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Two Breaths Walking; A few days earlier
Topic Started: Jul 17 2016, 05:38 PM (508 Views)
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And I am still hungry.
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((Raina Rose continued from The Last Answer))

Johnny McKay was not, strictly speaking, Raina's friend. He wasn't an enemy, certainly, and it couldn't quite be said that she merely tolerated his presence either, but he wasn't a friend. He was just sort of... there. He'd been "just there" for nearly as long as Raina could remember, ever since Cameron had invited Darren McKay over to their house because the two of them were partnered for some school project and the two older boys had immediately bonded over this thing and that.

Raina could remember, with rather more clarity than she was completely comfortable with, how hard Darren had tried not to look awed at their large house, Cameron's shiny new laptop computer and game consoles. Maybe it was right then, at age six or seven as she watched Darren try to hide his wonder and envy and she and Cameron had carefully pretended not to notice it, that Raina had first had an inkling of the concept of "privilege".

She could remember too her excitement when she found out that Darren had a brother her age, and then her profound disappointment when Johnny turned out to be Johnny.

It wasn't that she disliked him, or that he'd ever been particularly unpleasant to her. It wasn't necessarily that he was just in Darren's shadow, though it would be a rather bold lie to try and say that she hadn't had a pretty serious crush on Darren at one time and there was no way Johnny could ever measure up, even if he had ever expressed that kind of interest in her. Maybe she pitied him, but she could never be quite sure what it was she pitied him for. He didn't act pitiful, not like he sometimes had when they were kids. She was frustrated by him too, by his lack of ambition and his resignation - no, his outright acceptance - to the fact that he'd never amount to anything. Maybe that was why she pitied him, really, age seventeen and already given up on anything other than washing dishes in Kingman, Arizona.

More than anything, Raina supposed she just accepted Johnny for what he was. An unfortunate fact of life, but one better acknowledged than ignored.

And even Johnny came with his own silver linings, namely the car and her parents' willful ignorance of Johnny's worse qualities, probably fueled by Cameron and Darren being attached at the hip all through school and the fact that it was always Johnny who came to Raina rather than the other way around. If she ever bothered to set foot in the trailer park to go visit the McKays, she had no doubt that all those mysteriously absent apprehensions would suddenly materialize.

Still, a silver lining was a silver lining, and this one managed to come without any actual clouds tonight. It was crystal clear out, and the sky was beginning to speckle with stars as the sun dipped down towards the horizon. Raina fiddled with her telescope, absently taking account of Venus in the distance and not quite putting effort into ignoring Johnny as he occasionally quipped at her. Really, it was more like he was just off her radar for the moment. When she ignored people, it was usually intentional and to make a point.

After she'd adjusted as much as she felt was necessary and made sure the lens was spotless, she deigned to actually look in Johnny's direction. "All ready," was the only thing of importance she had to say right now.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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She ignored Johnny's jab, as she'd been accustomed to doing for the last nine and a half of the ten or so years they'd known each other. If he'd really meant anything by it, he'd have kept going, anyway.

"Can't see much yet, but there's Venus, and Mars will be visible in just a bit. After that, Castor and Pollux will be on the horizon, and then we - well, I - can look for the constellations." She had a book, pages frayed at the edges and the spine so well-worn that it would lay open and flat without her having to hold it, that held maps of all the constellations one could see at the different times of year. Northern Hemisphere in April gave them Leo and maybe Virgo, Ursa Major and a few other, lesser-known ones. Of course there was always the Big Dipper and probably Orion, but everyone could pick those out without any help. They were boring.

The stars Arcturus and Vega would be easy enough to pick out, and Vega would lead her right to the constellation Lyra and then easily enough to Draco. Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, would be somewhere between the two stars. They'd probably be able to pick out Cygnus and Cassiopeia without the telescope. Johnny would probably get a kick out of Cygnus, a big bird all on its own, flying through the endless void of space, a dragon on one side and Pegasus on the other.

Raina preferred Pegasus, herself. More regal.

After that, she could probably hunt down Jupiter and maybe Saturn, and they could try to get a look at the Virgo nebula if she hadn't bored Johnny to tears with science talk that went way over his head by then.

She stepped back and urged Johnny towards the telescope with a nod of her head. "It should be focused on Venus right now. Have a look."
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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"Venus is 25 million miles, or 40 million kilometers, away from Earth," Raina recited automatically, almost before Johnny had finished asking. She'd had almost everything there was to know about the Solar System memorized since she was in elementary school, facts all the way from the Sun to Pluto - and Pluto was not a planet, thanks. Anyone who was still up in arms about what label should be stuck on charts next to Pluto was standing in the way of progress for no good reason (nostalgia, maybe?). "It's about ten times as far away as the Moon."

Venus was one of the cooler planets in her opinion, even if it wasn't as visually impressive as some of the gas giants. "We don't know what a lot of the surface looks like, since it's covered in clouds all over and it's always storming there. The atmospheric pressure is so high that the first robots sent to take pictures of its surface got crushed. We think it's got tectonic plates like Earth, though, and it rains or snows there - but it snows heavy metals, not frozen water."

Johnny might not particularly care about all her factoids concerning Venus, but then Raina didn't particularly care whether he cared or not in the first place. Sharing what knowledge she could with someone so determined to not absorb any was the least she could do.

"It rotates just like Earth, of course, but really slowly. It takes longer for Venus to rotate one full day than it does for Earth to revolve around the Sun." And wasn't that cool? Didn't it make you want to learn something - anything - about the universe, once you knew that something so different and alien was right next door? Raina couldn't fathom knowing what she knew and still being comfortable all confined in their little patch of desert.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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The question was unexpected enough that Raina actually took a moment to mull it over, tilting her head thoughtfully to one side. She'd thought about it before, of course. Looking at space was one thing, but actually going there was... a dream. Sometimes she wondered whether it would turn out to be a good or bad one if she actually went.

Not as an astronaut, though. Too much physical training involved there, too many little fiddly things that could go wrong and had to be solved on the fly. Literally on the fly, spinning around the Earth at 17 thousand miles per hour if you were in low orbit.

But in the future, when space travel was a thing? When you could just go up in a vehicle, maybe one she'd helped build... that was a good dream. A real good one. And unlike a lot of dreams people her age had, it just might be achievable.

"I hope so," she said finally. Maybe Johnny would make fun of her for that, for having the audacity to hope for the future. Maybe he'd be jealous. "What about you?"
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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There it was, then. Tacit admission of what Raina had already known for some time: Johnny had given up.

Raina was surprised at herself, actually, for the sudden and violent disgust that welled up in her in response to Johnny's words. For all her talk about how this thing or that appalled her, the truth of the matter was that true disgust was something she rarely felt. Her usual reaction to whatever had raised her ire could best be summed up as a sense of frustrated duty, but if she really thought back on it, she'd have to admit that she hadn't felt that way towards Johnny in a long time.

Maybe the truth was that she'd given up too, where he was concerned.

She didn't say anything for a while, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from bursting out with confused, angry words that she'd surely regret later. Instead, she moved back to the telescope to adjust it, leaning forward to look into the eyepiece while she adjusted the focus once more.

When she stepped back, she jerked her head at the telescope, indicating that Johnny should have another look. Once he did, she finally spoke, quietly.

"That's Mars. It's farther away from us than Venus, but it's the most similar planet to Earth in the Solar System. Maybe the universe. We've explored it the most out of any celestial body other than our moon; we know what pretty much the whole thing looks like." She crossed her arms and glanced up again, at the little bright point in the sky that she'd directed the telescope at. She could see it in her mind's eye as well as she could with any telescope, a little brownish-red disc hung against the void of space.

"If it was a little closer to the Sun and had a little more atmosphere, it would be almost exactly like Earth. But since it's the way it is, life can't develop there. All we can do is send robots to look around and maybe in the future we'll have the technology to terraform it and put a colony there or something."

Raina crossed her arms tighter, almost hugging herself. She didn't know why she felt so upset and angry all of a sudden, or why her explanation suddenly seemed like some ironic metaphor. Her voice was steady enough, at least, and the Sun had slid below the horizon now so her expression probably wasn't readable. She doubted Johnny would notice anything was off.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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"I don't pity you." A bit more than a little white lie, in this case.

Raina hugged herself tighter, digging her nails into her arm and steadfastly refusing to look at Johnny. Her throat felt tight and she didn't know why. What did she have to be upset about? It wasn't like Johnny was wrong about ninety-nine percent of what he'd just said. He bought into it, at least, and so did most everyone who knew him.

"It doesn't matter what I think of you, you know. All that- all of that shit you just said? I've never said that to you." Raina gritted her teeth, willed her voice to remain steady. "You wanna get all defensive and pissed off because someone thinks you're worthless? Have a look in the fucking mirror, Johnny."

So what if she had started thinking that right along with him? She'd never outright said it, and that was as good as those feelings not existing at all. Principles only mattered if you made a stand for them.

She should have left it there, let her point stand and the two of them roll on home in angry silence, but the floodgates had been opened now. "You can do all that, you know. Go see Darren in Texas and help out with whatever he's doing, apply to college, abandon society altogether and go live in a fucking hut in the woods and just stare at birds all day. You can do whatever the hell you want, but you don't want to. You're seventeen years old! You'll probably live for another sixty years at least if you don't get hooked on meth or whatever they pass around down in the trailer park, and you already don't care about anything!"

Raina's breath hitched and she had to stop, biting the inside of her cheek. She was not going to cry. She was already wasting her breath, she was not going to waste her tears on Johnny Ray McKay too.

"Maybe- maybe I'm just pissed because I wanted to believe in you. Maybe I still want to think you can make it."
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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"God, just..." Raina wiped her eyes, secure enough in the knowledge that they'd both act like he hadn't seen. "I don't know. I'm not saying you have to go off and try to get into an Ivy League or be the next Bill Gates or something, you know that. But you've got to live, okay? There's no point in just existing."

There were people who would, she knew. Sometimes she used that thought as a sort of spiteful comfort whenever someone really ticked her off, told herself how someday they'd wake up and be middle-aged and still just drifting along in Kingman with a mediocre job and a mediocre family and they'd realize how pointless it had all been and how she was a shooting star they'd never reach, no matter how much they resented her then or now. That would be their karma.

But that was for people who deserved that karma, not people she knew and sort-of cared about. Not for people whose brother she'd had a crush on, or who she drove out to the desert to look at the stars with, or who she casually lied to her parents to about whether or not they'd ever touched weed when another kid from the trailer park got their name in the police report section of the local paper.

Raina didn't say anything else until she was certain her voice would be steady and clear once again. "You really should give Mars a look, it's easy to see this time of year. One of its moons might be passing in front of it and you could see that, too." She picked at a loose thread from her sleeve. "You know, Jonathan Swift predicted that Mars would have two moons when he wrote Gulliver's Travels. He also thought it was ruled by mad scientists, so I guess it's not that impressive, but still."
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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If anything, Raina supposed she was surprised that Johnny's mom knew who Jonathan Swift was.

It was a simple, silly thing, and suddenly she felt weirdly like she wanted to laugh. With one pointless comment, Johnny almost righted things again.

"Science fiction writers are always predicting the future, whether they mean to or not. Things like flying machines, and space travel, and being able to instantly communicate with people all over the world... We've done all that. Things they only dreamed of."

Things like a world where everyone was equal, and everyone had a chance. They were getting there, weren't they?

She watched as Johnny stepped forward to look through the telescope and let the quiet resume for a minute or two. Finally, she said, "When you've had your fill of Mars, I can find Jupiter and then give Saturn a try."
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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Personally, Raina thought that Jonathan Swift would shit himself anyway if he had the vaguest inkling of what kind of things people in the future got up to, good or bad. Johnny already had that going for him, if nothing else.

She kept quiet and let him pretend to be really impressed by Mars for her sake, and then nudged him out of the way again to adjust the telescope towards Jupiter. Her battered old telescope wasn't powerful enough to get a really good view and display all the individual bands of clouds and storms, but if they were lucky she might be able to get a view of the famous (if unimaginatively named) Great Red Spot. It was a clear night, so they could probably pick up the Galilean moons too.

"There you go," she said, double checking to make sure she could see it clearly enough before stepping back. "Biggest planet in the Solar System, first of the gas giants, over one thousand times the volume of Earth. Only about 300 times as massive though, since it's all made of gas."
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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"Since it's clear, we can probably pick up Saturn... I don't think anything after that will show, though." And no, she wasn't just making that up because she knew Johnny would snicker if she started talking about trying to find Uranus.

Saturn was generally agreed to be the most impressive planet in the Solar System anyhow, looks-wise. Too bad it'd just be a greenish-gray blob with its rings reduced to jutting points on either side by her telescope.

If she were feeling particularly pretentious, Raina would have made the argument that Earth was by far the most impressive known planet, considering that it was the only one that housed creatures with the capacity to argue about which planet was most impressive in the first place.

There were so many things on Earth that she still wanted to see, to do. She almost couldn't comprehend flying off to somewhere else, as mind-blowing as it would be.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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((Raina Rose continued in At the End of Everything))
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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