The Discovery of Pluto
by Jen Larsen
We discovered Pluto behind the couch. It was so small and looked so vulnerable, like an egg wobbling on the verge of a so-deep drop. It was heavy, too, and icy cold. My brother and I fought over it so my mother took it away from us and put it up on the mantle.
(Some things I know about Pluto: Pluto’s orbit is chaotic.)
My mother said, I can’t deal with this right now. I can’t. And she closed the door of her room behind her. Those were the times we knew to not listen as hard as we could.
On the mantle, Pluto’s gravity dragged everything toward it, even those soft and terrible sounds our mother made when her bedroom door was closed. On the mantle, Pluto looked so small from where we were standing, and solid. Even after everything.
(Pluto’s tiny size makes it sensitive to unmeasurably small details of the solar system.)
Sometimes I’d creep into the parlor and sit in front of the fireplace. It sounds stupid to say, but you kind of got the feeling that Pluto understood disappointment. You kind of got the feeling that Pluto understood where you were coming from, that sense of loss that hung around right in the center of your chest.
Right after our father’s funeral, our mother walked into the house and stripped off everything she was wearing. It made us embarrassed to look at her, her pockmarked and scarred terrain. Standing there in her underwear. She scrubbed everything clean, and threw everything away, no matter what we said. We saved Pluto from her, somehow. For the good of the solar system.
(When it comes to Pluto, calculations eventually become speculative.)
We came home from school one afternoon and Pluto was gone. We looked through the whole house. Our mother’s bedroom door was closed. I knocked, and then my brother knocked. We tried the knob, and it turned. We opened the door, and it was as empty as the space between planets.
But we knew that things like that happened. Millions of years from now, Pluto could be at aphelion or it could be at perihelion or it could be anywhere in between, and there is no way for us to predict which. The resonances of the universe keep Pluto’s orbit stable, safe from planetary collision.
Maybe we thought we’d find our mother behind the couch, with Pluto, and our father, and everything we’d ever lost. For just a moment—like a brief and perfect instant of hydrostatic equilibrium—it could have been true.