Shape the Future with a Sharpie
By Bo Balder
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."
Az nods and lopes off again. He walks with a wallowing gait, like a leaky barge. From Dad's Navy stories, she knows what it must be. Not sea legs but space legs. Here, alone with Az under the hot sun, Zofi suddenly realizes the opportunity that this moment presents. There's a man on the property, and Dad's far away. At least she thinks Az is a human man beneath the faceplate.
Does she dare act on that impulse? Her pen hovers over the notebook. She could pull him into the doll shed and kiss him. If she Wrote down that it was nice it would be nice. But she doesn't have the experience to imagine the kiss fully. It's in the things she doesn't know, in the subtext, that stuff happens she has no control over. She's afraid of it.
For example, no amount of writing "My father is a teetotaler" has stopped Dad from drinking. She has little notes in her scrap book saying a thousand variations of "Daddy don’t drink" to "My father's alcoholism goes away" and none of them has worked yet. This happens when she doesn't fully understand things. She's learning every day, and one day she will be ready for more complex narratives. Kissing and sex might be stuff like drinking. 
But then again, like the astronaut arriving, things she hasn't plotted ahead might be fun too.
She hauls Az into the doll shed and in pushes him against the wall. "Take off your helmet. And your gloves."
Az obeys. The gloves show smooth-skinned hands with scarred fingertips. The young-looking hands take off the helmet. Freed from the smoky glass he has a cute, wide-eyed face under curly hair, only brown, not red like hers.
Zofi kisses him. It's everything that's she's dreamed of and more, sweet and smoky salt at the same time. It wakes a thing that sleeps inside her, that has been itching her for a couple of years now. Az's hands wander over her coverall, find the zipper and disappear inside. 
And then suddenly she freezes, and he freezes, and the moment is over. But why? Zofi wanted the encounter to go on.
Teo comes in at that moment, notebook in hand. "Zee?" they ask.
"Good, we can start," Zofi says and pushes Az away. He stumbles as she zips up the coverall. It still weird how the moment stuttered and stopped. "How many doll's legs do you need for the tubes?"
AZ thinks twelve, his eyes still glazed. Teo chalks it up for three dollars and makes it fourteen doll's legs, just to be sure.
Zofi catches a glimpse of Teo's notebook. "They dont kis" it reads above the calculation.
Teo? Teo is a Writer just like her? Zofi's mouths falls open as she realizes the source of the spaceship and the astronaut. That's Teo's plot coming to life, not hers. She'd never imagine astronauts and spaceships. So that means she's not the hero in this story, she's her little sibling's sidekick.
That changes everything. How can she best help Teo? If she asks them something directly, she will never get the answer. She will have to guess at their purpose.
It won't be hard to fix the broken parts of the astronaut's engine. How it works, is still a mystery, but her writing will fix that. It will fly again. But it doesn't look like there's room for Teo. They didn't manage to imagine a spaceship for two.
Zofi eyes the back of Az' head, bent over the engine as he wrestles with a balky screw. One tap of the wrench and she could take the spaceship away from him so Teo can take over. But if Teo wanted an empty spaceship, they would have made an empty one arrive.
And then Zofi gets it. She's in a junkyard full of cars and motorcycle parts. She pens it down feverishly. "The Astronaut found a sidecar and fixed it to his spaceship. He invited Teo along."
Zofi shows this to Teo for approval. Teo's face turns red with happiness and they hug her hard.
Zofi finishes the sentence. The astronaut, rummaging through a heap of car parts, gives a loud shout. "Hey! I found a sidecar! I've always wanted a traveling companion!"
It's a matter of a few sentences to get the engine working again. The exhaust blows through the doll's legs Az has linked, like pink sausages, and the engine burbles convincingly.
Teo comes out of the house with her rucksack and Zofi's spare notebooks. Fair enough. Zofi will Write in that she finds another stack in the next skip Dad brings in.
Zofi waves Az and Teo off. Az wiggles the turquoise cigar in goodbye. He even writes her name in lilac exhaust across the sky before he disappears out of sight, but Zofi's vision is obscured by tears. She wrote Teo into existence a long time ago, for company, but she never realized they wanted to be off on their own adventure. She will miss them so much. 
But it's for the best. Growing up with their Dad is no good for anyone. Zofi doesn't know why she has stuck around, or maybe the reason was Teo. When she's figured it out, she'll be ready to Write her escape.
She whips open a new page in the notebook. What should she write? "Zofi had always been an only child?"
No. She doesn't want to forget Teo. 
She writes: "Only Zofi remembered Teo, her beloved sibling."
DreamForge Anvil © 2021 DreamForge Press
Shaping the Future with a Sharpie © 2021 Bo Balder