visual Communication Design. Since 2007, he has been working with worldwide advertisement clients, agencies and magazines. Follow him on instagram @ygstudiouk