- Vol. 05
- Chapter 09
Image by Namroud Gorguis
Per Aspera Ad AstraShe found the cassette tape hot on the ground down on the Copacabana, on a square of grass, soft and green as the Brazilian flag, outside a hotel. The doorman didn’t let her inside – Orioles cap, no showering, sunburnt arms, blistered feet, were not the dress code, said he. On the beach was a bar with music and frozen-over beer taps, and there she failed in American English to give them the lost item. ‘Não, não,’ the barman laughed and pointed towards the CD player, wafting away the old technology. So, she put the cassette in her pocket, where it weighed her shorts sideways. In Buenos Aires, she was robbed while she slept but the cassette, not a wallet as believed, was thrown back at her by fleeing boys. In Sydney, she examined the cassette sitting outside a cheap takeaway and looked at its cogs and delicate film, while cockroaches ran over her toes. In Rotorua, she walked through redwood trees at golden evening wishing she could fill A-side and B-side with soft light and growing things. In Phnom Penh she showed the cassette to a German boy who asked, ‘But you are not even carrying a toothbrush, why are you carrying this?’ and she was so unable to explain that she sealed her lips tight and left. In Hanoi, she dropped the cassette in the middle of a fast street of tuk-tuks, motorcycles, taxis, and ran back to crouch, searching desperately amid horns. In Abu Dhabi, nine hours between connecting flights, she wound the tape with her fingers, playing the airport noise, stopping when it grew quiet, speeding up when it grew loud. In London, she ran out of money and exchanged everything, but the cassette, for food.
A year, then two. Then home.
Per Aspera Ad AstraJet-lagged and silent, unable to speak to her family after so long alone in the great hardship of elsewhere, she sits at the kitchen counter, brushing dust off an old radio from the basement. She puts the cassette in the slot, closes it, hovers a finger over the triangle of PLAY.
‘Go on!’ cries her sister, thirteen and caught up by the mystery.
But the cassette has now recorded her trip in the way nothing else has; to find out how someone else has used it beforehand, the uncomfortable meeting of a lover’s ex-lover, is too much. She ponders. Landing, after a time, on the comforting fact that the golden record on the outside of the Voyager spacecraft was never meant to be heard by Voyager itself, but by a distant civilisation who will misunderstand all the greetings, Bach, Mozart, and instill the gold instead with new alien meanings. And all the passed planets and stars, the inevitable journey-created friendship between spacecraft and golden record, will become nothing despite, she thinks, Bach being the true disappointment there.
She presses eject, takes the cassette out of the player and gives it to her sister, before pulling open the French doors and jumping into the pool.