Sister World

Ramón Isao

I am appointed by the city to become a planet. Not appointed so much as court-ordered. I am given a Jupiter costume, and a list of facts too small to make out. Every Tuesday, I’m Jupiter at the orphanage upstate. It is not a compelling costume: A black-and-white Xerox of Jupiter in four separate printouts, taped to some circular cardboard. The eye of the storm’s right over my navel. When you’re dressed as Jupiter, nobody wonders why you’re not married.
My first day goes poorly. It is me on a small platform at the end of a foul cafeteria, rotating and spitting out Jupiter Facts I can’t even read: Jupiter is the ferfth planet. Jupiter is highly magnanimous. It’s true I’ve had vodka.
What you want is for the children to whirl, which means to rotate and revolve at the same time, promoting peace and understanding between worlds. But at first the children will only sit at the far end of the cafeteria.
Five minutes into the performance, though, they’ve all but closed the
distance. And soon, orphans are an ocean I’m drowning in. I can feel that prickle in my neck you get when violence is about to break out, and then violence breaks out. A white one kicks me first, and then it’s just a blur of enraptured children putting pain all over me. They’re seven, but I cry easy. Though it is nice to see kids of different races working together.
Jesse, the Underpaid Social Worker, claps five times. The students stop, clap five times. I remind myself to ask Jesse how to clap like that. Only the kicker remains in my face:
“You wanna piece of me, Jupiter? Ah?”
“You too, Sajack!” says someone, and the kid flicks his hair out of his eyes and backs off. His nametag reads “Don’t Worry About it.”

And so, I requisition a new planet from my parole officer.
“New planet? Now, come on. You’re Jupiter,” she says. Her name is Congress and there isn’t a thing about her that doesn’t have to do with a cat. Cats on her iPhone, cats on her nails.
“They hated Jupiter. Or anyway they do now.”
“Focus on the moons, Carlos. Kids like Titan.”
“Kids like Mars.”
“Which is why we’re out of Marses. We got Uranuses, but no matter how you pronounce it, you’re saying anus or urine. Greeks never thought that through.”
“Congress, I’d like a Mars,” I say. “I’m not even meant to be here.”
“Then drink more orderly in public. I’ll get you your planet.”

The Earth costume is an actual globe of green and blue, plus it’s big; only my hands, head, and feet can comfortably protrude. Of course it occurs to me too late—standing before the children, about to begin—that my hands are too far apart to do the clapping thing Jesse taught me.
Regardless, I start off with my best Earth facts. I only get as far as “Earth is where the stock market comes from,” when I’m pushed off my feet and rolled around the filthy cafeteria floor. Sajack’s the one who figures out to kick my head as I roll. After every kick, he treats me to an embittered laugh. Others grab for my pinkies, and try snapping them off. I beg them to stop, but I’m so frightened I can’t yell out anything but Earth facts: Earth is the fried planet from the sun! Earth was once an animal! Earth is misspelled!
Five claps, five more. The students back slowly away. But when I look up at the clock it’s not time to stop. The lights go low. So this is how they’ll murder me, I think, and then I think: I was supposed to have been someone by now.
Instead of murdering me? From the darkened kitchen comes another planet. It too is a globe, all done up in the telltale grays of a planet near the sun. Over a speaker I can’t see comes a sound so lovely I take a few seconds to realize it’s a woman’s voice. And the woman speaks of a sister world to Earth. One of comparable size, mass, and composition. One that might be habitable given an atmosphere, cursory terra-forming, and faster-than-light travel. The narrator speaks, of course, of Venus and that’s when the lights go up on the emerging planet.
She looks exactly like me. Same height, same shade, and that same aura of impending decline, plus she too is drunk. She rotates around the room, meets my eyes, and—I’ll never forget this—she shouts, “Next to me, Brother.”
“Next to you, Sister,” I say, and rock myself back and forth across space to be with her. Venus is Earth’s sister world, she says. Venus has a gravity that would crush us like cans. I smell a cheeky IPA on her breath.
And so we whirl around the children, who don’t kick nor bite nor fuss nor fight, but soon whirl alongside us. Together we make a galaxy of those kids, and in the center of us all is little Sajack, laughing and watching through hazy eyes, completely won over. It is miraculous, until I notice the empty beercan in his lap. A cheeky IPA.
I’m not saying she was right to give it to him. But what I am saying is that Sajack stands. Puts his arms out. And whirls.

Originally published in Moss: Volume Five.
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