1. Where Avery boarded the gen ship after the flight from Earth. The echo of the launch craft still shook her, the echo of the seat still pressed into her back and legs, as if to keep her from taking any other form than what she’d been when she’d boarded the launcher.
The passageway was no longer as clean and quiet as it had been twenty years ago. Scuff marks marred the walls where supplies had been hauled in. Children traced the supplies’ journey with sticky fingers, as if tracing their own entries. The lovers they would become leaned against the trails and fingerprints, blending them into signs more complex and telling.
Avery would place her hand on the wall. Her hand, on first entry, gloved; her hand now pressed the markings into the skin of her palm.
2. Where Avery taught her first classes aboard ship, twelve years after she’d started teaching on Earth.
After the first Boarding Day celebration, Avery unlocked her classroom. She couldn’t take the paper animals that had paraded around her classroom on Earth. Most of the animals, she’d never see again, her students would never see. She’d made a new electric menagerie for her classroom on board with animals in the ship’s barns: cow, hen, sheep, rabbit. Milk, egg, wool, fur. And meat, all meat.
But no cat, like the old gray tabby she’d left with her sister on Earth. Avery would place her hand on her classroom door. Before class, sometimes after, she’d replace the other animals with pictures of her tabby, ones she’d taken and all those her sister sent until the tabby had passed.
3. Where Avery should have proposed to Grace. There could be no rings or ceremony, only a toast over dinner from the Captain after they’d registered the marriage.
Still in her wrinkled medic’s scrubs, Grace leaned against the window, which framed places neither their starting point nor their destination. Hours before, they’d called their first death: a young man who’d fallen from too great a height. Avery’s voice failed her. The young man, Grace told her, had asked if burial in space was like a hand releasing a fish under water.
Avery would place her hand on the bench, where she’d sat alone in the weeks after their breakup, folding and unfolding the paper crane Grace had made for her from a torn page of a medical textbook.
4. Where Avery sat with her knitting needles, looking out over the railings to the gardens below.
Neat rows of green mimicked the rows of yarns stacked in her craft closet. One bag of personal items, they’d said. She’d given the photographs to her mother, the books to her sister who took in her cat. Avery allowed herself three skeins and a pair of needles. On board, she’d knitted hats and unraveled them, shawls, scarves, socks, and once a sweater too tight even for her thinning frame.
Avery would place her hand on the railing. She’d thinned the yarn with too many uses and knitted it one last time into a tabby cat for her neighbor’s baby. She threw the needles into the scrap metal chute.
5. Where Avery had met Paul in the commissary, past the new items fashioned from scrap, among the new tea blends, his new way of looking at her.
They married soon after. Avery watched him on her days off, his hands working over pipes and frames, touching them, making them useful again after some structural failure. Once, he dropped a wrench onto a metal plate. The crash rang through her. She stopped watching him; they divorced.
Avery would place her hand on the commissary counter beside the teas. They were not the black teas she’d grown up with or the strong smoky teas she’d made each morning for Paul. She’d brew cup after strange floral cup, steeping the mixtures until nothing more could be drawn from them.
6. Where Avery had taken piano lessons, in the long room lined with electric keyboards. She’d taken lessons from the AI who taught the children. All her students took piano lessons. They and all who came after would master scales, major and minor, would master all the ways to strike the keys.
But none of them would know what it was to make a kite out of paper bags and fishing line, to fly the kite on a too windy day, to lose it in the vast blue sky.
Avery would put her hand on the last keyboard she’d played, too softly to strike a note. The clank of a wrench on metal, the clink of a spoon against a cup: her practice never recreated these sounds. Not the click of knitting needles, not the tap of cat’s feet against kitchen tile.
7. Where the others began to follow her on her daily rounds: at first, only a few, the child she’d given the knitted cat, the old man who mixed teas in the commissary, one of Paul’s young apprentices.
Within weeks, several more had joined. None of them spoke. This morning, there were twenty-seven, some unbearably young, some older, all following in her silence.
Avery placed her hand on her own door frame. Each one of them, she knew without turning, placed their hands where she did. Each of them followed her in her practice, recalling some moment of their own pasts, each hoping still that the ship would create some new memory to which they could return.
|T.D. Walker‘s poems have appeared in Abyss & Apex, The Stonecoast Review, Star*Line, Cold Mountain Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review and elsewhere. She blogs occasionally at her website, freethinkingahead.com.|