I tell Dad I haven’t gotten a response back yet.
”To what?” he says.
“Oh. Right. How’s school?”
Mom says my Dad’s name, tells him to stop.
“Doing that to him.”
They stare at each other across the table. Dad chews his food. Mom takes a sip of wine.
I sit there, knife and fork at the ready, waiting for something to happen. Someone to say something. I cut into my food instead. I cut the fat off the gray steak, pile it up at the edge of my plate. I mush mashed potatoes through the tines of my fork once, twice, but I recover in enough time to get Dad to stop watching me.
I tell Mom the food looks good.
She says thank you.
Dad says, “Stop playing with your food. It’s weird.”
Mom makes a hissing noise, cocks her eyebrow. She flicks her head toward me, keeping her eyes on Dad.
Dad raises his eyebrows, shrugs his shoulders.
Mom nods at me again, her eyes never separating from Dad’s.
Dad says, “Which script is that?”
I skewer the fourth string bean onto my fork, hold it up, say, “Hmm?”
“The script you didn’t hear back about.”
I put the fork in my mouth, slide the string beans off on top of a mound of potatoes I smooshed between the underside of my tongue and bottom teeth. I’m careful to keep the greens in the same formation they entered before removing the fork.
I say, “It’s a pilot for a new Lost in Space TV series.”
Dad leans forward, says, “What?”
Mom says, “Finish that bite and say it again.”
I swallow my food, tell Dad again about the script. About how I sent it to a whole slew of agents, producers, production companies. I tell him it’s awesome.
“‘Danger, danger, Will Robinson’ Lost in Space?” he says.
I tell him there’s only one. “You know that,” I say.
He says he remembers it. Says, “Reruns on Sci-Fi.”
Mom says, “I loved that show.”
I nod my head, spearing more string beans onto my fork.
“You’re not going to eat your fat?” Dad says.
Dad reaches across the table and stabs each hunk of fat onto his fork, the metal clinking against the ceramic plate. The sound makes me cringe every time.
Mom says, “Careful.”
“We don’t waste food. Been telling him since he was a kid.”
Once his fork is loaded with fat, Dad crams it all into his mouth. I can hear the gristle bursting, crunching between his teeth. He says, “How’s school?”
I say, “I’m approaching it more as an exploratory series, more than the shoot-em-up style the movie went for back in ’98.”
Dad says my name.
“I like that movie, still,” I say. “It doesn’t hold up all that well, though. Which is a shame. I think it had real potential. I think it maybe just got stuck with a lousy director. Which hopefully won’t happen with my series. Bad showrunner means bad show.”
Dad says, “Milo,” louder this time.
I say, “I want to give it a tougher edge too. Give it a Battlestar Galactica treatment. Ramp up the drama, the interpersonal politics. Make it a little sexier. Maybe feature a love triangle between Major West, Dr. Robinson and Mrs. Doctor Robinson. I’ve also given them a skeleton crew to help with the—”
Dad slams his fist down on the table, silverware clatters, drinks spill. This time he yells my name.
Mom yells Dad’s name.
Dad says, “Grace.”
“Don’t ‘Grace’ me,” Mom says.
We sit there. Silent. Mom and Dad talk with their faces. I look back and forth at them.
Without looking at me Dad says, “How. Is. School?”
I tell him it’s great, that I get a lot of writing done. That a few of my professors think I’m a good storyteller.
Dad pushes his chair away from the table, says, “I’m full.”
Mom stands up, says, “Sit down.”
“No,” Dad says. He says something about how this isn’t normal. Says something about how I’m getting worse.
“He’s our son,” Mom says.
Hey says, “Yeah,” walks past me through the living room. Passing the television he shuts off a Supernatural rerun.
I’m threading the longer string beans into a weave pattern, scooping a dollop of potatoes on them and seeing if I can fit it into my mouth.
I hear the floorboards upstairs creek.
Mom refills her wine glass.
After a while I notice her staring at me. I say, “Sorry.”
“It’s fine. He’ll be fine,” she says. “Do you want to watch some Firefly before I drive you back?”
I tell her I do. But I don’t think I’ll enjoy it as much as I used to. Those guys are the reason I can’t go to the New York Comicon anymore. And I’m still a little sore about it.
When I was a kid I asked my dad if I could join Starfleet.
He told me I most definitely could. “But you have to be a grown up first,” he said.
I asked him when that would be.
“When you’re older.”
I said, after a beat, a glance at the VCR clock, “I’m older.”
He said, “When did that happen?”
He scooped me off the floor, held me to his chest, said, “But you’re still just a baby, see?”
I laughed. He did too.
Placing me on the couch he told me that I needed to get ready, that it was almost time.
I knew what time it was, I’d checked. But I looked away from him, stared out the window at something, eyes wide, mouth hanging open. Mom would say I was catching flies. She eventually stopped saying that, though. But I liked hearing it. I laughed when Mom would said it. Dad did, too.
Staring outside I heard him saying something. I knew he was talking to me. But there was something out that window.
“Buddy?” he said, loud, nearly yelling it.
I asked him where my pin was, told him I needed to get ready.
He looked at me, eyebrow cocked, mouth flattened into a straight line. It was a new face. But I held out my hand pretending I didn’t notice.
Dad handed me my communicator pin. A real one. Like they wore on the show. Metal and sharp. And shiny. Gripped between my thumb and pointer finger, I stared at it. When I tipped my pointer a bead of light skimmed the metal edge up to the tip of the pin. When I dipped my thumb the light slid back down.
He took the pin out of my hands, unclasped the metal needle. He smiled, pinned it to my shirt.
Tapping his own pin he said, “Captain to bridge,” and looked to me.
“Two to beam up,” I said.
Dad turned on the TV and sat next to me on the couch.
Captain Picard began speaking. The camera panned over millions, billions of stars. Then the Enterprise shot at us going warp speed. I jumped. And laughed.
I didn’t see Mom come in the room. I didn’t see her sit down. I don’t remember her being next to me at all until she muted the TV.
“Milo,” she said. “Did you hear me?”
I said no. I asked her why she did that.
She looked at my dad. And Dad looked at me.
I snatched the remote and turned the volume back up.
I tell Mr. Moore I’m nervous when I reach out and shake his hand.
He tells me there’s no need at all to be nervous.
“Yeah, right,” I say.
There are people behind me. I don’t mean to hold any of them up, but this is too big. I feel stupid sweating through my uniform, seeing Mr. Moore wipe the sweat I left on his hand onto his pant leg.
“Nice uniform,” Mr. Moore says. “Looks authentic.”
I tell him it is. That I got it off Etsy. It was based off the actual templates used for the show. I say, “It’s a little tight. I don’t know how Edward James Olmos felt comfortable in it with that big belly of his.”
Mr. Moore laughs, sips coffee from a Styrofoam cup.
If you look close enough, Styrofoam looks like millions of white plant cells magnified a thousand times. Even without a microscope the little cells are on display. They’re uniformed and perfect, molded together to fit any shape. Cups. Molds for action figures. Packing peanuts.
Mr. Moore asks me if I’m okay.
“What? Oh, yes. Sorry.”
“Anything else I can do for you?”
I stuffed nearly a dozen scripts in my bag before I left my dorm this morning, just in case somebody important happened to be here. It’s been a while since I sent them out. I figured I wouldn’t hear much back from anyone I sent it to. Sending scripts to random slushpiles doesn’t yield great results. I read that on the internet.
Pushing a copy of my script across the flakeboard table I tell Mr. Moore that I hope he is interested in this. I say, “I think you’re perfect for it. After what you were able to do with Battlestar Galactica.”
“Lost in Space?”
“I actually can’t believe you’re here. I didn’t see you on the list.”
“I figured New York, maybe. But Philly? If it was New York we wouldn’t be talking right now.”
A guy behind me clears his throat.
Mr. Moore asks me what I want him to do with the script.
“I freaked out the Firefly cast up there last year,” I say.
He asks me my name.
“Then I made a scene,” I say.
Mr. Moore looks past me.
Someone taps me on the shoulder. I slap the hand away, take a breath, apologize to Mr. Moore.
He says it’s okay. “But there is a line,” he says.
“Yeah. Sorry. Just one more minute, though. Please.”
I leaf through the script, hear people behind me complaining. Grumbling. But I keep going. I detail a scene in which Major West and Dr. Smith get into a brutal confrontation after the Jupiter 2 gets lost. West blames Smith, threatens to put him out an airlock. He then beats Smith until he notices Will watching. The boy, terrified, can’t take his eyes from Smith’s bloody face. This will cement Will’s and Smith’s student/mentor relationship. Even though Smith will time after time betray Will’s trust.
Behind Mr. Moore, just over his shoulder, a Jedi Knight and a Sith Lord begin to duel. Their lightsabers sputter tinny movie sound effects from speakers in the hilts. Superman comes between them, breaks them up. He begins speaking. But I can’t hear him. I imagine he’s reasoning with them, telling them that battling one another isn’t the way to solve their issues.
Someone says hello. To me, I think.
When Superman walks away, the Jedi and Sith reignite their lightsabers, and their undying hatred.
“Hello?” Mr. Moore says.
“Sorry,” I say.
“Normally,” he says. “A pitch is only about two sentences long.”
I say okay, say, “Family gets lost in space. They try to find their way home.”
I feel a hand on my shoulder again, and I whip around out of my seat. Thor, blond wig in his face, tells me time’s up.
I shove him, my hands hitting him in the center of his chest. He crashes into Mr. Spock, who stumbles back into Marty McFly. The rest of the line goes down after that, collapsing into a heap of primary colors and fake hair.
Mr. Moore, now standing, catches flies without blinking.
I tell him all my contact information is on the cover page.
When I was younger I kept a notebook next to my bed.
I spent the hours between going to bed and getting ready for school writing. Not being able to sleep, I would concentrate on something like it was the only thing on Earth, then move on to the next thing, and the next thing. I remember writing a Star Wars novel. And a Quantum Leap script. A seventh Star Trek for the original cast.
I was in the middle of writing a Lost in Space story from Robot’s perspective one night. In the story, Robot watched Will and Dr. Robinson working to build a time machine to get them back to Earth before they left in order to stop themselves from ever leaving. Nothing much happened. Robot just watched them working together, enjoying each other’s company despite their situation.
I heard the toilet flush across the hall.
From my bedroom door, I saw Dad in the bathroom standing over the toilet, staring into the bowl. He jumped. “Christ,” he said.
He caught his breath, jammed an empty pill bottle into the pocket of his pajama bottoms.
I asked him if the pills he flushed were mine.
He said, “Can’t sleep?”
I shook my head, looked at the floor.
“That happen a lot?” he said.
“A lot, a lot?”
“Almost all the time.”
He knelt down, put his hands on my shoulders. He hadn’t been shaving, his skin was pale. He asked me if I wanted to watch TV with him, said Sci-Fi runs Lost in Space in the middle of the night.
“Yeah,” I said, staring into his face, at the bags under his eyes, the sweat on his forehead.
He shushed me, his finger pressed to his lips. “Don’t tell Mom about the pills,” he said shooing me down the stairs.
Dad says, “You punched Thor?”
“I pushed Thor.”
The streetlights brighten the car as we pass under them. Dad stares straight ahead, driving, saying nothing.
The car lights up again.
I tell him to say something.
“I have nothing to say.”
We’re in the dark again.
Another streetlight, more light in the car.
I say, “I didn’t mean to.”
I tap a drum beat onto the center console. It’s fast, manic, keeping me in the car.
Dad’s driving faster; the light fills the car and dissipates in a more rapid succession. He says something, but I don’t hear him. There’s only the light from the lamps we pass under, the darkness that fills the space when we’re in between them.
Dad honks the horn once, twice, screaming my name. “Wake up,” he says. “Listen to me when I’m talking to you.”
“Sorry,” I say.
“That’s all you can say?”
“What else am I supposed to say?”
“We’re putting you on medicine. Again.”
He slams the butt of his palm into the steering wheel, curses. He pulls the car over, tells me I’m a mess. Says normal people don’t stay in college this long, they don’t need to. “All you talk about,” he says, “is bullshit. None of it matters.”
I don’t say anything.
He says things like, “Antisocial.”
I flinch every time he spits a new word at me.
I say, “It’s your fault.”
When I open the car door at a red light he asks me what the hell I think I’m doing. I slam the door in his face, cutting him off.
Then I run.
I take off down the road, cut into the woods, and keep moving until my lungs don’t pull any air, my legs turn to rubber.
In the woods, there’s nothing to see in the dark. There’s nothing to stare at. I’m alone, trying to concentrate on breathing.
Hands on my hips, teeth bared, sucking back air, I tip my head back. Up past the tops of the trees there’s nothing but stars. And they rope me in. They make me lie down. Get lost.
My phone rings in my pocket. The theme from Star Trek.
I ignore it.
It begins again, but I barely notice it.
Eventually I don’t notice anything at all.
“Will said, ‘Dad, the time machine’s done.’ Dr. Robinson smiled at Will. He put his arm around Will’s shoulder and said, ‘Are you ready, son?’” I said this, reading from printed pages, holding them in my sweating hands. I was flicking the bottom corners of the pages with my fingers. John Williams’ Star Wars in swishing paper.
Dad was sitting on the couch in front of me, clean shaven and put together. But eyes were lazy, half closed. His lips were pressed together. Like he was holding something in.
“Then,” I said, reading from the page, “Robot watched as they stepped into the machine and went back in time together and stopped themselves from ever getting lost. The End.”
Mom, leaning against the frame of the entrance into the dining room, clapped her hands. She said it was great.
“It’s old,” I said.
She said I should try and write a sequel.
I said, “But there’s no more to the story. That’s it. They fixed everything.”
“There are always consequences when people disturb the time stream. Something goes wrong. Always.”
“Nothing goes wrong.”
Dad stands up, walks past me, says, “They did that in the movie.”
“The movie. It was all about trying to go back in time to fix things. You ripped off the movie. And it hasn’t even come out on tape yet.”
Mom said Dad’s name.
Dad didn’t even turn his head to look. He said, “Aren’t you getting a little old for this stuff?”
I wanted to say no, ask him why he said that, tell him if I’m too old for it, so is he. But the grain running through the hardwood floor, all of it, pointed toward the kitchen. I checked. I scanned all of the planks. I could hear my parents’ voices, someone knocking on a wall. But my eyes were following the rivers of wood grain from my feet, under my parents’, toward the kitchen.
The floor loosened its grip on me, and I heard Dad say, “Forget it. He’s gone.”
I’m typing, ignoring the red and green lines appearing under my sentences. My leg bounces, knee bumping the bottom of my desk, each collision a metal ding.
There’s something else. Knocking wood. Somewhere out there. Faraway.
Dad says my name from the other side of the door.
“I’m not here.”
“Milo. Come on.”
I lean back in my chair, reach for the doorknob and turn it, let the door hang open, let in the noise from the dorm.
He’s inside now. I hear him. I don’t turn around to see him staring at the duct tape X’s on the floor where I don’t like to stand. Or the cave I built with the extra desk in the room for when I hear just about everything happening all over the world all at once. Or the glow-in-the-dark stars I stuck to the ceiling after I made it out of the woods.
Dad says something came to the house for me, says, “I read it.”
The open envelope he hands me has no return address.
I read your script despite what happened at the convention. It’s good. You should be proud of it. But…
It keeps going from the there. I drop it in the trashcan next to my desk.
Behind me, Dad says, “Now why’d you go and do that?”
“Thought that’s what you’d want me to do.”
Dad tells me to turn around. And I do. But I don’t look at him.
He says, “What are you working on there?”
Black bags under his eyes. Stubble darkening his face. A Best Buy bag is wrapped around his hand.
“A script,” I say.
He asks me if it’s another Lost in Space.
“Actually, yeah. It’s an episode where Will and Dr. Robinson get separated from the…”
Dad tells me to keep going.
And I do. And he listens. Asks questions. Above the sagging blackened skin, his eyes come alive. And he smiles with his teeth.
I get up, acting out the scenes that need visual aids. And Dad watches the entire time. He doesn’t interrupt.
After I’m finished, once I sit down, he tells me it’s good. “I really like it,” he says.
I point to the bag in his hand, ask him what it is.
In the bag is a box with the Robinson family in their yellow and purple, green and pink uniforms smiling at me. Dr. Smith, in his black and purple, glares at the camera, arms crossed over his chest.
I turn the box over, read the back, turn it again and lock eyes with the family.
“Thought we could watch a few,” Dad says.
I don’t say anything. I barely hear him.
Dad wipes the sweat from his forehead, takes a breath, looks as if he’s struggling to speak. He clears his throat. Using an older, raspier version of the voice I remember, Dad says, “Want to go home and watch a few with me?”
And despite my eyes moving from his shaking hands, his nervous eyes, the sweat, I hear every syllable.