By Rose Wunrow
Writer’s Statement: “When Pluto Drops In” is a story about changing definitions and diagnoses. How does a name prescribed to (or taken away from) an individual’s experience weigh on identity in a world that seeks to put a label on anything verging towards the “unknown”?
As soon as you open your eyes, you know something’s up. Pluto, that renegade stripped of stellar status, hangs from a piece of dental floss over your bed. Sunk so low.
You say, “Pluto, that’s no way to behave.”
You try to think of the best way to cheer him up. You talk about the human condition. You talk about social constructs. “Being a planet is really a social construct anyway,” you say. “Alienation is actually a reflection of the flaws of a society that alienates.”
Pluto bobs up and down dejectedly. He tells you how hard it is to properly feel Loneliness and Despair when he’s stuck in a fixed trajectory – a rigid ellipse – an endless revolution. You cut Pluto down from the ceiling. “Let’s go for a walk,” you say. “You’re going to see things that the stars have never seen up close.”
You stick Pluto on your shoulder. He squats there feebly, completely disinterested as you unlock the door. You jump onto the porch with a triumphant ta-daaaa, pointing up to that extraordinary blue sky. “What a color, eh, Pluto?” you say proudly, feeling like the visit of a solar body entitles you to take absurd pride of ownership in everything earthly.
Pluto tells you he can’t see anything. It seems like some rules still apply during his visit. Any light from the earth will reach him in several thousand years.
You immediately feel guilty. You try to think of all the ways to make him feel better. There’s exercise, for one, but you don’t know if you could stomach hitting Pluto with a tennis racket or rolling him down towards the pins in a bowling alley. You consider dipping him in peppermint tea and worry about setting off a horrible chemical reaction. You consider giving him a cigarette. He doesn’t seem to have a mouth and it seems like an impolite question to ask. You imagine Pluto becoming a chain-smoker and shriveling up like a blackened lung, and the picture strikes you as darkly funny, so you let out a giggle.
“What’s funny?” asks Pluto.
“Nothing,” you reply hastily. “Want to go to the movies?”
The movie you pick is the latest Transformers film, because you figure there are enough explosions to keep Pluto entertained even if he can’t see the screen. Pluto sits nestled in buttery popcorn while you eat around him. Sometimes there are long scenes without dialogue. You try to explain what’s happening. The woman in front of you whips around and says accusingly, “Do you mind?!” and Pluto says, “No, thank you for asking,” and you snatch the popcorn bag with Pluto in it and dash out of the aisle before the woman can put two and two together and recognize Pluto from textbook descriptions.
“That was close!” you exclaim in the bathroom, putting Pluto in the sink and rinsing off the butter and salt. Pluto is fuming. Physically steaming. You stick him guiltily under the hand dryer until he stops.
Outside of the cinema, the late afternoon gathers in the light with businesslike fingers, dusting the streets with cold shade. Pluto glows a dark dusky blue. Your shoulder begins to ache from carrying him, so you take Pluto into a diner and make him a nest of napkins where he can sit without rolling off of the table. The diner serves all-day breakfast. You buy a plate of bacon for Pluto because you think it is a universal truth that the smell of bacon uplifts low spirits.
“Pluto, what’s it like out there in space?”
He is silent for a minute. Then he starts to speak. He tells you about blindness. About smallness; about orbiting around something infinitely warm, and never feeling its heat. In the dark are comets shooting off, drunken newborns hell-bent on burning. He says, “I wish I could have been a skittish passionate spark.” He says the universe is hyperawareness – wanting to seize everything. Then remembering that bodies of rock and ice don’t have hands. The universe is full of other people’s metaphors that are his reality. He says the universe is an idea of freedom. Then remembering that self-perception is about prescribed words: that is the ellipse; that is the revolution. He remembers he’s not alive at all. When he was diagnosed as a planet, he was the God of the Underworld. With a trimmed name, he is dwarfed. “Is that a planet?” goes the question. There is a checklist that needs to be filled out. “Do you self-identify as a planet? But are you really…? Are you really?” He talks about shame for being so small. He talks about wanting to be a comet. He dreamed about exploding, but he wasn’t quite sure how to do it right. That’s why he fell from the sky.
You lean over Pluto where he wallows in a bed of damp diner napkins in front of the cold plate of bacon. “Look, Pluto, what does the name matter anyway? You’re walking down the street and you see a kind of bird, and you don’t know what specific type of bird it is, so maybe you say ‘I don’t know what that is’ but you do, even without the word, because you saw it with your own eyes, so what does it matter if you don’t have the word? It’s still real, see?”
Pluto is silent. It’s impossible to figure out what’s going on in his head. You’re wondering if you should have picked an example without streets and birds – maybe he didn’t understand. You’re wondering if your example makes sense in your own head. You give up on the example with a little too much eagerness. “Come on, let’s go home,” you say, lifting Pluto with both hands. You give him a sort of hug, bringing him to your chest. You don’t care how much he weighs. You’re glad Pluto is blind and can’t see that your eyes are tearing up and you’re getting emotional. You want to protect Pluto.
You carry Pluto down the street towards your house.
The autumn leaves, varnished gray by dusk, crunch and are dragged along with your scuffing feet. Because of the drifts of dead leaves, you misjudge the height of the next curb and trip magnificently. Your arms spread open in a shocked helpless gesture.
Pluto falls to the asphalt. He tumbles into the scummy groove of the gutter.
“Pluto!” you exclaim.
Pluto didn’t come with brakes. He begins to roll along the gutter, faster and faster, gaining momentum as the road slants slowly downwards. What if Pluto rolls out and gets hit by a car? You begin to run. He is burning brighter. His path begins to bring sparks out of the pavement.
“Hang on, Pluto, I’ll catch you!” you yell, drawing abreast of him, but Pluto seems content. He makes a noise that sounds like laughing, letting out wild guffaws of sparks, flying straight on in a dizzying wheeling blur. As he accelerates you know you can’t keep up with him anymore, and you’re angry with him for leaving you so abruptly.
“Go on then! Just roll away!” you shout. You stop running, bent double, wheezing. Pluto yells goodbye. In the last moment before he shoots out of sight, he tells you he’ll come back.
You go back to the house. Your heart gallops and your brain buzzes with energy from the mad chase. Glancing into the mirror in the hallway, you can see that Pluto’s given you dark circles under your eyes.
“Pluto’s a crazy bastard,” you say to the leftover dental floss on the ceiling. You think about cutting it off, but Pluto said he’d be back. You let it dangle there over your bed. When you slip under the sheets and see the line of shadow drawn over the ceiling by the bit of string, you think of the gray gutter and broken ellipses. You try not to feel lonely when you turn the lights off.