Roxane Gay

Mechanical heavenly bodies began falling. We panicked. We realized there was nowhere to hide. We stared up at the sky, waiting for a tear in the clouds, some kind of breach, wondering what would happen to us if we, or our homes, were the X that marks the spot. On the news, handsome scientists said this sort of calamity was inevitable. They said, “What goes up, must come down,” only they used complicated words most of us did not understand. When we dared to leave our homes, we would see houses split wide open, all a family’s intimacies splayed about—ceramic figurines, fishing gear, holiday sweaters, unused small kitchen appliances, clay ashtrays, unwashed clothing, worn recliners—a fallen satellite in the middle of it all, dull gray steel, bent and broken, thin plumes of smoke rising back into the sky. Sometimes, we saw bodies—or the suggestion of bodies—an arm at an awkward angle, a shoe and then a slender leg, a head, turned to the left, eyes wide open. Parents would cover their children’s eyes as they walked briskly past the bodies, the broken homes, the rubble of strip malls and office parks. They didn’t want their children to see. They didn’t want their children to know how little any of us understood about these bodies from above. When the handsome scientists weren’t on the news, they were in underground laboratories where they were safe, where they hid their own families. They tried to figure out ways to save what was left of us—glass domes that shattered when satellites fell, elastic nets we erected over our homes that could never sustain the weight of all that machinery. They came up with one idea after the next, each one failing more spectacularly. Children were born who would never know of a world where nothing fell from the sky. Sometimes, parents held a hand over a baby’s nose and mouth, waited as the tiny body shuddered and went limp. The weather reports changed as meteorologists tried to study the orbits of all the satellites above us, tried to anticipate where and what and who might be ruined next. Then the weather reports stopped. There was no more radio, no more television, those satellites having abandoned their posts. We became quiet. We became still. There was so little to do, so little to say. Some of us began to dig, began to hope there was safety in the deep. If we resigned ourselves, we learned how to hear these falling bodies, a hollow sound of all the air around us disappearing and then a loud roar and then a gentle sigh. When we heard that series of sounds, we would run until our chests burned, until our muscles threatened to unravel. If we were too late, if all we heard was that gentle sigh, we would look up and we would wait.