Jemmy-Ray and the better world
For Thabiso, because he was right.
The sky-scrapers sighed inwards with the setting of the sun, folding the habitation pods in their leaves closer to the earth, to keep some warmth through the night. Jemmy giggled. Her three transfer brothers shook their heads at her and kept eating dinner. Nobody even bothered to laugh at Jemmy for the delight she took in the skyscrapers closing for the night. They were all used to her strangenesses now.
The little family worked its way through the simple wheat-fruit meal in comfortable silence. Presently the sky-scrapers settled into their final night positions and the habitation pods stabilising gyros ceased their thrum. After a time the elective mother cleared her throat, eyeing the four children, who pretended not to see her eyes on them. The carry mother clicked her tongue and stood, collecting bowls and holding them out to the children shaking her head at these first small signs of domestic rebellion from her brood. Reluctantly Jemmy and her transfer brothers began clearing the table of the evening meal and carrying the utensils through to the scrubbing pool.
The carry-mother watched them each step, standing arms akimbo. As the last boy disappeared to set himself to his evening chores the carry-mother let her limbs fall to her sides and a sigh creep out of the corners of her mouth.
“Never mind” The elective mother reassured her, sliding an arm around her chosen pod –mate and pulling her down to sink into the softness of on the benches that flanked the family table. “They’re always excitable on Early-dark days, especially since we chose to host a transfer girl. You can hardly blame them.”
“Yes, but I worry about their long-term development. There is little room for individuals who will not willingly undertake their tasks in the colony.”
“Yes, my three-moon-night, but there is plenty of room here for the young to learn. Give them time to appreciate the importance of chores as community building.”
“I worry what I am unleashing upon the unsuspecting colony with this rambunctious brood.”
“Thus spake every carry-mother since the ships first arrived on this planet. You worry too much. See, already they come to lay a fire for their parents’ comfort without even needing to be asked. Isn’t that right children?”
The four small faces at the living room’s entrance fell a little, but obediently Jemmy and her three brothers trotted away to bring burn-stuff and a light.
The mothers relaxed into the silence and each other’s arms.
Presently there was a small blaze in the fire-pit and four children sprawled around it, looking up at their parents expectantly.
The elective mother cast a questioning glance at the carry-mother, who nodded.
“Maybe,” said the elective-mother, speaking to the curls of sweet-scented smoke that rose from the pit, “Maybe Jemmy would be kind enough to tell us another parable from her home timestream, so that we of the outer colonies may also be privy to lessons of central earth.”
The ten-year old girl drew herself up proudly. She loved Early-dark nights, for her transfer parents asking her to tell a parable had become a well-established family ritual. She had been preparing a good one for some days now.
“Well, one of the first ones that we are taught, in school, before we are old enough to hop between the time-streams and learn from watching the outer colonies, is how, in the days of old earth, human beings learned to talk past anger.”
The family unit drew together, the smallest of the three brothers putting his head in one of his sibling’s laps and his hand on the other’s knee. The mothers held each other closer. They watched, waiting for the small transfer child, warped here to teach and to learn, to continue speaking, her eyes dancing in the fire-light.
“Still at the dawn of the 21st century, just when we thought we’d slayed the demons of racism and sexism, of bigotry and religious intolerance, when we were beginning to yearn for language and dialogue that was inclusive, diverse, that saw everyone; we were stalled by rage. This is the thing about rage: it is like carbon in the atmosphere of the old planet, it does not just dissipate. So, all the rage that had not been allowed to be voiced, generations of rage, family histories of rage, rage wrapped around pain, rage shattering injustice, rage for and rage against and rage that seemed to flow without beginning or end. It flowed all around us, and yes, it loosened some tongues that needed to be loosened, and it stilled some tongues that needed not to be stilled. And all the tools that we had made to open dialogue, and protect and hold and build and open, we discovered to our heart-break, could also be used to close and hurt and repel and break.”
The fire dipped and the room was dark and still while Jemmy drew breath.
“And then, some people, for whom the rage-laced spaces were anathema, not fresh air, found another way to speak. Some people, for whom rage stilled tongues and hurt not held, began to speak into their own pain and ideas and fears and dreams by telling stories.”
The little girl became animated then, pulling herself closer into the watching circle of transfer-family, so they could all see her hands as she gestured.
“You see, that’s the thing about a story, it’s not really yours. You might write it, or dream it, but it’s only a half-thing, incomplete until someone else reads it. Then, it’s only a half-thing again in the reader’s mind until she tells it, or tells about it. It’s a whole then, in the moment during telling and hearing, but it’s a very different whole thing than it was before or will be again. So it moves and changes and grows between voices. Voice to voice to voice, echoes that spread through the dark and widen and fade, but never quite to silence.”
“So, some people took stories and sent them out into the world to become more than themselves. And, for some people, who read them, it was easier to talk then. Because no-one is arguing with you in a story, no-one is attacking you, there are no sides for one to be right, you’re just there, watching and feeling. And for some people, that was really, really good. So stories became more stories, and different stories and better stories and worse stories and everyone’s stories, because they hadn’t really belonged to anyone in the first place.”
The carry-mother shifted, inexplicable tears silvering her cheeks, “And that was how you did it, back on central-earth long ago? That was how you learned to speak to each other, past the rage?”
Jemmy shrugged, “It was one way. There were lots of ways we got past the rage. I mean there are lots of people, all very different, so needing lots of very different ways to solve even just one problem makes sense. But it was one way. It was something that helped.”
“That’s boring! Next time I want a lesson with more explosions. And a space-giraffe.” The smallest brother’s demand was slightly muffled from his being curled up in his sibling’s lap.
The mothers burst out laughing and knelt around their blood-children and transfer-child, gathering them close.
“Most lessons are boring, my heartlet.” The carry-mother explained.
“Small, and partial and biased and specific. Nuanced.” Added the elective-mother, nodding at Jemmy, who nodded back.
“Nevertheless, space-giraffes are also important. So follow me, broodlings, to the sleep-space, and this Early-dark you shall be spoiled because we shall tell you a second story, and this one will be veritable bristling with space-giraffes. Terraforming, hero space-giraffes with explodo-rays.”
And the children tripped over each other in their eagerness to strap themselves into bedpods, and hear what happened next.