The man stood at the front bedroom window of the white semi-detached house and studied the full moon. Noticing the patterns that made the face, he tried to see the order that led to the explanation of the canals. The shining white disc simply looked mottled and dirty. Both the face and the canals were fantasy but the man couldn’t remember if water had been discovered on the moon or Mars or if the canals were on either or both.
‘It’s really big,’ said the voice at his waist. The boy had joined him.
‘You should be in bed.’
The two of them stared at the moon, the man leaning against the top bar of the double glazing while the boy pushed against the window ledge and craned his neck to look up, up, up.
‘It would fit in our telly though.’
The man smiled. ‘Not once you get close. Then you’d see it’d be too big.’
‘How big? Bigger than our living room?’ The man smiled again. ‘Bigger than our house?’
‘Much bigger than our house.’
‘How far away is it?’
‘A long way.’
‘Is it hundreds of miles?’
The boy looked confused. ‘Lots of hundreds,’ said the man. ‘Lots and lots of hundreds. More hundreds than you can count.’
‘I can count to 57. Is it more hundreds than 57?’
‘Can you count to 57 a hundred times?’ The man hadn’t taken his eyes off the moon and neither had the boy.
‘I don’t know. How many 57s is that?’
‘Yes, I could do that.’ The boy nodded, the smile on his face supporting his wide eyes.
‘It’s even further than that.’
They stood together for a long moment, staring.
‘It’s flat and dirty,’ said the boy. ‘It’s like a dirty plate.’
‘I suppose it is,’ said the man.
‘How long would it take to get there?’
‘I'm not sure, about three days, I think.’
‘Three days?’ The man nodded. ‘And three days to get back?’
‘Yep,’ the man replied, and then looked at the boy. ‘How many days is that?’
The boy looked up, met the man’s eyes with his own and put on his don’t-keep-asking-me-maths-questions face. They stared at each other, one looking up, one looking down, a patient space between them.
The boy didn’t last long. ‘Six,’ he said. The man nodded. ‘I bet it would be their bed time by the time they got back,’ the boy added. The man nodded again, smiling.
‘Would you like to go to the moon?’ the boy asked.
‘I would.’ They were both staring up again.
The streetlights meant that the white glow of the moon was trapped in the sky. Beneath them the bush that bordered their garden, the front lawn, the tatty goal posts from Argos, the battered ball sinking into the grass, all of it was illuminated by the faintly yellow glow of electricity. The white light was so very far away.
‘I wouldn’t want to go,’ said the boy.
‘I wouldn’t be able to breathe.’
‘You’d get a space suit.’
The boy glanced at the man but his dad kept his gaze on the moon.
‘You might get the chance,’ said dad. ‘You could tell me about the dirty bits of the plate.’
The boy looked down.
‘There’s our ball,’ he said.