by Pat Foran
Before cueing up the last record she’ll spin in Clear Lake City, Texas, Linda sips from a space center mug filled with Strawberry Starfruit Kool-Aid.
Linda’s leaving her gig as KMSC-FM’s overnight DJ to work at a radio station near Halfmoon Lake, Montana.
KMSC broadcasts from a studio above Luna’s Department Store and across the street from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Manned Spacecraft Center.
The space center mug is a going-away gift from Linda’s boss.
Linda nudges the studio mic with her chin, angling it so it touches her right cheek.
Space Music from Space Land on K-M-S-C, One-Oh-Two-Point-One F-M. This is Jazz with Linda. I’m Linda.
She puts the needle on the record. “Race for Space” by the Curtis Counce Quintet. The music skitters, it staggers, it goes bump bump bump in the last traces of night before the Texas sun rises.
Linda scans the headlines she’ll share one last time with Clear Lake City listeners. Heavy fighting inside the DMZ. Humphrey calls Republican party “Nixie-crats.” Sinatra-Farrow divorce final.
Through the studio window, Linda sees light coming from the first floor of the Manned Spacecraft Center. She follows the light and sees a slumping man, face down at a desk. A nameplate teetering on a green shade lamp. Loose leaf flapping in the ceiling fan breeze.
A Southern Pacific train whistles in the distance; a dog barks in reply. The five-thirty moon feigns the Cha-Cha-Chá as The Curtis Counce record fades to crackles. Linda sounds out her name in a moonlit whisper and takes a slug from the mug before reading the headlines.
From the authoritative voice of Space Land, this is KMSC Capsule News. I’m Linda.
At sunrise, the Clear Lake City air is heavy heavy wet. Linda boards the crosstown bus, carrying a box filled with personal effects: a framed photo of a pig-tailed girl in a red print dress shading her eyes as she squints into the sun; a pilled red cardigan; the space center mug. The setting moon is Technicolor orange.
From her window seat, she sees a boy unfolding a card table at a street corner. Space Lemonade 5 cents, a sign says. The boy waves as the bus rolls by. Linda nods, even if the wave isn’t intended for her and especially if the boy can’t see her. I’m Linda.
The rickety bus is a space-race rocket with a rhythm all its own. In the adjacent seat, Linda’s box jukes and jives in 5/4 time.
Linda never says never, but she’s pretty sure she’ll never take this bus or travel this road or see this sky or hear this Space Land music again.
Gonna be another hot, sticky, wet one, a murky one, a man two seats in front of Linda says. His NASA baseball cap’s on backwards. Oughta bottle all this murkiness and sell it, he says.
Linda nods. From her window seat, she sees the glow from the speck that is the sun rising over the Gulf of Mexico. Suspended above the glowing speck is the moon, a cradle rocking itself to sleep. She begins to drift off. As she drifts, she thinks about the slumping man. A dishrag moon. Space Lemonade. Montana’s big sky and oh how much music a sky like that could hold.
Linda sets the box on the formica counter in her apartment. Astro, her Great Dane, waits patiently to be petted. Linda leans in and gently scratches under his Astroturf collar. He licks her hand, slowly, then picks up the pace.
Ok, Astro, Linda says.
The bus that’ll get her close to Halfmoon Lake leaves in an hour. Linda turns on her transistor radio. The KMSC DJ, the one who’ll replace her on the overnight shift, is on the air. He’s playing the same skittering record Linda played, the last record Linda played, an hour ago.
Linda lifts the space center mug from the box and turns on the tap. She looks into Astro’s ever-penitent eyes and scrunches into her best cartoon face.
Ruh-roh, Rastro — wonder what the Manned Spacecraft Centers are like in the Space Land that is Montana, she says.
Astro cocks his head. Unsure, he lifts his paw. Linda shakes it.
Nice to meet you, she says. I’m Linda.
Linda turns off the radio. She sips from the mug and pours what’s left into the sink. She squints a little as the sun, experimenting with lunar rhythms, peeks through the kitchen curtains.
Note: The story was inspired by a YouTube clip of a 1968 radio aircheck of a DJ named Linda who worked at U.S. radio station KMSC-FM in Clear Lake City, Texas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=289LwEdK44M According to the clip, the station was located on top of a department store and opposite the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Manned Spacecraft Center. The two snippets of on-air dialogue used in the story’s first segment and the news headlines referenced either were direct lifts from the aircheck or close to it. The rest of the story is made up.
Pat Foran is a writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. His work has appeared in Milk Candy Review, Little Fiction, Anti-Heroin Chic, WhiskeyPaper and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter at @pdforan.