Welcome to the Satellite
by Lisa Lanser-Rose
The next morning, John woke on this planet. He said, “Richard came by.” My uncle Richard had died of lung cancer years before. “He wants me to take his medicine for him.”
“I’ll fetch it for you,” my mother said.
Delaney video-phoned me through Skype. “Idiopathic vestibular disorder!” She had searched the Internet for Casey’s symptoms and made her diagnosis. “It’s a bout of dizziness that comes on suddenly and then clears up fast. It’s this harmless thing that happens to old dogs.”
“You’re talking about vertigo, which, I’ll have you know, your aunt Laura and I get–did you just call us ‘old bitches?’”
“Yes. Yes, I did. Casey’s already better. I mean, she’s so off-balance she can hardly walk, but she insists on following me around. She stood at her bowl to eat her dinner. She goes out to pee. She climbs the stairs.”
“She’s my hero,” I said, which was what I always said about Casey.
“When I grow up,” Delaney said, “I want to be just like Casey.”
To peer at me in her laptop screen, Delaney leaned forward and down, like a person looking into a shoebox diorama. I felt like a tiny toy, a Llego person.
“You want to see her?” Delaney made some rustling sounds, and I seemed to float and whirl, weightless. I teetered around the coffee table, then settled on the carpet, below Casey’s eye level. Casey’s nose examined the keyboard in front of me and found something edible. Her tongue licked twice, then her face turned aside. Her eyes canted right, right, right.
From somewhere high above me Delaney’s voice said, “She’s better, don’t you think?”
“Yeah.” I guessed so. Her head wasn’t tilting. The movement of the eyes might have slowed. I peered at the grainy ghost of my dog on the screen. It seemed marvelous that I could see and hear her in real time, but it was terrifying that couldn’t reach over and thump her shoulder. Was this how it was on the International Space Station? I might as well have left the planet altogether. My mother and I had rocketed off with John to his satellite way station. Life on Earth went on without us. Soon, his spaceship would dock. It would carry him away, and my mother and I would parachute back to Earth.
“Casey,” I said, and she glanced toward the screen, then away with narrowed eyes. Dogs like her don’t fall for figments.
My view soared upward, Casey’s face dropped away, and my throat clenched. Some part of me protested, probably the part that, when I was a baby, howled when something I loved disappeared.
“Rick and I are taking her to the vet in an hour, but she’ll be better. Vestibular disorder doesn’t last long.” Delaney gazed into my shoebox diorama, filling my screen with her round face, button nose, and doe eyes. The corners of her mouth twitched; she was trying not to gloat. “In the words of Dr. Gregory House, it’s ‘idiopathic,’ Latin for ‘we’re idiots for not figuring it out.’” She laughed, and I envied her sharp memory and wit. “Later today you’ll pay the vet to tell you what I just told you. If she says anything more, it’s just so you feel you got your money’s worth.”
“It’s always worth a hundred bucks to hear you say you told me so.”
“I’m value-added,” she quipped, having picked up the jargon-of-the-week from my job in the public school system. Her eyes were fixed on a corner of the screen, where she could see a small, inset box of herself as I saw her. She was enjoying the view, as well she should.
“You’re in a good mood,” I said.
“Casey’s okay. I’m sure of it.”
I was sure of it too. In fact, I was sure I’d known all along that nothing serious was wrong with Casey. I congratulated myself for not running up flight-change penalties and throwing everyone into a tizzy.
Delaney’s brow knit. She said, “How’s . . .” and swallowed.
“He says he’s going to another planet soon.” I nodded. “He talks about circles. There’s a circle he has to complete. He tries to explain but it doesn’t make any sense, and he gets frustrated. He just knows that when he completes the circle, he can go to his new planet.”
“Oh! You’ll like this, when he’s asleep, his mother comes to him. He says their old cats come for him, too, Amber, Crystal, and Karma.”
She tucked a lock of her looping dark curls behind her ear and admired the effect. I remembered doing the same at her age. She said, “Wow.”
Suddenly my words tumbled, “He introduced me to the hospice nurse as his daughter. Not his stepdaughter. He told her that everything was fine now that his beautiful daughter was here.” I let myself cry.
Delaney’s gaze turned to the image of me on her screen. “Oh, Mom!”
Dry-eyed, my mother came over and squeezed my shoulder. She leaned forward to peer into the screen, and the image of her dainty face joined mine in the tiny Skype box. “He talked to my brother,” she said. I could tell by her tone of voice she knew it was cool that we were living in a satellite way station between the living and the dead. “John has to take his medicine for him. He also has to take Ted Kennedy’s.” Ted Kennedy was dying of brain cancer.
Through the laptops we three looked straight at each other, but because the lentil-sized camera lens is situated in the top of the laptop screen, we only saw each other looking down. With Skype, it’s impossible to look into each other’s eyes. I wished we could implant the little lentil cameras in them.
Later that day, I paid a good deal of money to the vet, who told me Casey had had an innocuous attack of idiopathic vestibular disorder. In just a couple of weeks, Casey and I would be together again.