All Aboard: Resort Towns Are The Worst, Even In Space, Even In The Future
By Kamala Puligandla
This story is part of a special series of content produced in conjunction with the live reading series Write Club in San Francisco. Writers are given opposing ideas to write on — in our case, different sets of homonyms (like “Urn” and “Earn”) — and seven minutes to prove their wordsmithing glory (tagline: “literature as bloodsport”). All prize money goes to charity.
Special thanks to curator and host Maggie Tokuda-Hall, who created an entire evening of female writers. Together we raised $1,000 (The Est. matched door donations) to be distributed among Homeless to Higher Ed and Girls, Inc.
Originally, Josephine’s dream was to be a train conductor. She wanted to lean out of a window, wave her hand and brashly call, “all-aboard!” She couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was about the “all-aboard” that really got her — was it the propriety, the generosity? For that reason, she kept it a secret.
But Josephine still remembered her first visit to a pumpkin farm in her youth, when she had stepped up onto a train car to be carried around the grounds, and a grey-haired woman in overalls performed this exact action. Her “all-aboard” was filled with an exquisite mix of authority and lightness that leant her a godly shimmer in that day’s golden fall light.
Josephine’s jaw had dropped when the woman motioned her over. “Come on, join me,” she’d said. “Anyone can do it.” So the two of them, in unison, leaned out of the orange-painted train car, their arms scooping invisible clouds in through the window, shouting, “All-board, all-aboard! Train’s leaving the station!”
That was when Josephine was four. Not very many things had changed for her since then. Her signature dish was still boxed macaroni and cheese, she didn’t see any reason to not wear overalls, and she still lived with her parents, who found it insulting that she might want to leave.
The one time she mentioned to her dad, Manny, that she was getting too old for this, he said to her, “You think you can get a better set-up, in a tent with your bum friends? You can’t even get a banana in that part of town.”
She knew he was right. Everybody on the moon lived less well than her fathers, and nobody else got fresh fruit deliveries. Manny and Archie were scientists who had co-founded the first and most successful moon colony. It was a gay resort town called Beaches.
“As in, you wished you lived here, beaches,” was how Archie pitched it to newcomers on the charter flight out. It perturbed Josephine that her own father was such an intolerable bro, and that he had the mental capacity to design the convertor that kept the colony flush with water and oxygen. “Get ready for the sunniest beaches, and biggest waves on the whole moon,” Archie would add. “I’m a total beach guy. Let’s just say everything’s bigger on the moon, okay?” This was always met with laughter — of the uneasy or overly eager variety.
Every time he said this, Josephine sighed deeply and felt the value of her life slip away just a tiny bit. Sometimes, when she was feeling perky she’d get on the intercom right before she engaged the boosters and deliver a biting, “All-aboard, beaches,” to the crowd of men in their spring break best. But it wasn’t anywhere close to the rich, golden afternoon on that robust steamer, the dappled sunlight falling through the lace of pine boughs onto the grey-haired woman.
When Josephine joined her fathers’ moon colony, it was because she thought it would be exciting, the way that unremarkable white people went to South America or Asia and were more “interesting” there by default. However, most days she spent tinkering with parts on the shuttle, or making friendship bracelets out of hay with her slacker friends in their tents — without bananas. At night she hid away in the series of caves where she and her half-brother, Leon, watched movies, and avoided the throngs of men rubbed down with body glitter, who flocked nightly to the raves on beach outside their home. On her better days, Josephine smoked the weed Leon grew in the bathroom, and worked on the coop they were building for the moon chickens Leon was incubating in their fathers’ lab.
“How did you get so smart about stuff?” Josephine asked.
“Whatever,” Leon scoffed. “You’re the one who was created by combining DNA from two MacArthur geniuses. You taught yourself to build space shuttles.”
“I mean, there’s a reason one of us is growing weed for the other to smoke,” said Josephine. “But you’re always making little improvements: on chickens, on weed, on the caves. Maybe I was really bred for my persuasive beauty, just saying.” She threw her hands in the air and did some light vogueing.
Leon laughed. He handed Josephine a joint and the electric sander. “It’s super lucky you that turned out not totally hideous. Also that crazy, evil Christians haven’t killed you yet.”
Josephine smiled wryly. “Right, thank you. Those are some of my biggest accomplishments.”
The main reason that Josephine flew charters to and from the resort was for the few minutes when the ship first entered the earth’s atmosphere, and it looked like you were hurtling into the heart of a multi-colored bonfire. The swirling, fiery heat waves suddenly giving way to the familiar, placid blue of earth — it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. The high possibility of the ship exploding during the entry period also added a certain boost to the magic. She was sure there was some overarching cliché there — about having to lose something to really appreciate it, or how struggle makes the victory sweeter — but the overbearing nearness to death each time, prevented her from fully considering it.
What Josephine had considered was the sense that having left both the earth and the moon, having seen them in their entirety from afar, neither filled her with wonder anymore. It was the same way she’d felt about her fathers when she learned it was Leon’s mother, Roxanne, who actually created her, and in whose lab she was born while they were busy developing Beaches.
When she was on earth, Josephine stayed on Roxanne’s tiny island in the South Pacific. From the beginning, Roxanne had told Josephine, “You’re welcome here whenever. Just please don’t confuse me for a mother or a role-model.” Which only made her more attractive as both.
This was why, when Josephine was in her early twenties, she had taken it to heart when Roxanne said, “I just want you to know it’s a possibility that you’re a dyke. Which you might not know yet, because you live in a gay beach moon colony and there are literally no hot women in your life. Not a one.” And Josephine had discovered that she was correct on all fronts.
So on this visit, when they were both drunk on mai-tais, swinging side by side in woven hammocks, and Roxanne asked off-handedly, “Jo, how did you get in charge of flying that spaceship?” Josephine told her about the grey-haired woman, and the train, and the perfect fall afternoon, and the resonant, life-changing “all-aboard” that they had shared out the window. She told her that the space shuttle seemed like the closest thing.
Roxanne turned and gave her a serious look. Then she burst out laughing. The hammock tipped and Roxanne fell to the ground, still howling with laughter.
“What?” Josephine asked. She knew it was silly, but she hadn’t considered it quite this hilarious.
“Jo,” Roxanne choked out from her prone position on the lawn. “That wasn’t a train conductor. It wasn’t even a woman. That was just Manny with a wig on.”
“No fucking way,” Josephine said. “Oh god, really?”
“Yes. It was Halloween. Hence the pumpkin farm. And the wig was on sale, I got one too. Wait.” Roxanne was suddenly up on her feet and stumbling back toward the house.
Josephine didn’t know what to say. She sipped on her mai-tai and looked up at the moon — that ridiculous, gay playland — and felt incredibly, incredibly stupid.
Roxanne appeared again out of the darkness outfitted in the exact grey, bowl-cut wig from Josephine’s memory. “Listen,” she said, taking it off and affixing it to Josephine’s sad, limp head. “I only asked about the spaceship, because it’s a huge responsibility and you handle it so well. I’m proud of you,” she said.
It was then, as Josephine adjusted the wig, and thanked Roxanne, that she finally felt the glittering joy of the original “all-aboard” moment. It had nothing to do with the train, or the season, or even the grey-haired woman, but the purposeful waving and the assurance of being seen.