Red Kelly Owns the Moon
By Shaenon Garrity
Nobody remembered how Red Kelly got his hands on the moon. He picked up a lot of things back then. You had to, working at the Westinghouse on a brazier’s pay. Red played cards, ran numbers around town, and, every other year, warmed hands for the Democratic machine in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t unknown for him to come home with an acquisition of mysterious provenance. Once he got the Kellys an entire patio table and chairs, with an umbrella and that. The umbrella was printed with the name of a restaurant whose owner had bet a bundle down at Duquesne Gardens.
So it wasn’t surprising Red had the deed to the moon. It didn’t even come up until, well, must have been 1968 of course, when the two men in the tailored suits showed up at the Kellys’ doorstep in North Versailles. You don’t forget a thing like that, the whole neighborhood watching through their lace curtains. Red was still at work, so Blanche Kelly sat the men down in the living room, introduced them to the girls, and set up boilermakers. They were from the military, it turned out, which was a good opening since Blanche had been a WAC. She cut a deck of cards.
At 4:30, Blanche pocketed her winnings, got in the car, and drove to the bottom of the hill to pick Red up from the bus stop. She left the girls to keep an eye on the men.
Red went straight to the bedroom where he kept his old footlocker. He re-emerged with a yellowed envelope and ushered the men into the kitchen. A few minutes later the men tipped their hats to Blanche and were gone. Red came out and announced the Kellys were going to dinner at a fish place in the Strip.
He sang all the way over:
In Derby town, in Derby town,
Two men were digging a ditch
One was the son of an Englishman
The other the son of a
Maybe you think it’s a lie
But you go down to Derby town
And you’ll hear the same as I
Blanche didn’t ask questions because a good Catholic wife wasn’t nebby. She just took it all down in her head. But the girls, who were teenagers and would never grow up to be good Catholic wives anyway, demanded to know.
“They needed my say-so to go to the moon,” said Red.
“The moon? They’re going to the moon?”
Red gave them the hairy eyeball. The girls felt silly for asking such a dumb question. Everyone knew America was going to the moon. What else were they learning all that math for?
“Why do they need your say to go to the moon?”
“I own it.” And that was the end of the discussion. Which was a little funny, come to think, because when Red had a find like that he liked to gab about it. A little thing like a free tune-up for the car, or winning a round of gin with Dead Lannigan at the funeral home, could fuel hours of storytelling. But nobody’d heard a whisper about the deed to the moon. Not the Kellys, not the boys at the bar, not the VFW, not Dead Lannigan even.
Later, on nights when he’d had a couple three beers too many, Red confided that he’d turned the government men down for years, and the Soviets too, he hinted. He’d finally agreed to let the U.S. land on his moon because the girls were going to college—the only demand Blanche would make in 49 years of marriage—and he needed the money.
The next summer, the Kellys watched the moon landing with particular pride. Later the whole family went to the steelworkers’ union picnic, and guys patted Red on the back and brought him beers.
Men in nice suits visited the Kellys before every moon shot, and after every visit there was a fish dinner. Red would sing
Once there was a girl I knew
Her name was Lulaballoo
Chief engineer at the shirt-tail factory
Down by the city zoo
That’s where my money goes
To buy my baby clothes
I buy her everything to keep her in style
She’s got a pair of hips
Just like two battleships
Yeah, boy, that’s where my money goes
They even went to Miami one summer, just a block or two away from the hotels where the Rat Pack hung out. Red sang Frank Sinatra standards to Blanche and called him Frank Not-So-Hotra. They stayed up late playing pinochle by the pool and went to a Chinese restaurant for the first time. Red won thirty dollars off some Cubans.
The good times lasted until around ’73, when something went wrong and the men left without tipping their hats, and America stopped going to the moon. The common understanding around the neighborhood was that Red had asked for too much money this time. Both girls had dropped out of college to find themselves, then enrolled again, and now Kathy was transferring out of state to follow her no-good boyfriend from North Braddock and Kerry had an internship in England, if you can believe that.
Red’s best friend, Red Cameron, confronted him about it one night when they’d had too many drinks at their Friday night bar. “Just give ’em the moon, you stubborn jagoff,” said Red Cameron, and Red Kelly shot back something worse, and one would’ve punched the other if Blanche hadn’t put down her whiskey and water and intervened.
The Kellys got through it somehow. Blanche took a part-time job and Red got more aggressive taking off-track bets. They survived the seventies, made it all the way to retirement even, while the moon hung quiet in the sky.
When Blanche started getting sick, it was decided that the oldest grandchild, the one with the trendy unpronounceable Irish name, should spend a month down in Florida with her grandparents. Red and Blanche had retired there, at Red’s insistence. He’d never forgotten that trip to Miami on the moon money. In Pittsburgh he’d had red hair and a white face, and in Fort Meyers he had white hair and a red face, and that was about the only difference.
The oldest grandchild was thirteen. She wore red plastic glasses and a floppy hat. Red groaned when she tripped out the arrival gate. He’d always said her mother would have been real pretty if it weren’t for that face, and the kid was turning out the same, only funny inside the head as well.
But he drove her home and called out, “Whee, Kennywood!” when they pulled into the driveway of their triple-wide, because that had always made his own girls laugh, pretending they were riding a coaster at Kennywood Park. The kid smiled nervously.
They showed the kid off to the gang at the VFW. She drank Cokes and spilled Red’s beer and Blanche won her a stuffed rabbit from the claw machine, which she forgot in the restroom. They took her to the flea market, where she lost her flowered purse and bought a whole nother terrible hat. They took her to the neighborhood pool, where she lost her sunscreen. The kid got sunburn and wouldn’t stop howling about it, and she cried when Red told her what was wrong with her dancing.
Blanche dropped hints about taking a drive to the white-sands beach at Sanibel Island, but Red was opposed on principle to paying tolls. Blanche let it alone, had three good days in a row, and made a pot roast. She taught the kid gin and pinochle.
On the last day, Red ordered Blanche and the kid to pack for Sanibel Island. He paid the toll like a prince. The beach was white and hot and stinking of life. The kid slapped lotion on her peeling skin, stuck her glasses in her jelly sandals, and swam out as far as the warning buoys. Red watched her through his prescription sunglasses, a tiny lopsided shape bobbing on the waves. Blanche napped with a towel over her face.
Red was thirteen himself when he’d started work at the Westinghouse. His father had walked out on the family long before. The mills only hired men at men’s wages, so Red had to step up and be the man. And he’d done well, hadn’t he? Sitting on a white Florida beach with the moon in his back pocket. Red thought, as he often did, of things he’d tell his father if he had the chance. He thought of things he’d tell that thirteen-year-old boy.
The sun set in all the colors of a Dole’s fruit salad. The kid flopped down on a towel, spraying sand and seawater. She fumbled for her glasses and discovered she’d lost one of her shoes.
“You know I own the moon,” said Red.
The kid looked up. “Yeah.”
“Your mother tell you that?”
Red nodded. “They used to send guys to the moon. That was on my word. The government used to come and ask me.”
The kid squinted up at the sky. The stars were coming out, but no moon. Might be a new moon night.
“Then I stopped letting them go. Everybody said it was on account of I asked for too much money. Your Aunt Kerry tell you that?”
The kid shook her head.
“Wasn’t true. I just didn’t like what they were doing up there. Once they figured out there wasn’t diamonds or oil and that, they wanted to use it for, what do you say, waste disposal. Like that nuclear waste. You think I was going to let the government turn my moon into a garbage dump?”
He looked to the kid for a response, but she just watched him from behind those plastic glasses.
“Hrngh. You’re too young even to remember when people went to my moon.”
The kid hugged her skinny legs. “Did you ever go?”
“To the moon? You need a spaceship to go to the moon. I look like I’ve got a spaceship?”
“But you own it.”
“Owning it don’t mean I can fly to it. Use your head, kid.” Red relented. “You know what I did in the war? I joined the Navy, right?”
The kid recited dutifully. “You were on a submarine. You would’ve gotten shipped to Japan if they hadn’t dropped the bomb.”
Red gave a grunt of approval. There was more to the story. He’d gotten six deferments before they’d finally drafted him, because he was the breadwinner for his mother and all his kid siblings. He’d refused to marry Blanche because he couldn’t afford another dependent, so she’d joined the WACs to prove she could take care of herself. They’d gotten married on leave.
“I signed up for submarine training as practice for the moon,” he said. “Spaceship’s just a submarine in the air.”
“Aunt Kerry said you did it so you could spend the whole war in training and wouldn’t have to see combat.”
“You’re alive. You complaining?”
The kid shook her head. “You should go to the moon.”
“Nah. Too late for me.” Red looked at the kid a long time. On the next blanket, Blanche let out one of her bull-moose snores. “Tell you what.”
Red reached into his back pocket and pulled out the deed to the moon. It was in an old Christmas card envelope Blanche has saved. He pressed it into the kid’s hands.
“There you go,” he said. “Now you own the moon.”
The kid stared.
“Don’t go losing it, now. Like you lost your hats.”
The kid shook her head, eyes still on the envelope.
“And don’t let it get all ripped up.”
“Where’d you get it?”
“I won it. Like I won everything I’ve got.”
The kid looked up then, and said, “Thank you,” and her smile was a fair trade for the moon.
The kid tried, she really did. She lost hats and shoes and glasses and a French horn, but she held on to the moon. Until her freshman year of college—one of those fancy East Coast colleges, Blanche would have been proud—when she left it in the campus auditorium after a late-night screening of Last Year at Marienbad.
She realized it was missing the moment she got back to her dorm room and started unloading her backpack. She ran back to the auditorium, but it was too late. The deed to the moon, still in its Christmas envelope, was gone.
The kid cried, like she did. She skipped class and huddled in bed until her roommate kicked her out to use the room for sex. She foreswore food. She tried sitting in the shower with all her clothes on, crying again, because that seemed to work in movies.
But none of it brought back the moon.
The kid went home for winter break. Red was back in Pittsburgh, in assisted living, after having left the gas on in his kitchen one too many nights. He was angry about it. His daughters had arranged for the senior bus to take him to Murphy’s Taproom every afternoon, which had mollified him for a while but lately just made him anxious about bus schedules.
One afternoon the girls decided to give themselves a break and spend the afternoon at a whole nother bar, and leave Red at Murphy’s Taproom in the care of the kid.
“Grandpa?” said the kid. “Do you remember when you had the deed to the moon?”
“What time is it?” said Red.
“Three-thirty. The bus doesn’t come until five.”
“You don’t know that. Where’s the girl behind the bar? Hey! Over here! What time does my bus come?”
“Five o’clock,” said the bartender, who knew him.
“You’re all right, sweetheart.” Red looked around. “It’s five o’clock. Where’s my bus?”
“It’s not five,” said the kid. “It’s three-thirty. About the moon.”
“Sure I used to own the moon. Ask anybody here.” Red called out. “Phil, did I used to own the moon?”
“Sure did,” said a big man across the bar.
“Sure did,” said Red. He sat up a little straighter.
“Do you remember what happened to it?” said the kid.
“Course.” Red took a long sip of Iron City. “Lost it playing pinochle.”
“No, Grandpa. You gave it to me.”
He looked at the kid as if seeing her for the first time. “I did? Where is it then?”
“I lost it.”
All the red came back to his faded face, then. “You lost it? You lost my moon?”
She nodded. She didn’t look away. Red’s face was the worst thing she’d ever seen.
Then his face paled again and his eyes lost their focus. “What time is it? My bus comes at five o’clock. Where’s Kerry?”
And that was worse.
Back at school, the kid tried the crying and the shower thing again, but none of it fixed the situation. So she started thinking instead. Someone had taken the deed to the moon. Another student had it. But whom?
The kid was the kind of person who said “whom.”
She went to every campus film screening and befriended film students. She organized a Georges Méliès screening in the hope of a dramatic Hamlet-like reveal. No luck.
She thought some more. The moon wasn’t valuable, really. The U.S. government wanted it for garbage. The Soviets didn’t exist anymore. And it wasn’t like she had a spaceship. Why did she even want it back?
Because it was hers. Because it had been Red’s.
And because it hung there in the sky, as it had hung for all those years since Red won it, waiting for her.
The kid finished thinking and made a plan. She stopped going to film screenings. She switched her major to communications. And she started hanging out in the back room of the Log Cabin Mexican Restaurant in town, learning gin rummy.
Time passed. You can’t say things didn’t happen. Kerry’s younger had the Asperger’s, and Cousin Bobby moved back from Georgia, and Red Cameron’s kids organized a trip to Geneva-on-the-Lake. The kid graduated from college and started some kind of business out of her apartment in Regent Square. On Earth there was a lot going on. Not so much on the moon.
Then you started getting those stories in the paper, about Tommy Fodor, heir to the travel-guide fortune, and his contest. Five million dollars to the first engineer to design a private spacecraft capable of reaching the moon. Fodor was putting all the startup money his family had given him for graduation into the project, and engineers around the world were signing up.
Red’s grandkid read about it in her alumni magazine, because Tommy Fodor was a fellow alumnus. In junior year they’d smoked pot together at a film club screening of Trouble in Paradise.
“That rat bastard,” said the kid. “I had my name on the envelope and everything.”
She called Tommy Fodor’s secretary. Her little Pittsburgh PR firm, she explained, was prepared to do its utmost to promote Tommy’s space project. Tommy’s company signed them up, best bet without Tommy even knowing.
The kid was good as her word. She promoted the hell out of the project. She knew social media and a lot of people owed her favors, somehow. Between her huckstering and Tommy’s millions, they had a working spaceship design within eighteen months.
In her office, way after hours, the kid drank whiskey and water and looked at the design. It’d do. It’d take people to the moon, if they behaved themselves, and what a ride. “Whee, Kennywood,” she whispered. But it was only half of what she wanted.
She sang to herself, making copies of the plans.
Her name was all she had
She had a face like a soft-shell crab
And every night I would tussle with the buttons on her bustle
Oh yeah, I’d say she’s bad
And so one night, when the moon was full, Tommy Fodor got a knock on the door of his crisp white apartment. On the other side was the Kelly kid, in her horn-rim glasses, shuffling a deck of cards.
“You a betting man?” she asked.
About the Author
Shaenon K. Garrity is a cartoonist best known for the webcomics Narbonic and Skin Horse. Her prose fiction has appeared in publications including Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Drabblecast, and the Unidentified Funny Objects anthologies. She lives in Berkeley with a cat and two men of varying sizes.
About the Narrator
Cheyenne Wright is a freelance illustrator and concept artist
He is the color artist on the three-time Hugo Award winning steampunk graphic novel series Girl Genius, and co-creator of many other fine works; Including 50 Fathoms and the Ennie award winning Deadlands Noir for the Savage Worlds RPG.
Cheyenne lives in Seattle with his wife, their daughter, and an ever growing stack of unpainted miniatures.
In his spare time he is teaching himself animation, and narrates short stories for a variety of audio anthologies where he is known as Podcasting’s Mr. Buttery ManVoice ™