Ezrebet YellowBoy normally works in fairy tales. From the journal Cabinet de Fees to her novel Sleeping Helena, she creates new art from an old form. Here, however, she is working in science fiction, though she still manages to make a certain amount of magic.
It starts how it always starts, with a kiss on the cheek, goodbye.
All my life my mother had pushed for this, and now here we are. I look down and see her scalp through her thinning gray hair. Her hands are spotted, the veins are blue and raised, and the knuckles are swollen and sore. She is not well, but she will not go into suspension. She has told me so. She will not wait for the world to renew. She will not see the sun through the clouds. Mulch, she says. I want to mulch, and then I want you and your daughter to plant flowers on my grave.
Oh, mama. I have no daughter and I never will.
I leave her at the door with damp eyes and a beatific smile on her face. Her daughter has achieved—is achieving—greatness. Her daughter is going to save the world. I wave as I step into the copter. She waves back as we fly away.
“Are you ready, Field Captain Mair?”
I steal a glance at Hijo, who will save the world with me. He is calm; his eyes give nothing away. “I am, Field Captain Hijo,” I say. “I am ready.” I have been ready since I was four years old.
In these last minutes before the real work begins, I have time to reflect on the path that brought me here. This is not something I allow myself very often. Long reminisces waste time. I am where I am, I always tell myself. How I got here is done. Where I’m going—that is what matters. But now I’m confronted with it, I feel the need to acknowledge that I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for her.
My mother pretends to recall a time when the sun shone and the flowers bloomed and the planet wasn’t covered in ice. When I was a little girl, she told me stories about trees—how they filled the atmosphere with clean oxygen for us to breathe. She told me about the sun, a bright gaseous ball of light in the sky that warmed the soil and nurtured life on our now frozen world. I believed every word, even though I couldn’t imagine what a tree was. And then she sent me to the Academy, because she wanted me to put flowers on her grave.
There I learned that my mother’s landscape was long vanished. I was crushed, but she’d done her job too well. Already, I was ready to do anything to melt the ice and see my world covered in the trees my mother did not, could not, remember. I, on the other hand, finally understood what a flower was.
When I graduated from my first year, my mother was there. She held my hand as we walked between the instructors, thanking them for their hard work. When I tried to run away because I’d failed a test, my mother—ill at the time—came to comfort me. When I graduated from my third year, there was no holding of hands. She stood proudly in the audience, tears of pride on her face, and clapped louder than anyone else in the room. Every time I fell, she picked me up. Every time I went home, she tended my wounds before sending me back again. She has only ever asked for flowers in return.
I will give her flowers, even if I can’t be the one who plants them on her grave.