Late in August, when the sky was almost cloudless, Father and Lydia and Sulevi took a trip. They drove far away into the countryside, to a little hill where Father's friend the professor lived. His name was Dr. Siirak. He had moved into an observatory that he had been building for many years. Now it was finally ready.

It was the last day of summer, or the first day of fall. They waited for the evening, when they would be able to see a comet which was just then passing by Earth. When finally their own star sank in the west, the little foreign suns lit up the sky over the hill, and they climbed up into the observatory.

"Today the comet is only 15 million kilometers away," Siirak said.

"To me, that's not `only,'" Lydia said.

"Oh, yes, it is `only'. In space, all objects are so distant from one another that even a thousand million kilometers is `only,'" Siirak said.

"Why are they so far apart?" Lydia asked.

"The universe is expanding. The stars have been moving away from one another since the Big Bang. And they are still moving away," the professor said.

To Lydia that sounded disturbing. Then the stars were getting more solitary day by day.

"When will they stop moving away?" she asked.

"Oh my, you tell me," Siirak answered absentmindedly. "Of course some people believe that the time will come when the universe will start to shrink again."

"So, was it once very small?" Lydia asked.

"Smaller than a raisin. And still it contained everything," Siirak answered. "And it was very, very hot."

Lydia thought about the universal raisin from which all the moons and stars and suns had come. It was surely the most astonishing thing she had ever heard. She would have liked to ask where that raisin had come from and why it started swelling up without measure. And what if someone had eaten it? Then nothing would exist, and that someone would have burned his mouth badly and exploded.

Sulevi interrupted her thoughts: "What is a thousand million kilometers away?"

"The Sun's nearest fixed star, Proxima Centauri," the professor said.

Lydia looked into the eyepiece of the telescope. And then Sulevi looked. At first all they saw were clouds of fog, but the doctor said that was the Milky Way and that every particle of fog was a star, like the sun or even larger. It seemed to Lydia that they were all attached to one another, and she wondered if Dr. Siirak might not have slightly misunderstood the whole matter. But the doctor said that the stars were light years apart, they just couldn't see that with his binoculars. And a light year was such a great distance that no person could ever travel it. But Lydia had difficulty understanding how a year could be a distance.

"Well, that's just the way it is," Siirak said. "A light year is the distance light travels in one year. But gravity gives us the earth year. And that is a trip around the sun. Without gravity we would have no seasons. But now we can be sure that summer will always come again."

"Well, that's good," Lydia said earnestly.

Siirak showed them Proxima Centauri. It wasn't much more than a point of light. But the comet glowed and beamed, although Siirak said it was only a piece of dirty ice. Still, it was unbelievably beautiful. They saw its corona. It had come from far away, it was going far away. They could look at Proxima Centauri whenever they wished, but they would never again see the comet. It would not return for centuries, and then they would no longer exist. To Lydia that, too, seemed not quite right.

Other persons or beings would look at it centuries and millennia and millions of years from now. And Lydia thought of her mother, who had gone even farther away than the comet but who would never return.

"What exactly is gravity?" Lydia asked.

"It is a property of matter. We stay on the ground because we are so small and the Earth is so big," Dr. Siirak answered. "Because of it we can walk and sit and lie down. And because of it we say that the ground is below and the sky above, even though actually there is no such thing as above or below."

"It's that simple?" Lydia asked.

"Not exactly simple," Siirak said.

"Mr. Cyrus Teed would have an altogether different explanation," Father said and winked at Lydia.

"What kind?" Lydia asked.

"That we stay on the ground because of centrifugal force," Father said.

"You're not teaching the child fallacies, are you?" the professor said, raising his thick eyebrows.

"I'm teaching her to think," Father asserted.

"But can't gravity sometimes let go, just for a little while, now and then?" Sulevi asked.

"That isn't possible," the professor said. "There are laws of nature, which are immutable."

He thought a while and added, "So far as we know."

"But suppose it did," Sulevi insisted, "what would happen to us?"

"Naturally, we'd fall like stones straight into the sky," Lydia said.

"Or we would rise," Father said. "It's the same thing."

"No, in zero gravity we float," the doctor explained. "The astronauts have experienced it. Many people think it's an unmatched experience."

"I've floated too," Lydia said. "In my dreams."

"Dreams don't count," Sulevi said. "And it wouldn't be practical to be always floating."

"No," Siirak agreed. "We would be very different beings if we had been designed for such an environment. We can't live without Earth and without gravity."

In the morning they once again saw only one star. All the rest were obscured by its light. They carried their breakfast trays out into the sunshine on the steps of the observatory and ate muesli and drank cocoa. Lydia sat firmly on the steps, the cocoa stayed in its cup and the observatory stood solidly on its hill. All of it was as it should be.

Lydia felt the traces of the night in the cold of the stone steps and the warmth of the sun. Now that autumn had come, they would move away from their star until the winter solstice. But after that they would again turn toward its hot eye. Lydia remembered a song that went:

I am a seed, I trust in the sun
As I gather the next new spring.
In secret under the snow I prepare
A future flowering.
She began humming to herself on the steps of the observatory. A threshing machine was rolling slowly in the field, gathering the heads of grain.

"Now we are rich," Father said. "We have received the gold of both the stars and the grain."

But Sulevi asked: "But what if gravity would let go its hold just once, just for a little while? Maybe there is such a place on earth-"

© Leena Krohn