This excerpt was written by Eliana Ramage in A. E. Osworth’s 12-Month Novel Generator.
Along the way there is love, with the brilliant and complicated Della; estrangement, from Indigenous activist and cool-girl younger sister Kayla; and the profound, heartbreaking question of what it means to confront your past, your nation, and your family. Told across a lifetime full of ambition and longing, this novel examines what Steph is willing to sacrifice for the stars, and who she becomes when she decides. If Steph stops running, can she face who and what she has left behind?
I used to get this feeling sometimes, where everything would stop, and it would be like I was flying above myself, watching myself, remembering the moment I was in but from years ahead. It happened in moments where I believed most that maybe my life would someday be the shape I wanted it to be, like maybe I was doing things right. I felt that so many nights in the fall of my fifteenth year, my sister snoring softly in the bunk below me. Me sitting up, shivering and wrapped in blankets, ordered piles of printed papers spread around me. Flashlight light waving over PSAT scores and essays and financial aid pages filled with numbers from pay stubs I slipped from our mother’s purse. Whenever I started to think about how Exeter might not let me in, I’d switch off the flashlight and lean back and look up at the glow-in-the-dark stars our mother’s boyfriend had stuck to the ceiling.
I’d enclosed a letter for the Exeter people. I told them I was on track to become an astronaut, little shit that I was, which at fifteen meant I’d done very well in high school science and had begged my mother to send for a Space Camp application. Instead she called Huntsville on her lunch break and heard camp cost $1,000 and said thank you and hung up. She spent the next four weeks changing the subject when I tried to bring it up, and then in March she sat down me and Kayla and said she had a surprise. Brett was in Gore visiting his parents for the weekend, and she said she wanted to tell us herself.
Mom said there wasn’t money for Space Camp and it wasn’t happening. Kayla said, “Got it. Okay, can I please be excused,” because she’d been calling it nerd camp since Thanksgiving.
“No, you listen,” Mom said, “Both of you. You’re not going to the Space Camp, but you are going to a Space Camp!”
“Oh no,” said Kayla.
“Huh?” I said.
“I’m running it!” said Mom.
“Oh no,” said Kayla.
“Watch it, Kayla,” said Mom. She said “Kayla” but she looked at me, her hands gripping the couch cushions under her, eyes bright, daring me not to be thrilled. I watched the clock above the couch, unwove the woven baskets on the bookshelf with my eyes.
Mom explained that she and Brett had spent the last month staying up after me and Kayla had gone to sleep, typing a grant proposal on the computer they’d bought together on Black Friday.
“I even had coffee with an astronomy professor at Northeastern,” she said, having waited days to tell someone that.
Kayla cut her off. “You’re gonna make Culture Camp all spacey, aren’t you.”
Mom paused. Looked down at her hands, raw and rough but sweet-smelling from the bread factory. I used to press her palms to my face, used to breathe in the strange mix of rising dough and sharp-smelling machinery.
“It’s gonna be great,” she said.
Kayla squished her toes into the brown shag carpet and glanced over at me, waiting for me to react. Her toenails were an ugly metallic purple, painted with a special polish that was supposed to announce her mood. I’d stood over her at the mall and warned her it was a scam, just a way to make money off teen girls too dumb to know such a thing was pseudo-science at best. Her friend Brittany had looked at her eyebrow-up like jeez girl you let her talk to you like that, and that was the last time I’d been invited to the mall.
Mom said, “Girls, please. I need your support on this.”
We didn’t say anything. Kayla stared up at the ceiling like she didn’t care; this was my thing and she was above it. I smelled the new smell of her, which was also the smell of Brittany, which was a coconut lime body wash from Victoria’s Secret. She said it was in the back of the store and I knew that meant she was brave or pretended to be, that she walked unashamedly through the thongs and straps and lace and netting that fascinated and terrified me. It made sense, them not wanting me at the mall.
I said maybe we should try again for Space Camp next year. I could save up. Back then I had a shaky understanding of how much a thousand dollars was.
Mom looked like I’d hit her. She was quiet and careful, opening her mouth and then closing it and then looking into me like is this really who you are. Mom said, “This was the best that I could do.”
So we knew it was over. That all that was left was to pretend. We nodded and said great, thank you, can’t wait. We did the dishes, me washing them at the sink and Kayla drying them to my left. She played the Top 40 countdown on the radio and within minutes she was singing along, free of the disappointment I would feel that early spring evening through to summer.
Nothing stuck to Kayla. The way she’d flit through the hallways at school—from class to class, friend to friend—it was incredible to me, and alien. She didn’t appear to suffer from the same yearning that I’d felt all my life, not for anything but what was within reach. This was wrong, but there was so much I couldn’t see back then. I’d tell myself it was better to be the way I was, to climb through life with a purpose in mind, a light to reach for through the darkness. But at fifteen years old, in the muggy warmth of the kitchen with soapy hands raw and red and the windows foggy and my little sister at my side, dishtowel swinging at her hip, singing along with a woman I couldn’t name, summer so far from her mind because who knew what all she had tomorrow, I wished I could have just a little of what she was.
Eliana Ramage is a Cherokee Nation citizen born and raised in Nashville. She received her MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 2018. Her stories and essays have appeared in Beloit Fiction Journal, The Baltimore Review, CRAFT, and The Masters' Review Anthology.