Chapter 1 – The First Week

 

He looked at the bright light in the sky and squinted. It was the third cut of the season, still early enough in the year that the smell of freshly-mowed grass gave him a sense of contentment. That life would go on after another long, cold winter when everything had been brown and gray and void of fragrance. Yesterday he had found joy in the green grass and the luminescent yellow tulips and the ever-warming, ever-bright sun. But that was yesterday.

He made the turn at the end of the yard and looked up to see his father-in-law sitting in his wheelchair on the front porch, looking in his direction. That didn’t necessarily mean Harley was watching him mow. Sometimes he just stared. By the time he had completed his third lap, he had stopped checking on Harley and was simply watching the blades of grass in front of him disappear under the front deck of the mower. It was one of the things he loved about mowing, the mindless labor that provided opportunity for contemplation. And there was much to contemplate.

He had tried to focus on his work all day, but news flashes kept showing up in his email, and two or three times every hour, he couldn’t resist the urge to check the news online. There was so much coverage, but very little new information.

All the news outlets had dropped the string of letters and numbers and simply referred to it as The Asteroid. The major networks were following the lead of NASA and downplaying the threat, focusing on the various theories to steer the deadly rock away from earth, illustrated with amazingly realistic computer-generated animations.

On the drive home, the radio talk show hosts were already politicizing The Asteroid, each party blaming the other for the budget cuts that had reduced NASA to a shadow of the program it had been in the sixties. Had The Asteroid been detected earlier, we would have a better chance, they argued.

He was halfway through the yard and for the first time that spring, he had worked up a sweat. As he made the turn back to the house, he saw that Harley was no longer on the porch. No doubt Becky had taken her father inside. He wondered if he knew. He wondered how he would react.

When he finished twenty minutes later, sweat was dripping off the end of his nose and he wiped his face on his arm. He glanced at his watch and saw that it was time for the evening news, so he pushed the mower to the garage and went into the house through the kitchen. Becky had sandwiches and fried potatoes setting on the kitchen table. Harley was already eating. Lex picked up his plate and glass of tea and went to the family room.

“Going to catch the news,” he said.

“There’s nothing new,” Becky said.

“Yeah, I know.”

Harley had started to take a bite of his sandwich, but stopped, holding it in front of his face, as he watched Lex come and go.

“He’s worried about that meteor, isn’t he?” Harley said.

“He’s not worried, Dad, he’s just interested. And it’s an asteroid, not a meteor.”

“Like it makes a difference.”