Sex in space can be a lonely business, as astronaut Don Kovacks discovers in Scottish writer A. L. Kennedy’s latest short short collection. Sometimes a man just has to take matters into his own hands. In this extract from the book Original Bliss, Kovacks bids his astro-sidekick Alain goodnight, before launching into another world . . .

ALAIN SEEMED READY to swim back to bed. but Kovacks caught him gently before he could.

'You‘re not going now. You can’t sleep if I’m suffering from doubt it‘s my combat training. you‘ve upset my chain of command.’

‘Likc you ever had one.‘

‘Okay. they don’t command me. but when they tell me things I try to agree. I’m a good boy so they'll send me up here, where I learn what they’ll never know. Nobody knows the world like we do and nobody loves it like we can. Only we can see it small enough to love it properly: whole.

‘Then we have to come down and it doesn’t matter where we’re going home to, it's always hard to be back. Max can smell it off me: how I need to be someplace else. He gets glad when I first pick him up and hold him. but then he cries.‘

‘You‘re terrilic with him.‘

‘l'm lousy.’

‘No. you think you‘re lousy. so you’re good.‘

‘I wish that was dumb enough to be true. Alain‘.”

‘Mm hm.‘

‘They fool everyone to get us out here. But then we fool them. We never come home the way they made us. we’re never the same.’

Alain looked happy. way down in his eyes. ‘And that is absolutely dumb enough to be true. I‘m going to get some sleep.‘

‘Yeah. Better keep to the schedule.‘

‘The way that good boys ought to do.’

Kovacks watched Alain’s face and felt how great they were together and hoped they were going to be friends for a long time after the



mission he would need to bring something back with him from the way he‘d been in flight. In addition. a man with a combat training could occasionally have the desire to be comradely.

‘Go on and get out, before people talk. You know how gossip wounds mc.‘

Alain cast off backwards quite neatly and allowed himself to recede.

Here, where he was safe in motion and light, only a stroke or two of bad-boy thinking, brought him up half alive.

‘What do you need to be so private for you going to whack off in there. or what‘."

‘l’ll give it some thought.’

‘You‘re crazy.’ Alain smiled. ‘Good night. Kovacks. Take care.‘

‘l‘ll give it some thought.‘

Lying back inside his eyeshade and with his tether satisfactorily in place. Kovacks gave it some and then more than some thought. Turning an endless corner up over the spin of the world. be carefully pictured Holly in exactly the right kind

Rocket to the stars: torn w, attain, flanks approachlng lltt-ott to Apollo 13

of jeans. He let his mind‘s eye cruise her. line- dancing in Houston. the way a properly socialising NASA wife should do. She loved that stuff: stepping and bending into those slightly uneasy poses that would let him watch every angle of her. tensed. Other guys would look at her. too. when inertia slapped a move on through her tits. or she offered up a hip buck. an ass roll. a seam snug on the line to the warm and the wet of her. He saw them. seeing her. Then she’d walk off the floor with a high-voltage smile and leave the room hard. She knew how to show folks a good time.

He span his thought of her slowly: lifting it. parting it. making it show him enough. Kovacks only ever wanted enough. Naturally, this was a changeable amount. although the variables upon which it depended were not unpredictable. Here. where he was safe in motion and light. only a stroke or two of bad-boy thinking, brought him up half alive.

But when he braced himself steady and let his hand in for a touch at the anxious gristle. the usual bully and coax, it wasn’t right. The sweat and acid taste of Holly began to grit through his teeth and he remembered the balance of her lingers fixing him down. He wouldn‘t be able to manage. if she came any closer than this.

Drifting onto his side. Kovacks stared at the dark of the eyeshade and tried to concentrate. He recalled the magical haul in his blood from lift- off to escape. l-le repeated the figures that made the velocity to guarantee escape. He summoned up the pale and rosy lightening fields that bloomed above Africa and he oversaw slow deltas of poison, smoking and snaking into oceans built with marble from the mansions of God. Kovacks imagined his body, caught in the heat of a climb and flowering into force and released dimensions and unutterable flight.

Kovacks was a good and attentive friend to himself. He did what he wanted in exactly the place he‘d always wanted to and in contravention of so many rules: it was enough to make a grown man come.

Kovacks brushed off his eyeshade and watched himself stream forward into the lack of gravity. He was like blood into water. or strange milk; unfurling and then pooling in perfectly spherical drops, just as the laws of physics said he must.

As his own constellation of personal liquid progressed, Kovacks untethered and matched its pace, watching it merge and separate. Finally, he patted it into a unified halt and then tenderly drank his evidence. '

Made Over, Made Out is from Original Bliss by A. L. Kennedy, published by Jonathan Cape at £14.99.

The List 7-20 Feb l99715