In the summer of 1973 I started a lemonade stand for one reason: the new MyRocketTrip 3000©. Some genius had created a one-time-use, personal rocket ship to take people up to low orbit for five minutes before bringing them back down and landing them in their own yard.
Parents didn’t use the ships too much. I’m not sure why. The kids were the only ones who couldn’t wait to get theirs delivered. So I asked my mom if she would help me start a lemonade stand. The next day I was out on the lawn in front of my house slinging cold lemon juice.
But one day in June, my world changed.
The Sun beat down in Berrytown, Illinois that Tuesday morning as I sat at my lemonade stand. My mom helped me build my stand right on the edge of the sidewalk. The metal table legs retracted like a spider. My sign read, AMY’S LEMONADE. BERRYTOWN’S BEST! 10 CENTS.
My mom had just returned to the house when my first customer arrived.
“Hi, Mr. Walters. Would you like to buy a cup of lemonade?”
“Well, of course,” he replied. “It’s hot out here today.”
“Very hot. Good weather for drinking lemonade,” I said. “Sure you don’t need two cups?”
“You know what, I think I’ll take one with me. Here’s a quarter. Keep the change.”
“Wow, thank you Mr. Walters.”
“No problem,” he replied. “I bet you get a lot of business being on 7th Street.” He drank one cup without stopping.
“Oh yeah. Everybody is walking to town and back from town and to lunch. A lot of thirsty people.”
“A lot of thirsty people,” he mumbled to himself as he walked away. Mr. Walters spilt some of his lemonade on the table when he picked up his second cup. I didn’t say anything to him because my dad said not to be mean to customers. After he was out of sight I went inside to get a towel to clean up my stand. When I came back, a small kid was standing by the lemonade.
“Don’t steal my money,” I called out before I made it off the porch. “Don’t touch anything.”
“I’m not,” the kid replied.
“That’s right you’re not.” I slammed the money shoebox closed. I replaced the cups once the money was secured. “What do you want?”
“Lemonade,” the kid said.
“Uh huh. What’s your name?”
“I never seen you before, Jennifer.”
“You can’t see everybody,” Jennifer replied.
“I’ve seen everybody in this town,” I said.
“Guess not,” she replied.
“Where you from?”
The question hung in the air like a raincloud. A car drove by on the street behind Jennifer. I stood behind my table with my hand on the shoebox. An ice cube melted.
“Can I buy some lemonade?” Jennifer asked.
“Why didn’t you answer? Don’t you know where your home is?”
“I know,” Jennifer paused. “Just don’t want you to know.”
“No lemonade then,” I said with my chin in the air.
“Please,” Jennifer said. “I’m real thirsty. Been walking awhile.”
“Ah ha,” I shouted. Jennifer took a step back. “So you’re from far away. Not from here.”
“I am from here. I live by Dunn Park.”
“Dunn Park? Isn’t that...on the other side of the tracks?”
“That’s what people always say.”
“It is. That’s what my dad says. That’s why I’ve never seen you before. You ain’t from around here. I was right.”
“But I am. It’s not that far from here.”
“This lemonade is only for people from around here,” I said. “Get outta here.”
“But,” Jennifer said. “I’m thirsty.”
Jennifer stood a table away, but it felt like miles. She looked at me for a few more moments, but, once she realized I wasn’t going to budge, she turned and kept walking toward downtown. Her head dropped and she watched the cracks in the concrete scroll past.
“Who ever heard of selling lemonade to someone from the other side of the tracks,” I said to myself. “My daddy would kill me.”
About a month later, in late July, I got a package in the mail. People were really thirsty that summer, and I sold about a thousand cups of lemonade. My parents gave me my birthday money early, so I was able to order MyRocketTrip 3000©. It came the day before my birthday.
“It’s here. It’s here. It’s here,” I yelled as ran down the stairs and through the front door. The dirt brown cardboard cube stood taller than my pigtails. A rocketship drawing was plastered on the side in black. The words SEE YOUR WORLD, CHANGE YOUR WORLD filled the bottom-half of the box. The logo for OPY Hands, Co. was stamped on each side of the box. I found an untapped cardboard edge and started pulling.
The box tore open. Small pieces of multi-colored foam in the shape of C’s escaped the box like an avalanche. The personal ship was unveiled. The silver body reflected the sunlight. AMY’s MAIDEN VOYAGE was written around the cone of the ship. An American flag was stamped on the door. The only window on the ship was the size of a dinner-plate. It was on the ship’s door.
“Mom, my ship is here,” I yelled through the door I left open. “I’m going to use it. Be back in a bit.” I didn’t hear a response. It could have been because I was closing the door of the ship seconds later.
A single red-leather chair occupied the inside of the ship. I sat down, closed the door, and pulled the double seat belt across both sides of my body. The inside was the same smooth silver metal as the outside. There was no control panel. Only a single red button with the words SEE YOUR WORLD, CHANGE YOUR WORLD written below it. I took a deep breath and slammed my palm into the button.
An overhead light came on. The door closed a bit tighter by sliding an inch to the left. My seat began to vibrate as my house sank out of view.
My stomach dropped.
I leaned forward and looked out of the window. The roof-tops shrank in the distance. The city was just green patches separated by grey lines. The railroad tracks cut through the city like a scalpel. Seconds later it was all gone and replaced by white.
I was above the clouds.
Above the clouds.
My stomach dropped again.
The sunlight danced on the clouds. It looked like Christmas morning before the snow if ruined by footprints. The rolling white went on as far as I could see.
Not long after that, the overhead light of the ship switched off. The vibration under my seat stopped. I could hear my heart beating. Darkness filled the inside. My window was painted the richest black I had ever seen. As my eyes adjusted, I could see sparkling specks in the void.
The stars were everywhere.
The pitch black void like Hell’s ocean extended as far as I could see. The top half of my window was filled with the dark ocean. The bottom half was a tiny island oasis. A blue marble. A giant blue marble filled with kids my age in every city. Hundreds of police officers and teachers and parents and schools and baseball teams and lemonade stands.
Hanging in the void.
I could see all of it and none of it at the same time.
My house was gone. My neighborhood was gone. The railroad tracks were gone. The state lines were gone. The country borders were gone. It was all one. It was just one world. There were no dividing lines.
We made them up.
I made them up.
Right as I started to reflect on the way I treated my neighbor, I felt the sub-orbital elevator drop and the blue marble increased in size. I fell back toward the Earth. I tried to look up to see if a parachute had deployed, but I couldn't see anything. The wind rushed around the shape of my rocket like a thousand whistles. Light filled the inside as I burst through the clouds.
Once the clouds cleared I could see the railroad tracks, the rooftops, my school, the park, my street, my house. The ship touched down on in my front yard with a small jerk like the end of a rollercoaster. I unbuckled my seatbelt as the door opened.
“Mom, mom,” I said, running inside. “I need more lemonade. More cups, more sugar. That was incredible.”
I rushed around and gathered all my supplies and set up my stand. Lemonade sloshed out of the pitcher as I stirred. The shoebox cash register slammed on the table. Ice cubes clanked under as I poured them into plastic cups. The stand looked the same as it had at the beginning of the summer.
I made a few sales that day. Some people asked why I was saving up again, if I already had a used MyRocketTrip 3000© in the yard. They didn’t stick around long enough for me to answer. At the end of the day a person with a familiar face walked by.
“Hey, Jennifer,” I called out before she got to my stand. She kept walking with her head down. “Jennifer, hey, I’ve got something for you.” She looked up and saw me holding a cup of lemonade in my hand. She walked over and looked around suspiciously.
“Did you poison this?” she asked.
“Poison? You think I have poison?” I replied.
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t have poison.”
“Okay.” She reached in her pocket and pulled out a dime.
“You don’t need to pay,” I said.
“Thought you were saving up for something?”
“A MyRocketTrip 3000©,” I said. She looked over my shoulder and saw the obsolete rocket behind me.
“Not for me though,” I said.
“What do you mean?” she asked. “For who?”
I pulled a thick sharpie out of my pocket and came around to the front of my stand. I pulled the top off the marker and added to the sign. Jennifer looked confused at first. But, when I pulled up a second chair, I saw a tear fall from her eye.
She smiled big and gave me a hug. She started pouring lemonade and arranging the cups. She leaned over the table to look at the sign again and read it out loud, “AMY AND JENNIFER’S LEMONADE. BERRYTOWN’S BEST! 10 CENTS.”