Ground Control by Jack Murphy

My uncle is sitting in his kitchen, eating granola, and spreading paint onto a large canvas near the window where there’s light. I’m across the way, folding my laundry, watching him paint. He isn’t very good.

“Do you know this song?” he asks me. They got him wireless speakers for Christmas. His music filters all through the house all day, even when no one’s around to hear it.

“Of course I do,” I say. “I love David Bowie.”

“This guy,” he pauses. “He goes up into space and just decides… to stay.”

“How does he plan to eat?” I ask. “Wouldn’t he run out of oxygen?”

“Courage,” he says, and he’s right.

My uncle spends every Saturday morning painting and eating granola and listening to music. Sometimes it’s Al Green. Sometimes it’s John Coltrane. It’s never Miles Davis. He used to be a mailman; he was a mailman for forty years. Forty years of snow and rain and hail and sleet. Forty years of the same sidewalks and houses and lawns. Forty years of dealing with dogs. Apparently that cliche is true– mailmen hate dogs.

“Did you ever think about quitting?” I asked him on the first night he ever made me a Black Russian. We were listening to John Prine.

“Everyday,” he said and paused.

“Everyday,” he said again.

But that’s all over now. Now he spends his time at Hobby Lobby looking for the right type of brushes. He buys blank canvassas in bulk online. He puts a nice bottle of scotch in his mailbox around Christmas time. He says he always wanted someone to leave him a nice bottle of scotch.

“This winter is a real drag,” I say. I’m matching my socks and looking out the window. It’s snowing again.

“They all are,” he says. He’s mixing green and blue. Today he’s painting the Earth. The Earth is all he ever paints. He titles them all the same: The Earth From Outer Space.

“But this one especially. This one seems like the worst.”

“Not as bad as ‘78,” he says. A mailman would know.  He’s singing along. I’m feeling very still.

“How can you remember?” I ask. “Don’t they all blend together? 2005 and 2007 seem the same to me.”

“It’s easier when the numbers are higher,” he says.

Today is the 32nd Saturday he’s painted the Earth From Outer Space. There are 31 others up in the attic. They’re all different, but they’re all the same. None are very good.

“Why don’t you try another planet next week?” I ask him. “Why not Jupiter? Or Mars?”

“I live on Earth,” he says, and he’s right.






Jack Murphy is a writer and teacher in Chicago. His chapbook of flash fiction and poetry, My Apartment in Chicago, was released this year.