Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1951596-Theft-of-Words
by Nixie
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · History · #1951596
Remember Neil Armstrong's famous quote? Did you think it was his idea?
The waitress buzzed by and topped off my fifth cup of coffee, walking away with a 'tsk'. Angered because I wasn't a regular customer, and worse, I didn't belong in this restaurant near Kennedy Space Center. This is astronaut and astronaut-related territory. There were a few men at the bar, and one man I spent the last half hour taking clandestine glimpses of, before working up the courage to approach.

The man was hiding in plain sight. It made sense. Why would anyone think to look here? I caught him in an off moment. A moment of pause and consideration. I'm sure the man is beset by star-struck people, and I hated myself for seeming to be one of them.

"Neil Armstrong? I'm sorry to intrude—"Words died in my throat. I'm not only star-struck, I'm dumbstruck.

He actually stood up and extended his hand, giving me a second to compose myself. "Neil Armstrong."

Dad told me a woman should give a firm handshake. "Melanie Forsyth."

"That's some grip you've got there, Miss Forsyth." He fumbled for a pen and paper. "What do you want for the inscription?"

"No. No. I'm not asking for an autograph, nothing tacky." Now he's confused and fathomed I'm dumbstruck.

He glanced at his watch. "I only have a few moments . . . "

"That's exactly why I'm here. Actually, I don't know why I'm here. I finished the tour of Kennedy Space Center and was on my way home when I spotted this place. Can't say what, but something drew me here. Not saying I believe in fate and we were destined to meet. Definitely not saying that." Now he's positive I'm a nut case.

"Compelled to stop here? Hmm. I was wishing for a pal to stop by so I could bounce some ideas around. Guess you could stand in."

"Um. I'm no astronaut buff. Whatever stuck in my mind after the tour? That's the limit of comprehension. I have no classes for today—I'm an English Professor—and always wanted to come here. Then today, for no particular reason, I woke up and drove right over here."

"Can I order anything for you, Miss Forsyth?"

"Call me Melanie. And thanks for the offer, but I'm not hungry." Not after five cups of coffee sloshing around in my stomach.

"Call me Neil. So, an English Professor, huh?" He took a few seconds to look me over, and I fisted one hand to stop me from touching my hair. "It's not astronaut advice." From his pocket, he extracted a crumpled piece of paper, flattened it with one hand, and placed it on the table. "On July 20th in 1969—"

"That's when the lunar module is scheduled to land on the moon, right?" Damn. Interrupted the man again. Could be he's used to interruptions during brain storming sessions. Not that I'm brain-storming.

"And how many millions, maybe billions, of people from around the world will watch me put my boot down on the surface?"

"Um, lots?"

He laughed. "The thing is"—he crumpled the paper and kicked it with one finger—"everyone will be waiting for my words. And my mind draws a blank every damn time I try to write something."

I heard commotion at the door. "Guess your astronaut buddies found your secret hideaway." I shook his hand. "It's time for me to go."

After paying my bill, I went out to my car and picked up the still blank paper. I found the pen he gave me in the bottom of my purse. Never dreamed I'd be holding anything touched by anyone famous. Damn, probably should have asked him to scrawl 'Neil.' Tapping the pen on the steering wheel, my thoughts started running. Was he serious, saying I could help him? The urge to pee was causing cramps. Must be all that coffee. I glanced at the clock, surprised to see forty-five minutes flashed by while I was contemplating.

The famous Neil Armstrong and his buddies were walking out the door while I was walking in. What would Mr. Famous think if he saw me still hanging around? A stalker? I kept my head down and mumbled, "Sir, you dropped this paper." He glanced at it, recognized the letterhead, and stuffed it in his pocket.


July 21st 1969

Like all the other millions of incredulous people, I sat transfixed for two days, near the television. Listening.

Yesterday, contact had been made, but today we are watching Neil Armstrong descend the ladder.

At the bottom, he stopped and said, "I'm going to step off the LEM now." He then turned and put his left boot on the surface. It seemed like he was looking straight through the cameras and television at me.

"This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

Months later, a letter arrived.

"Dear Melanie, I told everyone the words spoken were not written until after we landed. But we both know you wrote them after the few moments we shared. As you intended, I found the paper in my pocket. Thank you. Sincerely, Neil Armstrong"

The world paces along, marking each moment.

w/c 850

contest entry

Prompt: A character appears at a historical event and plays a part in the unfurling of history.

© Copyright 2013 Nixie (nixie9 at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates have been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work.
Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1951596-Theft-of-Words