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The idea of moving her hands through clay enticed Frankie. It was a dark time in her life—she knew it even then, knew she would talk about it that way later, though she did not know when later would be. Her physical therapist had said she should occupy her time, volunteer maybe. Instead, she signed up for a pottery class at the rec center near her parents’ house. Signing up meant writing her name on a legal pad with a spotty ballpoint pen. So close she didn’t need to drive.

The teacher was a white-haired and rosy-cheeked man, Greg—Santa Claus on keto. His quilted jacket was cut for a woman. By the end of the first class, Frankie would decide that he was pulling it off. Greg was a volunteer. The class fee just covered facilities and supplies. The other students were younger or older than Frankie by decades, schoolchildren or retirees.

First, Frankie made an absentminded clay turtle that fit in her palm. She thought she might give it to her father, to thank him for housing her, for not asking about the accident even as she took the stairs up to her old bedroom one at a time. The turtle was simple and clumsy, not a pot at all, but Greg came to the front of her work table and bowed his head for permission to pick it up, like it was something sacred.

“Sure,” Frankie said. She’d never done pottery before. Was this how artists behaved?

“What a precious little creature.”

The turtle dried on the class shelf for a week, then when Frankie fired it in the kiln its thumbprint turtle head cracked off. Elsa, one of the older students, found her first pot had exploded.

Greg called all the students over to the kiln. They stood in a circle around its squat cylinder form, looking down at its heavy round lid, its serious hinge.

Greg briefly explained techniques to prevent such catastrophe.

“It’s natural, to be afraid of breakage,” Greg said solemnly as they considered the kiln, “but you cannot. You try, try your best, to be sure a pot is sound, but eventually you’ve got to fire it. An unfired pot is not a pot at all.”

Frankie looked around at the others. Were they hearing this shit? Elsa was nodding bravely. Frankie wasn’t sure if she should giggle or write these words down. None of this, Frankie decided, was a big deal. Perhaps these people’s lives, unlike hers, were very small. They knew nothing about fear.

Still when it was time to fire a little green bowl, she hesitated. It was such a big kiln, such a hot fire, such a small bowl. When she finally lowered it into the belly of the kiln, she could feel Greg watching her from across the studio, approving.


Frankie sat down at the throwing wheel and winced, using her arms to hoist her leg into place. She had broken it in three places; the parachute had only softened some of the blow.

She steadied her foot against the pedal. Assuming this careful position brought to mind the moment just before ejecting from her cockpit, the electric importance of posture so as not to break one’s spine, pulling in her limbs before the blast, slamming into the wall of air, the blackout.

She did not wet her hands before touching the clay; they were already sweating.


At the beginning of every class Greg passed around a cardboard box of fruit snacks. The students tore the packets open with still-clean hands and popped them in their mouths. They were the good fruit snacks, translucent like colored jewels. Around week four-of-twelve Frankie realized she had come to relish the moment of catching the serrated edge of the packet, finding give, the ceremony of the start.

Frankie started collecting images to show Greg later: the pucker of a strawberry, the contortions of a tossed pillow.

“Delightful!” he’d reply, before continuing his quiet rounds around the room.

She began noticing the place on every coffee mug where the handle meets the hollow body. Under the clean glaze that clay must have been scratched and scored. She knew this was a permanent addition to her brain: her attention to that particular spot where constitution was uncertain, tested by firing.


Soon, Frankie began to feel Greg’s influence in other parts of her life, where he was not: a warm approval hovering over her shoulder as she selected her groceries, greeted her parents’ neighbors, scrubbed the burnt bottom of a pan. All the things a person should be able to do.

The kiln continued to strengthen or occasionally mutilate their pieces. Some mugs lost handles; cracks creeped up vases.

Frankie had begun to think of her days as pots: shapeable, fireable—potentially even beautiful. She believed weeks and years might soon seem to be, too.

When the next season came around, she re-enrolled in Flight Training, walked the halls of the Base again.


Twenty-three years later, in orbit around Europa, Frankie listened as her Commander explained the situation was dire.

The windows of their shuttle were small; Europa loomed blue-brown, massive, scratched and scored. Their journey of four years was compromised, the extent of the damage uncertain. They floated in a rough circle to discuss their options: attempt landing or abort. Any number of things might go wrong. Any one was enough. Comms to Mission Control took 45 minutes one-way. They had to decide. They all turned to glance at the hatch to the lander: its heavy round door, its serious hinge.

Frankie signaled to the Commander that she had something to say.  It’s natural to be afraid, she began.

A warning light blinked. In parallel, the team made their preparations: tightening velcro against velcro. One by one, they entered the belly of the lander. Frankie hoped that if Greg really were watching her maneuver in the zero-g, it would look as though she were lowering herself into the kiln.