Make It Count

Weekly Writing Challenge Digging for Roots

The-Majestic-Sombrero-Galaxy-M104   Hubble Image

 

 

…10…

Is this one way trip to nowhere?

…9…

“We are launching a single person mission and we have a very limited knowledge what lies beyond the wormhole.”

…8…

“If we want to solve this equation, I need to be there.”

…7…

“Mom, do you have to go?”

…6…

How will I do this?

…5…

“Based on all the data, there is a possibility of several habitable planets. But you are still going in blind.”

…4…

“I’ll miss you.”

…3…

“Due to the effects of the velocity time dilation and proximity of a black hole, there is a high probability that in your near future no one you know will be around here. But there are protocols for future generations to follow.”

…2…

“You are going to be a Grandma. We decided to name her after you.”

…1…

I love you.

***

Day 3

The view up here is beautiful, the splendor of my home below more distant every minute. Everything I ever knew and loved is there. DNA of my ancestors and my descendants compressed in building blocks of future. And still…there is this calmness I feel, the sense of fulfillment as I reach for my final frontier.
My great-grandmother taught me to look up, to search the sky: “One day you could be up there.”
“But I am not a bird.”, I would exclaim in wonder.
She would smile and caress my cheek: “No, you are a ray of light.”
Well, here I am, soon to become just that.

***

Day 247

I am a Grandmother. My future is split in two ways. One is behind me and the other awaits ahead. I wonder if the two will meet someday.
The last transmission was received several hours ago. She is beautiful, my granddaughter. Margaret. A dark-haired spark of life, stretching her little arms towards the sky. I imagine she is waiving at me.
After a lifetime of running and rushing, this quiet solitude is still enjoyable. But moments like these hit hard. I wish I could hold her in my arms.
I am alone. I am truly alone. And still…I am not afraid.

***

Year 4 Day 54

I am passing Saturn,  A ring seems almost at my hand’s reach. If I don’t emerge on the other side of the wormhole, just what I’ve seen so far will be enough. My readings on Cassini show it is still surfing on the Titan’s waves. Who knew it would last this long, years beyond our wildest expectations.
I am half way to Neptune

***

Year 8 Day 17

Wormhole is 2 days ahead and this might be my final log entry. I sent my latest video recording yesterday. My daughter finally forgave me for leaving, I think she understands, now that she is a mother. I always told her I would go to the ends of the world for her, that I would do impossible to ensure her future.
“What is impossible?” Rowena used to ask me when she was a child.
“Unknown is impossible until we learn enough to make it probable.”
“Stuff of dreams.” she told me when she grew up, ever the pragmatic.
“And dreams make probable become possible, my love.” I replied, my heart breaking for her absence of dreams.
Did I love her enough? Does she dream of me? I am not afraid. But there is this feeling of regret.

***

Year 8 Day 21

I spent last 4 days receiving and analyzing data from the other side of the wormhole. It appears the probes I launched from this side work as some kind of relay stations, picking up signals from the old probes, some of them going back several decades.
The exit from the wormhole sits right on the rim of the black hole’s event horizon. The transmission from two probes is so slow, that I am still receiving data from their first hours on the other side. If my calculations are off by a fragment, I will be caught in the accretion disc. Point of no return.
With my last findings and equations transmitted, it is time. I wonder if I’ll ever see it. The Blue Planet. My cradle of life that holds my roots, my past and my future. Once I was brave. Now I am not so sure. Was it worth it? I guess there is only one way to find out.
I am alone. And I am afraid.
For you, Rowena. End of the world.

***

Year 8 Day 21 – the other side

“Don’t fight the wheel, kid. Just let the car slide and gently steer it, let it find its way back.”
“Like this, Dad?”
“Yes, just like that. And don’t ever touch the breaks when you’re on ice. You’ll spin and lose control.”
“So, no fighting and no breaking. Just let it slide. I’ve got this.”
“You got it, kid. Just like that.”
I almost passed out at one point. I can’t explain it, the wormhole. There were ridges and canyons. Mountains and valley. Voids and bursts of light. And there was nothing. I was wrestling with the ship’s controls and then I remembered. No fighting. No breaking. Just let it slide.
I missed the accretion disc by a hair-line. The ship is on course to MXp1, leaving the black hole behind. It seems something is wrong with the beacon configuration, it receives the unusual amount of data from home. The wormhole is not visible from this side, but the transmission is getting through.
I need to rest.

***

Year 8 Day 22 – the other side/ Year 55 Day 153 – Earth

My daughter is dead.
My granddaughter Margaret is older than I am. I have four grandkids and eleven great grandkids.
My daughter is dead.
I am alone.

***

Year 8 Day 35 – the other side / Year 55 Day 166 – Earth

I came too close to the black hole. What seemed like hours to me was actually decades. For every hour I was passing by accretion disc, I lost eleven years. 55 years in a blink of an eye. I am 97 years old.
My daughter is dead.

***

Year 8 Day 101 / Year 55 Day 180

78% of Earth’s population is gone. Victims of the plague. I traveled through wormhole to another galaxy and barely escaped the black hole, while back home people died of a 400 years old plague. What a joke.
Margaret is an astrophysicist and an astronaut. Just like another Margaret I know. She is flying a spaceship, approaching the Neptune. But she is so much smarter. She didn’t leave her daughter behind. They are all with her. Her family. My family.
The humans built an arc, after all. We solved the equation. The plague wiped most of the population, but it also erased the borders, quenched wars, drowned the hatred. Fear of loneliness overcame all obstacles and united the human race. 127 people volunteered for the Arc Mission. 34 of them are related to me by blood or by marriage.
They will enter the wormhole tomorrow. The data they received from my passing through gave them a perfect trajectory, leading them away from the black hole.
“You must go.”, my husband said, when I told him the truth.
“She will hate me.”
“No, she will be angry. But she will not hate you.”
“Do you hate me?”
“Hate you? Oh, my love…Never.” he held me close, his lips pressed to my forehead. “You will be alone out there. But don’t be afraid. I believe in you.”
“I love you.”
His cancer spread to his brain as I passed the Moon. He died when I was half way to Saturn.

***

Year 8 Day 286 / Year 56 Day 1

Today is my birthday. 98 years old. 51 years young. Margaret complains that she can’t call me Grandma, when I am actually younger than she. I just laugh at her teasing, watching my family gather around the table.
We found a home. Breathable atmosphere, 83% of earth’s gravitation, water, solid rock under our feet. The Arc is huge, equipped with everything we need for a fresh start. Plants and animals will be kept there until we establish the more permanent base camp. There are few basic life forms, but nothing we are interfering with. Eco-system is rudimentary, but stable. With careful approach, our own species can be introduced.
We are mostly scientist, doctors and teachers. There are no weapons, no private property, no government. We will make a fresh start.
When I was 14, my mother died. But I still remember her last words:
“When you were born, I said I would never leave you. But life is funny, sometimes it gives you no other choice. You are strong, Margaret. Smart. Resilient. Don’t waste it. Make it count. Everything you do.”

***

Year 9 Day 30 / Year 56 Day 110

Margaret said her mother made her promise something. That she would bring her to me. Yesterday I found a little urn on my desk.
There is an ocean 2 hours drive from our camp. I went there today. The water is deep blue, just like back home. She always liked the ocean. Summers on our sailboat, her dad teaching her how to stretch the sails. She would love it here.
For you, my love…To the ends of the world. I guess I was wrong. I was searching for the end just to find the beginning. I left my roots behind just to let them grow again. I watched my future split in two just to see it whole again.
I am not alone.

***

Year 1 Day 1

For Rowena.

m082-2012-07-28-HLA-1092

   Hubble Image

 

Fighting The Undertow

Weekly Writing Challenge Find A Muse In The Masters – write a poem, a short story, a vignette, a scene, or flash fiction based on Nighthawks by Edward Hopper..

Nighthawks_by_Edward_Hopper_1942
Edward Hopper – Nighthawks, 1942.

If I am being honest, this was never my dream job. A barely legal kid, with no money and no connections, blinded by the city lights. When I said “I want to serve.” this was not what I really had in mind.

Ever since I was a scrawny little kid, I dreamed of becoming a soldier. My father came back from the Great War with one arm and few brass medals, fueling my imagination with war stories about lasting friendships and crazy adventures. Years later I realized he left out parts filled with blood and gore, to my mother’s immense relief.

“Husband, please…don’t fill his head with horrors, he is just a child.”
“My dear, it’s wise to prepare the boy for anything life might throw at him. Best he not be caught in the undertow.”

But, his love for my mother always prevailed and thus I grew up with stories that made my eyes bigger than my ears, dreaming of far away lands and imaginary enemies.

After Pearl Harbor nothing would stop me to enlist. So, I packed few of my belongings and headed for New York. Mother was silently crying, her iron grip almost crushing my hand. She always was a strong one, carrying the heavy load of living with a war invalid. Father was unusually quiet, pulling me to his one-arm embrace and whispering: “Come back to us.”

My mind was in a different place, miles ahead of the old bus covered with dust from our county’s well-traveled roads. I waved to my parents through the back window, already imagining how I would get a hero welcome years from now. Just like my father did so long ago.

My bus arrived to  New York on a rainy December evening, on the heels of President Roosevelt’s executive order that changed the age range for the draft from 21–45 to 18–38. After spending the night at the bus terminal, I was first in line, eager to start my military career, just to have my dreams crushed by doctors. “Heart murmur.” they said. “You should be lucky we caught it this early” they said.

That’s me, one lucky boy. Working in a dinner. Wearing the uniform. Serving other boys in uniforms. Watching them living my dream. Last month I had a pleasure to serve Peter Harper, my personal high school bully. He came in with few of his buddies, celebrating their overseas deployment. I should probably count my blessings that he didn’t recognize me, for surely he wouldn’t pass the opportunity to throw few punches at his favorite target.

Thus the days pass me by. A lost boy in a big city, crying over spilled milk, not having an ounce of courage to call his parents. What a disappointment I must be to my father, a war hero with an unfit son. Working for a minimal wage, barely making ends meet, how can I send money home, so my mother could stop exhausting herself with double shifts…My dreams of a hero welcome were replaced with dreams of paying my rent on time.

So, here I am, on a quiet Monday evening. Ava and Clark from the office across the street are entertaining me with their usual office gossip. It seems George from the accounting department was caught with his pants down. Literally. He tried to explain how he got the severe case of allergy, caused by his mother in law’s pumpkin pie. Somehow she forgot he was allergic to cinnamon, although George swears he warned her at least hundred times. Their boss was not impressed by his explanation, especially when he realized poor George used his comb to scratch his legs that were covered in red spots.

The last thing I expected to see when the doorbell rang was my father entering the dinner. He was not fond of traveling, always used to say: “I’ve done my share of wandering around, it’s time my old bones enjoy the retirement.” It was so strange to watch him standing there, this calm, quiet man surrounded by city lights and sounds.

In a second all my doubts and fears disappeared and I found myself in his embrace.
“I am so sorry, Dad.”
“For what?”
“For disappointing you. I failed my physical exam. They turned me down.”
My father tightened his embrace and said: “Good.”
His words left me confused and I stepped back, looking at his smiling face: “Good?”
“Yes, good. Now, give your old father a cup of coffee and a piece of apple pie.” he casually demanded easing himself into a chair.
I rushed behind the counter, determined to show how good I was at my job. It’s funny how we continue to seek our parent’s approval, no matter how old we are.

I placed his order in front of him and with newfound courage asked: “How is Mom?”
“She is mad at you for not calling. That’s why I came alone. Didn’t think it would look good if your mother marched in and scolded you at your work place. You owe me. Big time.”
“How are things back at home?”
“Peter Harper died. His plane went down somewhere over the Pacific. Mr. and Mrs.Harper got the telegram last week.”
“But I saw him last month. He was here!”
“I know. He wrote his parents, saying he ran into you. That’s how I knew where to find you.”
“I thought he didn’t recognize me.”
“He did, but didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. Somehow Peter found out you failed to enlist and didn’t want to rub it in your face.”
“I don’t understand it, he was always so mean to me, all through the high school.”
“People change and sometimes boys grow up.”

Ava and Clark waved goodbye and left, leaving us sitting in silence. My father clapped his hands, startling me, and exclaimed: “Give me one more piece of that apple pie, it’s the best I ever had. But please, don’t tell your mother.”
I laughed out loud, imagining my mom’s reaction. She was not the best cook, but refused to accept that. As my father finished his second piece, I cleaned up the dinner, locked the front door and turned out the lights. “Let’s get out in the back, I need to throw the garbage out. We’ll walk to my place, its 10 minutes from here.”

We were greeted by the cold night air, the smell of last snow still lingering around. The street was empty, echoing with our steps, lined up with buildings half asleep.
“So, what are your plans?” my father asked me and I could feel my insecurity creeping back.
“I don’t know. This is a decent job, but the money is barely enough. And to be honest, I don’t see myself doing this in a long run.”
“What’s stopping you to do something else?”
“Fear? I am afraid I will fail again. I dreamed one dream whole my life and I failed. I don’t know what to do next. How to start all over…”

My father stopped mid-step, looked up and pointed at the sky: “You see those stars? When I was a little boy, I dreamed someday I would fly up there. Then I dreamed I would go to lands faraway. Years later I went overseas, and there I dreamed to survive and return home. When I came back, my dreams didn’t stop. I met your mother, became a father and then I dreamed to see you grow up. There were hardships…Oh, you can’t even imagine how hard it was sometimes. Disabled, jobs few and far apart, watching your mother struggling to keep us afloat, seeing all the pitying looks from our neighbours and friends. And still…I dreamed. Because, there are so many dreams and so few dreamers. We need to reach for the stars or we’ll always linger in the darkness.  We need to be brave ones, to dear to dream… You will find your way, just don’t let be caught in the undertow.”

With every word he said, I felt the love filling my heart, warming my bones, making me stand taller. I finally realized how my parents survived all the years of constant struggle, how they always anchored each other, weathered the storms side by side. How they gave me all the life lessons I would ever need. How I will find my way, my dreams.

Because… there was always love.

And Then The Butterfly Flapped Its Wings

Weekly Writing Challenge The Butterfly Effect.

And Then The Butterfly Flapped Its Wings

♦♦♦ Part I – Peter ♦♦♦

It’s like the entire Universe is against me, he thought to himself. Last night Nina blew him off, ruining his perfect plans for their second date. And now he overslept. That stupid alarm clock his mom bought him let him down again.
Peter dragged his feet across the room and pulled the curtains from the window. “Great, it’s raining.” he murmured to himself and headed for the bathroom, stepping on his dog’s squeaky toy. “Barney, I swear one of these days…”
25 minutes later he was driving to work, zigzagging through heavy traffic, assuring himself the boss will be late, too. The car before him suddenly slowed down and forced him to change lanes, splashing pedestrians who were waiting to cross the street.
“Get out of my way! Peter, you are such a loser!” he waved in their general direction and pushed the gas pedal, praying there are no red lights ahead.

♦♦♦ Part II – Maria ♦♦♦

She could swear she heard that crazy driver yelling “Losers!”, adding insult to the injury. With clothes dripping wet and her hair plastered to her forehead, Maria ran after the bus that was pulling out of the station.
“Stop, please stop!”, she waved her hands hoping the driver will spot her in a review mirror, but to no avail. There was nothing she could do, as the bus vanished in the morning fog. One bus and seven stops later, she entered the bakery, thanking all the green lights for not being late.
” I smell like a wet dog.”, Maria took a deep breath and squeezed into her uniform. The open sign was still swinging on a front door, when a woman rushed in.
“Two croissants, please.”
“That will be 2,30 Mam.”
“Oh my, I only have 2,25. Can I bring 5 cents tomorrow morning?”
“No, I am sorry.”
“But surely, you can help me. It’s only 5 cents. Please?”
Maria thought to herself Who ever gave me a break? Certainly not that jerk who drenched me this morning, and said out loud: “Lady, life’s a bitch…Either you pay or move over.”
Simmering with anger, the woman left the bakery, followed by Maria’s voice: “Next!”

♦♦♦ Part III – Yvonne ♦♦♦

I just can’t believe it. She knows me, I am a regular customer, Yvonne thought to herself, angrily walking to the University. “I need a break. Just five minutes.” she said to her colleague, sitting down behind her immaculately clean desk, logging to Facebook. “Just five minutes of Farmville and I can endure whatever comes my way.”
Loud knock on the door startled her and seconds later a student entered her office, with hands full of books and papers, tripping over her own legs: “I am sorry Mam, but could you tell me where Biology 1 exam is held? It seems I lost my schedule.”
Yvonne looked at the student standing in front of her, her frustration returning in full force: “All the students were emailed the schedule and one copy was posted on the message board down the hall. It is not my job to waste time on stupidity. I mean, seriously…you students think I am here only to answer your questions.”
“Actually, Mam…I think that is precisely your job.”
“Get out. Now.”
The girl stomped out of the office and Yvonne turned to her PC, sadly noticing how her Farmville crops withered. “And I was this close to level up.”

♦♦♦ Part IV – Greta ♦♦♦

I am not going to cry, I am not going to cry, Greta ran down the hall to the message board, frantically searching for the exams schedule, finding the board depressingly empty. She froze in place, not knowing what to do. The halls were empty and she couldn’t even start to guess in which building the exam was held. The University Tower clock struck nine and all her hopes vanished with that last strike. The stone bench offered no comfort, reminding her too much of her mother’s grave she visited that morning. Greta picked up her phone and called one person she knew could make her feel better.
“Hi, Dad.”
“Hey, baby girl. I thought you had your final exams today.”
“I went to the Administration Office to find out where the exam was held, and it seems the lady had a bad day, so she yelled at me and kicked me out. And there are no schedules on the message board. So I am just sitting here, having no idea what to do.”
“I am so sorry, honey. But don’t worry, everything is going to be ok. We’ll figure it out. I’ll see you tonight.”
“Ok, Dad. Love you.”
“Love you back.”
As she ended the phone call, Greta heard someone calling her name. She looked down the hall and saw her friend Alicia waving at her: “Come on, we are going to be late. The exam starts in 5 minutes.” Greta ran towards her, whispering: “All is not lost.”

♦♦♦ Part V – Stefan ♦♦♦

Her picture was a permanent resident in his wallet, reminder of happier days. Stefan closed the wallet and put it in a glove compartment, started the car and eased down the driveway. It’s been six months and it still hits him like a hammer. Gone. Like a leaf, one moment a green splendor on a tree, the next moment falling, crumbling, vanishing. How Greta was coping with the loss of her mother, he couldn’t even begin to fathom. This was the first time she missed the exam, his little Miss Reliable.
Stefan spotted a double parked car just ahead and pulled behind it. Another day, another ticket. Seems people will never learn, he mused, slipping the ticket under the wiper blade.
“Excuse me, Mr.Officer…” a young raven-haired girl was running towards him. “I was gone for a minute, please…Please, take it back.”
“Mr.Officer?”, he asked her, trying to repress a smirk fighting its way out.
“Oh, I am sorry. Is that a wrong thing to say? Will I get another ticket? Another one I wont be able to pay….since I just got fired. My jerk of a boss asked me out and when I refused…Bang…You’re out. I mean, is that fair? I just moved here, found a roommate, a job, a boyfriend…I was on a roll. And now I am on a different kind of roll – lost a job, got a ticket…”
“Whoa, whoa…take a deep breath. I know only one other person in the world that speaks that fast. And she had a lousy day, too. So, I’ll do what someone else failed to do for my daughter. I’ll give you break. No ticket for you, young lady. But, don’t double-park again. Ok?”
“You are the best!!! I would hug you, but I am afraid you would give me another ticket.” the girl smiled radiantly at him and hopped into the car. As she was driving away, she yelled: “Tell your daughter she has the coolest dad in the world!”
Stefan shook his head and smiled, thinking how he and Greta might have a pizza night. After all, it was one of those days.

♦♦♦ Part VI – Nina ♦♦♦

“It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away…” Nina sang as she entered her apartment. Shoes off, slippers on, grocery bags flying on a kitchen table, she felt light as a feather. Grandma used to tell her that a single act of human kindness could change the course of history. Nina always laughed at grandma’s words, calling her old-fashioned. But today she remembered those words with tenderness, thinking for the first time that maybe Granny was right.
From the corner of her eye Nina  spotted a post-it on a fridge: “Hey roommate, I asked my boss and she said you can come over tomorrow for a job interview. xoxo M.”
“Life is good, life is good!” she chanted, swirling around the kitchen table. “Ticket – no, job – yes, boyfriend – maybe?”
Nina picked her phone, hoping she could fix that mess: “Hi, Peter. It’s Nina. Listen…I am sorry about last night, but I got fired yesterday and…Ah, ok… What about tonight? Would you like to go out with me?….You would?…Same time, same place? That’s great…See you!”
Smiling, she stepped out on a balcony, enjoying the last rays of sun. Nearby one lonely butterfly rested on a potted flower, soaking the warmth…First stars blinked on a sky above…and then the butterfly flapped its wings.