The spaceship arrives in their front yard with a loud bang and a belch of smoke. By the time Zofi and Teo have scuttled to the front door, its passenger has already rung the bell.
Zofi opens the door, Teo clinging to the butt of her coverall.
It's a dude in what looks like a neon orange spacesuit. His helmet's on, his faceplate opaque. Behind him, a pale turquoise, cigar-shaped object smolders gently amidst the zaftig disarray of her kitchen garden. The pleasant smell of scorched squash and zucchini perfumes the air.
"An astronaut!" Teo breathes.
Zofi doesn't know what to say. She didn't Write this. It must be a Real occurrence, but those are usually no more exciting than the arrival of the school bus or skip loads.
"That's right, little lady!" The voice is a little bit distorted by the helmet but perfectly understandable.
Zofi checks reflexively what Teo's wearing, but the dress tells her they're a girl today. Good. No hurt feelings to smooth over.
"How can we help you, sir?" Zofi asks, eying the smoking heap of rubble in their front yard.
"My spaceship crashed. I was hoping your daddy could help me fix it."
Even on a good day, that is a day that her daddy doesn't start out drunk, his spaceship-fixing skills are non-existent. But even if that is the wrong question, the astronaut's rung the right doorbell. Their dilapidated clapboard house fronts four acres of junkyard. Most of it's cars, but there are heaps of shoes, used gloves, dolls, glasses, plastic containers, plastic bags and a giant pile of Unsorted. Their father collects the junk, Teo and Zofi sort.
"He's not home," Teo says, before Zofi can shush her.
"He's getting groceries, will be back soon," Zofi says. This is not true. She's Written their father on a binge, to give her and her sibling some peace and quiet, and he will not return for weeks yet. "But maybe we can help you in the meantime?"
For a long time her father had no sons, (Teo came along late, and Dad's not completely convinced of their fluctuating masculinity yet) so he taught Zofi everything about junking and fixing cars. If spaceships are not like cars, Zofi can always Write herself some new skills. Changes like that don't stick, but they will hold for a couple of hours.
"I'm Zofi, this is Teo," Zofi says. "Short for Teosinte. And you?"
"Az," he says. "Short for astronaut."
That name is about as odd as his arrival and the crayon colors of the spaceship.
"Follow me," Zofi says, steps off the porch and walks around the house.
You can't see far, but what you can see is a towering heap of junked cars, flattened cars and car parts. To the left, cars being fixed, to the right, heaps of Other Stuff. Beyond that, the Delicate Objects sheds where Dad keeps stacks of newspapers and discarded clothing, and beyond that, the compost heap. He's planning to start a garden. One day soon.
Zofi gestures broadly at the vista of potential spare parts. "What do you need?"
Az scratches his helmet, shaking his hand when it only meets plastic and glass. "Maybe you can advise me?"
Zofi has never repaired a spaceship before, but she's willing to give it a try.
Taking out her notebook and Sharpie, she Writes down what the Astronaut will find in the heap. Gloves, a welding protector. That seems like a good start. It's like an improvisation challenge. She usually plots far ahead, but this could be fun. She doesn't even know yet what she wants the outcome to be!
Az picks up a pair of extra thick mismatched gloves from the heap, an only lightly cracked face protector from another.
Zofi bites her lip. That was stupid. An astronaut doesn't need a face protector or gloves. She's not used to doing this on the fly.
"They approach the spaceship," she Writes.
She walks up to the still smoking vehicle with caution. Do spaceships contain gas and or oil? It might still explode. There's a glass cupola, surprisingly intact, on top of the ellipsoid that still shows traces of fifties pastel underneath the singed dappling.
"Where's the engine?" Zofi asks.
When Az moves towards the ship, she quickly writes "The engine smoked but didn't explode."
Az makes a twisting hand movement and part of the lilac bulge at the back opens up. Zofi peers in. It's a mess. Without knowing what all the parts are for, she can see that sausage-like bits have melted, and others are charred or cracked. That part there looks like a staved-in #10 can, which she's fairly sure she can find a replacement for in the Tin Barn; that bit looks like glasses. They have a heap of those, next to the children's shoes. The sausage string pieces she'll have to think on.
This is exciting, this improv thing. She doesn't know which parts of the story she made up and which ones are really real. Real things are usually dull, like high school and grocery runs. And she doesn't know anyone else who Writes like she does. Or if they do, they hide it really well and have no imagination.
"Come with me," she says.
She nods to Teo. They have a hand signal system to calculate the price, and Teo makes the notes. They've only barely learned to read and write, but they're good with numbers. Most things are a dollar, but there are some more valuable parts lying around here and there. Dad believes in hiding things in plain sight.
Az veers towards the electrical tubing that Dad has tacked to the house walls at eye-height, but Zofi figures out what he's up to. "That's ours, we need it. Only take things if I say so."