The Solar System, a short story

Do you remember how dad used to take us jogging? We’d all go, but you and Steven and John always wanted to play football instead. So, we’d all go to the track, but only me and dad would run the laps. You guys would go straight to the field. Even you, tiny, not even 5, you’d run out and yell for Steven to throw you the ball. He would. He’d throw it hard, but you’d catch it.

“Thatta girl!” he said.

“Give it here,” said John.

John called out increasingly complicated routes, “5 yard hitch and go to the post, 7 yard out and up, gimme a quick lighting bolt in and out to the corner.”

Steven ran as if the fate of the solar system was on the line, juking imaginary defenders, you at his heels. John waited until the last millisecond to throw, just as Steven broke free, the ball hitting him in the palms of his open hands. You jumped on his leg. He carried you. John smiled. You guys could do that all day.

But dad and I stuck to the track. We stuck to the steady 400-meter loop, counter-clockwise, over and over and over, tracking every lap, every lap equaling a quarter mile, every 4 laps equaling a mile.

“We’re gonna do 3 today,” he said to me.

That meant 12 laps, which was 3,600 meters, which was 3 miles. There are exactly 12 lanes. We’d start in lane one and finish in lane 12. The first time around, dad didn’t talk much. I didn’t either. I was never really one to initiate conversation, or much of anything really.

Dad counted off every lap, each lap getting its own name.

Lane 1 was the Sun.

Lane 2, Mercury.

Lane 3, Venus.

Lane 4, Earth.

At Earth, he asked about school. I was in second grade. He wanted to know how my astronomy lessons were going.

He said, “So what’s the deal with this project? A travel brochure for Venus? Jesus, it’s 1300 Fahrenheit on Venus. That’s the first thing, the heat. How about that?”

“I don’t know,” I said, afraid to give the wrong answer. “I was thinking it could be a honeymoon place, like for couples.”

“Hmm, tell me more,” he said, then, “The Moon.”

And so I tried to explain, but I was out of breath and my stomach hurt, and I never knew if he really understood me or paid attention.

I said, “I don’t know how the mythology works.”

“What do you mean?,” said dad.

“Like Venus is the goddess of love, but she’s the mother of Mars, the god of war.”

“I don’t think that’s accurate,” he said. “But the planets are different. Some are hot and rocky and fast. Some are gaseous and slow and cold.”

We kept running.

He said, “Mars.”

He said, “Asteroid Belt.”

He said, “Jupiter.”

I looked over to you. You had the ball. The two of them were running on their knees now. You held the ball with two hands, over your head. It was 3 times bigger than your head.

John pretended to chase you, running around you in circles. You screamed.

Steven ran around you too, in the same direction and shouted, “Throw it, Bitsy! Throw it!”

You didn’t throw it. You stood there and kept screaming. John kept running. Steven kept running. Dad kept running. I kept running. Around and around.

***

“The Solar System” is the second story from the short story collection SCYANCE. Find more stories here.

  • The Solar System consists of all the planets, moons, comets, asteroids, minor planets, and dust and gas that orbit the Sun. Everything in the Solar System revolves around the Sun.

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