Space Oddity by Mark Stocker

Alan next door was that kid – the one always saying stuff, like when he said David Bowie was an old friend of the family on his mum’s side who was forever popping round for tea or just to see how everything was going. I suggested that might not be true and Alan said he was surprised I hadn’t seen the Jag parked out the front.

Then there was the time he said his dad was going to build a rocket so he could launch himself into space. I asked why he would want to do that, and Alan said he thought mainly for the peace and quiet. I said that sort of thing usually took a lot of money and some very big brains and, no offence, but wasn’t his dad more of a postman than a rocket scientist?

Alan said my lack of faith was exhausting.

The walls between our house and Alan’s were thin as cloth and most evenings we could hear his parents raging so loud it was like we were in amongst it. Mum would turn up the volume on the telly till it rattled, then send me upstairs to do my homework when the language got lively.

On the night when Alan’s dad built his rocket, I was struggling with art. I’d spent hours trying to get the intricacies of a woodland panorama out of my head and onto the paper without it looking like an almighty mess, when I heard a clatter out the back.

From the bedroom window I watched Alan’s dad dragging wooden fence panels from his shed to the middle of the garden, where he leant them against the folded rotary line to make a pointed structure. Then he toppled two water butts from their brick perches and rolled them across the lawn to stand next to it – boosters I guessed.

He’d crawled into the middle of it all and was screaming a countdown at the top of his lungs when my mum came in and snapped the curtains shut. She said Alan’s dad having some sort of episode was not the kind of thing she wanted me exposed to, and she’d rather I got on and finished my homework.

I smudged more brown paint across what I’d already done and went to bed.

The next morning there was no sign of the rocket, barring the rotary which was now decorated with Alan’s underpants. At school, Alan said his dad had taken off in the night and, yes, he was upset but it wasn’t like they hadn’t seen it coming. I asked if he wanted to come over to play later but he said he couldn’t.

At dinner I told Mum how my art teacher thought my picture showed promise and had said that if I could find a bit more belief anything was possible. Mum nodded but I think she was too distracted by the Jag pulling up outside to hear what I was saying.

Mark Stocker is an advertising creative from Suffolk. He’s had short fiction longlisted and shortlisted in various places, and has been published by Flash Fiction Magazine, The Phare, Pure Slush (Growing Up Anthology) and The Daily Drunk. He was the winner of this year’s Flash 500 short story competition. Twitter: @MarkStocker72