Melissa smoothed her silk dress, checked her hair, and rubbed sanitising gel on her hands. Her husband handed her the little plastic device, and she smiled as she pressed firmly on the clicker.
The needle shot round into her thumb, stinging more sharply than expected.
He took her hand and, pressing gently, guided it so the swelling drop of blood fell into the square well on top of the box.
His arm around her shoulders, they hurried away and waited.
Silence fell. Everyone waited.
Melissa sipped at her lemon soda. It shouldn’t take this long. It hadn’t taken this long when she’d held Aimee’s hand three years ago.
“Did you do it?”
“Yes, Mum!” Melissa snapped, more harshly than she intended.
It had only seemed a few moments before Aimee’s silver rocket had zoomed into the sky. Had Aimee felt the time dragging like this, before the explosion of super-cute pink bears?
She turned to her husband. “Do you think it’s…”
A fizzing crackle interrupted her question, and he squeezed her shoulder.
The rocket didn’t fly directly up as expected. It spiralled, executing wild loops until it hung, spitting sparks, over the summerhouse.
Melissa held her breath.
Showers of green and orange stars rained down in torrents. A purple train flew out to one side, and a noise like the blare of trumpets shone over the uneasy group staring at the sky.
“Mummy, you said it would be…”
Aimee shushed her daughter.
“Melissa, are you sure you did it right?”
“But it shouldn’t be all those different colours!”
“It must be a manufacturing error” said her husband, his arms protectively around her.
Everyone looked from Melissa to the box to the space in the sky above. Memories of the vibrant stars shimmered behind their bewildered eyes.
A week later, when she’d had a proper test at the hospital, Melissa had cards made. Beautiful, darling little cards that unfurled into blue vintage racing cars. She sent them to the party guests who’d travelled so far but gone home awkward and confused.
Melissa brought Benjamin Albert home from the hospital, wrapped in a sky-blue blanket, and settled the baby in the nursery they’d painted ready.
It was years. Sixteen years of toys and books whisked out of sight; of reluctant Saturday morning rugby practices and screaming fights over clothes; of awkward conversations with the school. And tears, so many tears, before Melissa accepted that the exploding box had been correct.
Elizabeth Guilt lives in London, UK, where history lurks alongside plate glass office buildings and stories spring out of the street names. She has had fiction published in Luna Station Quarterly, Electric Spec and The Colored Lens. You can find her online or on Twitter (@elizabethguilt).