From a base in the desert, glowing with industrial light, scientists shoot a probe into outer space with tokens of greeting from the human race. There are pages of sheet music, some recordings of Mozart and Louis Armstrong, some classic black-and-white films. There are photographs of the Taj Mahal and ancient pagan stones on a hillside, a child’s drawing of a cat, a diagrammatic fragment of the human genome.
A thousand miles away, unable to sleep, an old man sifts through a shoebox of photographs. He picks up and discards faded colour photographs of hot dogs being eaten in front of roller coasters, picnics in national parks. There is a picture of a two-month-old baby–now a tax lawyer living on the other side of the continent, with a closet full of power ties and a personal trainer, and no time for long distance 3 a.m. phone calls–holding up a magic lantern night light. A woman in her thirties with blond hair, and a radiant smile, and no sign of cancer at the time the picture was taken, is wearing a Montreal Expos baseball cap turned backwards.
At the base in the desert, satellite dishes move their immense heads back and forth like spectators at an apocalyptic tennis match. They scan the random universe for patterns, for signs, for possibilities of contact. On a nearby hillside, a group of true believers gather with battery-operated lanterns and huddle beneath blankets and sing folk songs, and wait for contact.
With hours still to wait before dawn light breaks, and nothing but weird and evil television shows to drive away the shadows, the old man puts a jacket on over the top of his pyjamas and pulls his car out of the driveway. He drives along the coast road, smoking on the grass and watching the luminous blond preschool boy on the swing set, cutting great arcs through the air, pretending to be an astronaut launched into space.
The old man sits in his car, and listens to the creaking of rusting chains as phantom children swing back and forth, brought to life by the early morning wind. Looking up, he sees the desert-launched probe slide across the sky like a raindrop across a windshield. He briefly wonders whether it might have been a UFO or a shooting star. Too old to make a wish, he simply pushes in the cigarette lighter and heads back to his unlit home.