by Timothy Reilly
I was born in the exact middle of the twentieth century. By age five, I had memorized my home phone number and street address, could count to fifty, read two-digit numbers, and print my first name at the top of my kindergarten worksheets. That same year (with the help of my older brother) I applied for enrollment in Tom Corbett’s Space Academy. The tuition required me to mail in a quarter taped to a box-top of Kraft Caramels. We had a box-top left over from making candied apples for spring. Mom supplied the quarter and a three-cent postage stamp. My brother (who was already a Space Cadet) enclosed the necessary items and addressed the envelope.
The packet I received contained a Space Academy Certificate (signed by Tom Corbett), an official stainless-steel Space Academy ring, and a sanforized twill Space Academy shoulder patch. My brother read the certificate and told me I was now enrolled in the Tom Corbett Unit of the Space Academy and was entitled to all the rights and privileges of a Space Cadet. He said it was signed in the year 2355 A.D.
I looked at the certificate and focused on the date. I knew my birth year was one-nine-five-zero. I knew the current year was one-nine-five-five.
‘What does A.D. mean?’ I asked my brother.
‘After death,’ he said.
‘That’s the year. It’s in the future.’ He counted by hundreds on his fingers. ‘Four-hundred years in the future.’
I let my brother’s answers stand unchallenged. The suspension of disbelief was for me a natural faculty. The Tom Corbett Space Cadet episodes worked like the stories Mom had read to me about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table: they were true.
With our right hands raised, my brother and I recited the official pledge, which called on us to dedicate our lives to “defend the liberty of the planets” and “the cause of peace throughout the universe.”
Two months later Tom Corbett Space Cadet ceased to be televised. My older brother took it hard. He became cynical and depressed. For a time, he refused to watch Saturday morning television. I was more hopeful. I likened the disappearance of Tom Corbett to King Arthur sleeping in a cave. Tom Corbett would return some day.
That summer I often wore my tee-shirt with the Space Academy shoulder patch sewn on. (I lost the official Academy ring within a few days after receiving it.) My brother would sometimes join me in exploring the landscapes of the strange planets discovered in a vacant lot near our house—but his heart wasn’t in it.
One day I spotted a large, wingless aircraft drifting overhead. It was like a vision of the Holy Grail.
‘Look,’ I said to my brother, ‘Tom Corbett’s spaceship!’
‘That’s just a blimp,’ my brother said ‘There’s no such thing as a spaceship.’
‘There used to be.’
Timothy Reilly had been a professional tubist (including a stint with the Teatro Regio of Torino, Italy) until around 1980, when a condition called “Embouchure Dystonia” put an end to his music career. He has published widely, including works in Zone 3, Fictive Dream, and Superstition Review. He has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Timothy Reilly lives in Southern California with his wife, Jo-Anne Cappeluti: a poet and scholar.