He wanted to hold Mars. He wanted to dig his chubby, little fingers in its dirt and stick his nose in it. He dreamed about the Milky Way and used to say maybe it wasn’t at all that far away.
Jimmy and me, we lived next door to each other and down the street from this junkyard we could see from our bedroom windows. Jimmy said if you squinted real hard, some of the cars piled on top of each other looked like broken rocket ships. He wanted to build a ship. He wanted to fly away and become a spaceman. I said he was crazy.
Jimmy’s dad left them in the middle of the night one summer. No one knew where he went and my ma said it wasn’t polite to talk about it—especially not to Jimmy’s mom. After his dad left, Jimmy’s place was always full of strange men Jimmy didn’t know, so the two of us always snuck out at night to go to the yard. He was always the spaceman and I was always the Martian that got blasted.
We ran around rows and rows of cars, old refrigerators, and other pieces of peoples’ lives they didn’t want to remember no more. Sometimes the place scared me on account if you were real quiet and looked just right, the rows of cars looked just like rows of headstones. But I guess the place was kind of like a graveyard, anyway. People bury bits of themselves in junkyards all the time, if you think about it.
Jimmy thought the yard was the perfect spot to build a spaceship. We started it one night after the world went to sleep. We built it out of bits of plastic from an old coffee machine; from pieces of metal from an office cabinet; from old dirty pieces of scrap held together with rope and nails we stole from my dad’s tool shed. We hid it behind an old Chevy, by this broke-down part of the fence. It took us ten nights to build, but we did it. Jimmy’s eyes glowed when it was finished.
He said it was magical. He said NASA would be jealous of a couple kids who made a spaceship. His dad would be proud, too, he said.
But there was only room for one astronaut in our ship. Jimmy was going to go first and scout-out Mars. Then he’d come back and I’d go. I didn’t mind. I didn’t really believe it would work anyway. I thought he was crazy, y’know?
“I’m gonna go to Mars, Mick,” he said, looking at the stars. “I’m gonna see Space, okay?” He looked so happy.
It was one of those chilly August nights when he decided to go. Jimmy said it was perfect weather for space travel. I helped him pack his bag with a change of clothes and some chips and soda for the trip. He wanted to take his hamster Roger, but I said hamsters don’t have nothing to do on Mars.
He wore a red jacket to the yard and smiled at the overcast sky. He stuck a finger in his mouth and then held it in the air before he gave me a nod.
“It’s all set,” he said.
I don’t know what he meant, but I was ready to do my job and push the button on the crane machine. Jimmy said the only way to make him go into Space was to give him a hyperboost. The crane was supposed to spin him around real fast and rocket him into the universe.
So we pushed our spaceship to the crane and hooked the heavy metal clip to the rope holding the ship together. It was hard, but Jimmy was real determined.
“Bye, Mick. I’ll take pictures, okay?” He held up the camera around his neck and smiled.
He shut the door and I waved. He looked so happy.
I’m pretty sure he got to Space. I dunno for sure, but I think it worked. Just like he said. I pushed the button and the crane spun his ship around so fast that after a few seconds, he went soaring into the night.
My ma was awful mad I was playing in the junkyard. Jimmy’s mom was real upset, too.
A couple days later, they found Jimmy’s ship. It was mangled up in some far-off corner of the yard. I wanted to know if he left the chips behind, but my ma wouldn’t tell me. She just said Jimmy was gone. But Jimmy said it’d probably happen that way. He said he might not come back once he got to Mars. He said he might just send the ship back on autopilot, but it would crash on account it’s hard to tell it how to land. Machines are tricky like that.
I dunno. I just miss Jimmy. It’s not really the same down here nowadays. Jimmy’s mom moved away and I can’t play in the junkyard anymore. I hope he’s having fun on Mars, though. I kind of wish I could’ve gone, too.