Points of Origin

Most people who have reached their eighties without raising children have every right to believe that they will go on not raising them, and Judith and I were no different until the day they turned up with the social worker, neatly scrubbed and pressed inside their vac-suits and carrying cases with all their remaining worldly possessions. There were three of them like stairsteps, their black hair cut in fringes across their foreheads and their dark eyes shining out disconcertingly familiar at me. But it wasn’t until the social worker said, “Mr. Chao and Ms. Goldstein, these are your grandchildren, Enid, Richard, and Harry,” that I remembered, sheepishly, about the genes we had given all those years ago, to that nice couple from New New Prague, before they left for the Oort Cloud.

 

Most people who have reached their eighties without raising children have every right to believe that they will go on not raising them, and Judith and I were no different until the day they turned up with the social worker, neatly scrubbed and pressed inside their vac-suits and carrying cases with all their remaining worldly possessions. There were three of them like stairsteps, their black hair cut in fringes across their foreheads and their dark eyes shining out disconcertingly familiar at me. But it wasn’t until the social worker said, “Mr. Chao and Ms. Goldstein, these are your grandchildren, Enid, Richard, and Harry,” that I remembered, sheepishly, about the genes we had given all those years ago, to that nice couple from New New Prague, before they left for the Oort Cloud.

I gaped like the tank fish I grow. Judith murmured in kind confusion. It was Enid who settled them all, gently and efficiently, in what used to be our spare room. Later it occurred to me that she was very practiced at it for a ten-year-old, but later I knew why.

The paperwork was lengthy, and some of it required actual paper, reminding us why it had been called that. I thought that was cheeky, given that the social worker was dumping the children on us without even a message to warn us, but you can’t give people children without at least some protocol. Even I understood that. And I had known about the collapse of the Oort Cloud economy, in a vague news-feed sort of way. I had just not thought to connect it with myself, much less my guest bedrooms.

Judith peered at them in her mild dismay when the social worker had left. “What . . . sorts of things do you eat?” she asked, the bundle of questions on her mind turning to the most immediately practical matter.

“We’re omnivores, thank you,” said Enid. Not only her composure but also her vocabulary was so much older than ten.

“But—what do you like?” said Judith.

“We don’t propose to be any trouble,” said Enid, but her brother Harry said, “Noodles. We really like noodles.”

You do,” said Richard, rolling his eyes.

“We will eat,” Enid insisted, “whatever it is convenient to make. I can help if you like. And the boys, they’re big enough to do easy things. We won’t be a bother.”

I crouched down next to her. “Now, look,” I said, and she flinched back, just a tiny bit, but enough that I could see it. I had never made a little girl flinch just by talking to her before. I tried to make my tone even more gentle. “Let’s get this straight. We never expected to have you. You know that, there’s no sense in pretending. You never expected to have us, either. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to be beastly to each other now that we’ve got each other. All right? Harry can have his noodles.”

Judith started flipping through her pasta recipes unobtrusively on her viewer. “Dears,” she said, her voice very deliberately vague and distracted, “where are your parents, exactly?”

“Mother’s in jail,” said Harry.

“Shoosh,” said Enid.

“Well, she is.”

“Mother’s in jail for civil disobedience,” said Richard. “They thought it was a great deal less civil than she did, she says. She had no idea they would take us away from our cousins, or she’d never have done it.”

“What exactly . . .” I started to ask, and thought better of it. “And your father?”

Enid glared at her brothers as if it was their fault. “We don’t know.”

“I see.”

“They didn’t catch him with Mother when—when—” She flinched again, this time internally caused. Judith and I exchanged glances.

“When they broke up your family,” said Judith gently.

“It’s not that we don’t have anybody,” said Enid. “I don’t want you to be confused. We had Mother and Father and also our cousins Hector and Yolande and Philomel. We have people.”

“Of course,” said Judith. I nodded gravely, as though I had any idea who Hector and Yolande and Philomel might be, what they might be like to these children as family.

“It’s just our father’s parents are dead,” said Enid. “And the in-system governments . . .”

“Don’t recognize the rest of your family as related,” I finished. “The social worker was clear about that part.” Without it, I did not mention to the children, we would not have been assigned their care. Even with middle age extended through the end of the century mark for most in-system residents, eighty somethings with no child-rearing experience would have been no one’s first choice if they could think of another.

“They’ll get it fixed,” said Richard. “Yolande won’t let them keep us away from her.”

Enid lifted her chin defiantly and met my eyes. “Go wash up for dinner. Ms.—uh—”

“Grandma Judith,” said Judith quietly, and I knew she was just as sunk as I was.

“Grandma Judith is making you noodles. We’ll show her that we appreciate it.”

The three of them filed out. I regarded my love of the last fifty years with mingled bemusement and despair. “What on earth will we do with them?”

“They’re children,” said Judith firmly. “We’ll teach them things. That’s what one does with children.”

Privately I wondered whether I had learned anything at all in eighty years that would be worth teaching these quiet, self-possessed children. But they had never been to Mars before. We would start with Mars.

I let them have a quiet morning the next day while I fed and checked on the fish and made notes on the new crossbreeds. They all looked surprised when I came in and sat down in the rocking chair we kept in the guest room.

“Were we too loud?” said Enid.

“Not at all,” I said. “No. Of course not. I had just finished my work—or at least as much of it as I absolutely have to do today—and was thinking I would take you to see some of Mars.”

“That’s very kind of you,” said Enid.

“What would you like to do today?”

“I’m sure whatever you like will be fine,” said Enid, showing no emotional reaction whatsoever.

“Erin said that if we had to live on a planet, there were compensations, like ice-skating,” said Harry.

“If you had to live on a planet!” I repeated, bemused. We could find out who Erin was later.

Enid shot him one of her quelling looks. “Of course Mars is the very nicest of the planets,” she said. “We’re very lucky to live here, and I’m sure we’re just starting to find out all the lovely things about living on a planet.”

“Mostly we know the nasty ones,” Richard agreed. “Can’t change the gravity. Can’t fix the air filtration.”

“The same things out the windows all the time,” added Harry mournfully.

Poor Enid was nearly beside herself trying to convey to her brothers with only her eyebrows that they should shut it. She still didn’t trust that we would keep them.

I’m not sure she wanted us to, except that she knew very well that many places would be worse.

“I would have to look into ice-skating,” I said. “I don’t know what the hours are at the rink. I was thinking of more like the genetic engineering and terraforming museum.”

“Is that in another dome? Will we need our suits?” said Enid.

Well, at least they knew that much. Not like Earth children. Our next-door neighbor Bill had cousins from Earth, and they were like tadpoles, just darting about without a concern for anything sensible like what they might breathe or who they might inconvenience. My grandchildren at least knew how to present themselves in a tidy and orderly fashion, filters checked and suits in their proper bags in case of emergency.

At the museum, they were quiet at first and then more openly inquisitive. When they realized that I knew a fair amount about genetic engineering because of my fish, they picked me dry. “They’re like piranhas,” I told Judith when we got home. “They will gnaw any hint of flesh off you and crack the smaller bones.”

“That’s a good sign,” she said. “Perhaps they’ll relax a bit.”

I thought about how proper they had been, how careful. “Harry might. He’s still little. But Enid and Richard—I don’t know what they’ve been through. I feel like trying to ask is the wrong way to get them comfortable. But—do you think they’re all that buttoned up, out there in the Oort Cloud?”

Judith frowned and turned from wiping down the kitchen counters to put her hand on her hip. “I have never known an Oorter to be like that. But—things are different out there now for a lot of people, Torulf. Even just being taken away from their families might be enough, poor mites.”

I knew my expression mirrored hers. “I wish I knew what to do. I never—I don’t know what kids do. They were talking about ice-skating. They heard it was one of the rare compensations for the hardship of living on a planet.”

Judith snorted. “Poor us, planet-bound! Well, I have some time off coming to me. I don’t mind using it to show the children how things aren’t so bad on planets. Or at least on this planet.”

After that we went to the first landing site, and after that we took an entire weekend-long trip to go to Olympus Mons, to go up it and look out at the entire planet as our domain. The thing about Olympus Mons—and maybe you think you have mountains like this where you’re from, but trust me, you don’t—is that it feels like you’ve gone halfway to space. Like you could just hop a little and make it out to orbit. I thought the little ones might like that, and Harry did. Richard and Enid looked white eyed and skittish.

“Is anything wrong?” I whispered to Richard.

“Planets are very exposed,” he said. “I’ve just realized.”

His sister overheard him and nodded vigorously, keeping careful hold of the handrail there at the summit. “You can’t steer them. If you end up on a collision course with a comet or something, you have to fix the other thing because you can’t fix you.”

I looked at them helplessly. I hadn’t even come to Mars on one of the ships. Judith and I were both from Martian families from generations back. I think I had one great-great-grandmother from Earth, but I had to think about which one it might be.

Harry tugged at my sleeve. “Is ice-skating like this?”

I hesitated. I’d never been ice-skating. “A bit like this,” I said. “There’s a dome roof overheard, and you won’t do it in your suits. But I hear tell there’s a feeling of flying, if you do it right.”

They had not let up on the idea of ice-skating. When I asked Harry who Erin was, he looked at me like I was daft and said, “Erin is Erin.” I began to think that the Oort Cloud was filled with people’s relations. As I herded the children into the train down from the Olympus summit, I was struck with the realization that these days it might be full of my relations.

If it was full of anything. The economic collapse of the Oort economy after the plague at Chornohora Station was the subject of thousands of speculating pundits, with the Jovian system and the Earthers differing extremely about cause and justification, but one thing I could not dispute was that it had caused refugees. Maybe it was completely empty now. Maybe Judith and I would be all the home the children ever had.

I put my hand on Richard’s shoulder. “I think we can go skating next weekend. It sounded like they’d have an open ice time, and maybe lessons.”

Three young faces shone up at me. I noticed that Enid had Judith’s cheekbones—it was more obvious in her smile. “I don’t expect we’ll need lessons,” said Harry cheerfully. “We’ll just fall a lot and then get up again.”

“Oh, yes, good,” I said, a little baffled, but Judith was nodding.

“Quite right, Harry, that’s how one does it. Lots of falling, and even more getting back up.” One of the other passengers gave her a grin, and for the first time I saw my wife as the others on the train must see her: a grandmother out on an expedition with the grandchildren.

I’d asked them to call us that, but I hadn’t entirely realized the rest of the world would do so as well. It felt funny. Not a bad funny.

And it was Judith who thought to check, before the last minute, that the children would have warm things to skate in. Even with the centuries of terraforming, living on Mars means living under domes, and when you go out of the dome, you wear a suit. But nobody wants to skate in something so bulky as a suit—and yet the climate control on the dome would have to be set cooler than Judith’s and my dome, the Kilbourne Dome, likes to keep it for the ice to stay frozen. Sure enough, Enid had a sweater that she thought might do, but the boys were hopeless; apparently their Oort ship was as temperately inclined as we are.

So that was one thing we had to do in the week before we took them skating. The other thing was school.

A great many Martian children don’t go to school. They take their schooling over the net and meet up with other children their age when opportunities present themselves. At first Judith and I thought that would work for our three, since they were so very self-disciplined, but as the days passed we realized that we didn’t know anyone else with children the right ages. Opportunities were never going to present themselves. We would have to find opportunities ourselves. And the likeliest way to do that, we decided, was to put the children in school.

“But—” said Richard.

“We’re not at home, Richard,” said Enid. “I’m sure you’ve picked a lovely school for us. Thank you.”

“Oorters don’t go to school,” said Richard. Enid glared at him.

“A lot of Martians don’t either,” Judith told him. “That’s why we didn’t enroll you right away. But we don’t know other people with children your ages.”

“We have each other,” said Richard.

“Richard,” said Enid. “What did we agree?”

“What did you agree?” I said. Richard squirmed enough to slide off the couch and onto the floor, where he hugged his knees and tried to look like he had meant to do it.

“We agreed,” Enid began.

Richard broke in, still curled in on himself. “We agreed that we would be good sports and try to trust you and make the best of everything for as long as we have to be here.”

Have to. That had started to hurt, somewhere along the way, and Richard saw it in my face. “I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t mean anything by it. Things are just—not like we’re used to. And we’re really trying.”

“I know you’re trying. You’re doing a good job. But please go ahead and call me Grandpa, not sir,” I said, for probably the twentieth time. I thought about it and added, “Martians aren’t big on sir and ma’am.”

“But we’re not Martian,” said Richard. “We’re habbers.”

I was obscurely stung by this, but I pressed on. “I know that, but how do you think there got to be habbers? Most of you came from Mars, not straight from Earth, or stopped off at any of the moons along the way. Didn’t they teach you that?”

They all shook their heads, wide-eyed. I added some more fish food to the tank, trying to think how to put it so they’d understand. “When the Martians got all settled in, some of us got nice and cozy, like your Grandma Judith and me. And we felt like Mars was a pretty nice place to live, couldn’t want better. But others—others had come to Mars because they wanted something new. And the new thing that Mars is wasn’t enough once it wasn’t new—they needed something they could reshape all the time.”

“Like us,” said Harry, walking over and leaning against the side of my chair trustingly.

“Like you,” I agreed. “Like your parents, and like you. Mars is closer to the Oort Cloud than you think. Not in distance,” I forestalled Harry. “But in philosophy.”

“You’re all—staying put,” said Enid.

I didn’t press the point. Sometimes you can’t, when you’re the one with the power. But I thought, we’ll see.

School was not the soul-transforming horror Richard had feared; he came back from it pleased and satisfied, having learned about the existence of soccer for the first time. Enid spoke in measured tones about how they decided who was in what class, what she liked, what she thought was promising. And Harry put his head in Judith’s lap and chattered. School was a mild success.

It was nothing compared to ice-skating.

Harry was the one who had said that they would fall a lot, but Harry hardly fell at all in just plain skating. To look at the child, you would think he had been born on skates, pushing off and gliding quite naturally, trying almost immediately to do turns and go backward. The turns were his nemesis: he kept going faster than he knew how to manage and tumbling down in a heap, but it only made him laugh and race off crazily in another direction, completely unrelated to his starting point and initial vector.

Richard clung to the boards at first, trying to find his footing on the slippery sheet. The first time he fell, I jumped to my feet in the little observation bleachers, sure he would cry, but he got back up, looking grave and purposeful, and fell only once more before he gave up on the boards and tried skating without support. Harry skated in circles around him, encouraging him in the obnoxious bratty way that only a younger brother can.

Enid was fairly good at inching along upright, but that was not enough for her. She saw the more experienced skaters gliding along, and a look of yearning crossed her thin little face. She was willing to fall and fall, again and again, so long as she could get better at gliding. By the time we called the children to go, she was almost as fast as Harry, and a great deal more controlled. She could return to her point of origin precisely and serenely at the end of every turn.

They were all pink cheeked and beaming as they unlaced their rented skates. Judith gathered all three pairs and took them off to the return counter while the children put on their shoes.

“We have to do this again!” said Harry, jumping to his feet.

“We definitely have to do this again,” said Enid. “If it’s all right with Grandpa Torulf and Grandma Judith.”

“We won’t be able to come every week,” I said, “but I see no reason you can’t come skating from time to time.”

“And we have to bring Dad when he finds us—” Richard stopped, staring up at me. I looked from him to his brother and sister, who were looking at the scuffed floor. I saw in them a truth I had not even considered: they were waiting for their missing father. They were sure, powerfully sure, that he was trying to find his way to them. That he would get them and take them home.

“Richard,” I said gently. “Richard, let’s talk about this at home, all right?”

He nodded warily. Judith came around the corner. “Ready to go?” she said. She shot me a baffled look at the long faces—they had so clearly enjoyed the skating—but took her cue from my silence on the way home.

I put a long-simmering soup on the stove before I turned to the kids. “Now. Your father. I don’t have any specific information—”

“Neither do we,” said Enid quickly. “If we knew when he was coming, we’d let you know so you could make plans. I mean—”

“Thank you, Enid,” said Judith quietly. “They brought up their father?”

“Richard thinks their father is coming to take them home,” I said.

“It won’t be like before,” said Harry with cheerful confidence. “We know that.”

“Do you? What will it be like?” said Judith.

“Well—” Richard started, and then looked to Enid.

“Of course Mom won’t be there,” said Enid. “And we’ll have to merge ships with another family, since ours has been taken. Probably an alliance of some sort, or else we’d end up the junior cousins, and Dad and Philomel would never make arrangements for us like that.”

“My dears,” I said, as gently as I could, “what other family?”

“The Teuku-Tans, I imagine,” said Enid. “Or someone like that. Someone we know and like.”

I bit my lip, glancing at Judith. She had closed her eyes. I said, “I can help you look. If there are specific families you want to know about. But Enid—most of the families in the Oort had their ships repossessed. It’s not just you.”

“I know, but—the Teuku-Tans have ties to Elizabeth Tan on Miranda Station,” said Enid. “If anyone can help us weather it—”

“You and thousands of other families,” I said. “As I said, we can check. But I don’t think you should count on your dad being able to take you back to the Oort. Even if he finds you—”

“When,” said Enid firmly, her eyes on her brothers. They had looked to her in startled panic when I said “if,” and I realized that she alone was old enough to even think of the reasonable doubts.

“All right, when he finds you,” I said, giving in on the smaller point to make the larger one. “It may be that you have to live here a while longer, you and your dad. Or it may be that he wants to move you out to Ganymede, or Miranda Station, or wherever he can get work. He may have to work in the asteroid belt for a while. A lot of Oorters have to work on company ships in the asteroid belt, and if he does—”

They were all staring at me.

“It may be some time,” I finished helplessly. “The asteroid belt ships don’t usually take children. You may be with us some time. That’s all I’m saying. And of course your father is our family now, too, he’s welcome with us—”

“What your grandfather means to say,” said Judith, “is that we should focus on the present.”

“Oh yes,” said Enid. “I’ve told the boys that too.”

None of them believed it. You could see in their faces, they didn’t believe it in the least. Living on a planet was an experience they were having, and they would probably talk about it fondly when they were grown—but the idea that they might spend any amount of time with Judith and me had not crossed their minds. And I couldn’t really say that we understood what it would mean to raise them to adulthood. I don’t know that we’d had the chance to think about it. But I think Judith and I knew that the odds against their dad coming for them were pretty high.

Judith was the one to propose reading to the boys every night, and Judith had the idea for the outing the next time we had a free weekend. I would never have thought of Magus Station, but when I saw Harry jump up from his train seat and gasp, I knew she was right: it was the perfect place to take them.

“That’s awesome!” said Harry, pressing his nose against the train window. “It’s beautiful! Enid! Richard! Look at all the shiny jewels!”

“It’s certainly shiny,” said Enid, suppressing a smile.

I had to say I was with her: Magus Station is quintessentially Martian, but not what one might call . . . reserved. Or classy. Nearly every building was made with low-quality peridots from the mining operation, the ones that nobody would want for jewelry, and the effect varied from things that looked like subdued green-yellow glass to a fairy-tale palace, if a fairy-tale palace held the post office and had been decorated by the bad christening fairy’s psychotic sister.

Magus Station had been a mining town in the old days, and still was one, if by mining you mean picking up perfectly nice things from the ground. There were lots of gem carvers and jewelers in town still, since every Martian who goes off-planet wears at least one peridot by custom, but there were also little souvenir shops with T-shirts, fudge, and history game apps for the kids’ handhelds. You could go out in your own suit and pick up your own raw peridots, or you could go down into the museum of Martian mining, which we did.

We were in one of the shops where people buy their earring when they’re going off-planet, and I made an impulsive offer. “How about we buy you each a peridot?”

“No, thank you,” said Enid, more sharply than she’d ever spoken to us.

“Just a little earring,” I said.

Judith chimed in, “It’s nothing extravagant, dear. We can afford it, and we’d like to—”

“No,” said Enid. We blinked at her.

“I like the really greeny green ones,” said Harry.

“Peridots are for Martians, Harry,” said Enid.

“Well, but at this point you’re part Martian,” I said.

“We’re not,” said Richard.

“Maybe a small part?” said Judith. Enid looked up at her with my eyes. I know Judith was seeing my eyes in the girl.

“You never wanted kids,” she said steadily. “Your genes were quite good for kids, and there are plenty of ways to combine them—with help if you needed it—or to raise kids who—kids like us. If you’d wanted to. But you didn’t want to. You just took us because the Martian courts said you had to.”

“That’s—” I sighed, and Judith took over for me.

“That’s entirely true,” she said. “We didn’t want kids. We still don’t want kids. But we want you. We won’t keep you from the rest of your family if they find a way to come for you. If they find they have a place to keep you safe and healthy and get you education and all of that. But if they don’t, we want you. Never doubt that, my dear.”

“All the same,” said Enid. “We’re not giving up on our own family, and we’re not getting peridots.”

Judith and I exchanged helpless looks. The clerk was wide-eyed and nervous, seeing a sale slip through her fingers and clearly hoping the children would not get more unruly. I clapped my hands together and proposed fish and chips, that quintessentially Martian food, and Enid relaxed. I hoped that it would let her enjoy the rest of the day.

That night when Judith was reading to the boys, I called Enid into my study. She perched in my second-best chair.

“I haven’t been able to find your father, dear heart,” I said. “I didn’t want to say it in front of the boys because you know best how to handle them.”

Enid nodded. I think she was grateful that I gave her that much. “He’s probably not—probably not somewhere he’ll be easily found, at this point. Perhaps when things have settled a bit, he’ll be able to come in-system.”

“Perhaps,” I said.

“I hope you didn’t think we don’t like staying with you, when I didn’t want the peridot today,” she said, wrapping her arms around one upraised knee.

“I know it’s not what you’re used to. You remember how your Grandma Judith read the boys Mary Poppins? How Mary said she’d stay until the wind changed? You pretended you weren’t listening, but we both know better.”

Enid nodded slowly.

“How would that be, then? If you stayed until the wind changed?”

“Grandpa, you don’t have winds under a dome,” she said, staring at her hands.

I drew my breath in. “Oh, chickadee. Oh, kidlet. No, I’m not trying to trick you into saying you’ll stay permanently. I know you won’t. I just—it’s a metaphor.”

Enid peered at me. “What’s it a metaphor for?”

“For . . . knowing that you can’t control everything. You’re waiting for a thing you can’t control. You can try to make the best of it while you’re here, can’t you? And—know you can come back if you have to?”

“Grandpa, peridots aren’t for people with family on Mars,” she said patiently. “Peridots are for Martians.”

I puffed out my breath, thinking. “You’re right. You know, you’re right. We need . . . we need something different. Not earrings or something usual. Maybe a necklace with peridot and something else? What have you got in the outer system for—I mean, what do people wear mostly?”

“Asteroid diamonds,” she said, “but those are a lot more expensive here than peridots, even though they’re much cheaper back ho—back in the Oort.”

They were expensive indeed—and more to the point, nobody looking at a diamond-and-peridot necklace would assume that the diamond was an asteroid diamond, or symbolic of any such thing. I chewed my lip in thought and let her feel that the subject was closed.

And in effect it was closed, until the next time I took them skating while Judith worked.

Experience emboldened the children. I couldn’t have said whether they remembered any of the other skating children from our previous expedition—it seemed unlikely—but they joined in games with Martian kids, not just each other. I leaned back, smiling, and knew that this was going to be part of my life, probably for years. School programs, and getting new vac-suits fitted to growing bodies, and trips to the skating rink. This would be how we did things.

“Grandpa, come skate with us!” called Harry from the ice in front of me.

Richard skated over to the boards and leaned over them, holding his hand out earnestly. “Come on, Grandpa. Come skate.”

“I don’t have any—”

“Neither do we have skates, and you rent them for us,” said Enid. “They have adult sizes. There are hundreds of adults skating right now, it’s not just for kids.”

There were not hundreds of anybody, but I took her point. It was a small thing, and it might be fun. I went and traded my shoes for a pair of scuffed black skates that smelled of sweat and disinfectant. A nice woman who had just helped her two small children out on the ice helped me lace them. I felt wobbly and uncertain trying to stand on skates on dry land.

The ice was not any better. I soon realized why Richard had edged along his first time, why he hadn’t wanted to let go of the boards. Gliding felt less grand and graceful, more completely out of control.

“You’re doing beautifully, Grandpa,” said Harry earnestly. “You can skate out to me, can’t you?”

I looked at him. He was less than two meters from the boards. It might as well have been the distance back out to the Oort Cloud, but if I was going to try, I should do it in earnest. I managed to wobble out to Harry. He said, “That’s great, Grandpa!” and took my hand.

A passing woman in a blue coat smiled at us. I tried to smile back. I could probably smile and skate at the same time, I thought, if I could skate.

Harry tried to tow me along, and then Richard came and helped him. We were almost all right. We were sort of all right. I said, “Boys, I should try it on my own again. Never learn to do it unless I try, right?”

Richard nodded and let go right away. Harry followed only when he saw his brother doing it. “But we’re here, Grandpa,” said Richard. “If you want more towing. We can help.”

They were such nice little sprouts. The smile came much more naturally to me as I tried to push off and glide away from them—or I thought it had, and then the world moved by too fast to apprehend, and I was lying on my back on the ice.

When the pain haze cleared—which only took a split second—and I was paying attention again, there were three worried little faces above me. Enid crouched down to check closer. “There, Grandpa, are you all right?” she said. I was only a little dazed—there would be a giant bruise on my backside, and my wrist was a little wrenched—but I let her hover over me and check me like a professional, top to toe. Richard was there to help her get me to my feet, and Harry trailed along close behind.

“I’m all right,” I said. “Truly. Go on ahead and skate some more.” I sat gingerly on the bleachers, easing the skates off and watching the children dart about, trying to spin, trying too much, falling and trying again. It wasn’t just seeing them in a new setting that I liked about the skating rink, it was seeing myself that way.

The idea of a new setting triggered a thought in my head about the peridots I had wanted to give the children, and after consultation with the netcyclopedia and Judith, I hoped I had an answer. I called Enid into the office where I kept the records about my fish.

If I had been staging it for a video, I would have slipped the necklace over her head, but by now I knew Enid better than that. She wouldn’t have liked it. I simply handed it to her and watched her face as she examined the greeny-gold gems honeycombed with metal. “What is it?” she said.

“It’s pallasite,” I said. “Peridots, but in meteorites. The rest of it is nickel-iron. It shouldn’t rust. I got them for the boys, too, if you like yours.”

“Meteorite peridots,” she said. “So . . . still from the outer system, but with little glinty Martian bits.” Her face moved oddly. I waited.

“It’s perfect, Grandpa,” she said softly. “Thank you.”

“We’re not trying to make you something you’re not, Enid. We just want you to remember that part of you comes from us.”

A more demonstrative child would have hugged me. Enid just slipped the necklace on and whispered, “I couldn’t ever forget that. Not anymore.”

 

“Points of Origin” copyright © 2015 by Marissa Lingen

Art copyright © 2015 by Keith Negley

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