Author : Timothy T. Murphy
A month before reaching Europa, Heather woke to an e-mail from her grandfather. Her grandfather hated e-mail, so much so that she’d been shocked when he asked her to teach him so they could talk while she was away.
He hated cameras even more, so when she opened her in-box to see a thumbnail of his face, she was stunned.
She clicked it and her grandfather’s face swam into view, eyes red and swollen.
â€œHeather, dear, this is your grandfather. I’m sorry to have to tell you this way, but your mother has died.â€
Even in one-sixth gravity, her gut sank like a rock.
â€œThere’s uh… been a virus spreading about, these last few months. I think you only just missed it…â€
She knew of it. Two months after leaving Earth, everyone on her transport got into a panic over it. For three months, they all hopped around with breath masks, getting panicky anytime anyone sneezed. Heather’s dust allergy had not made her popular.
â€œI didn’t want to tell you until it was certain, and for a while there, it looked like the antivirals were working. Two days ago, she took a very bad turn …â€
She didn’t want to think of what that meant. She’d heard the stories. She tried not to think of her mother lying in bed, soiling herself and screaming incoherently as the virus fed on her nervous system, leaving behind mineral deposits that calcified her brain.
â€œYour brother and father are fine. They’ve been quarantined for weeks, but it looks like they’re not infected.â€ He paused to wipe his eyes, not looking at the screen. â€œYour mother wasn’t allowed any visitors.â€
She died alone.
Five months she’d been on a spaceship, adapting to low gravity and being shunned as the only law enforcement officer on board but for the first time, Heather felt sick and alone. Her gut wrenched into a knot and she leaned forward, pressing her face into her hands as fat tears slid free of her eyes.
â€œI … I know that you and your mother didn’t get along, these last few years, Sweetheart, but … Well, services are Saturday, and I know you can’t be there, Baby, so if there’s anything you’d like me to say on your behalf, well … you can let me know.â€
She knew as well as Grandpa did that any words from her at that ceremony would be seen as an insult, a spit in her mother’s face. In the Childress family, she was a pariah. â€œThe only Childress ever to grow up to become a servant.â€ Only Grandpa still talked to her, and even he did so in secret.
Still, it was her mother. She wanted to say something. Her mind spun about, looking for some anchor, and landed on the only photo she’d bought with her. Pinned to her bulletin board, it had been taken twenty years ago, when Heather was just seven, and still her mother’s favorite. Her mother had broken her leg, skiing in the French Alps. Heather had signed her cast.
Almost blindly, she opened a new mail and clicked her grandfather’s address. For the subject line, she only put, â€œEulogy.â€ For the message, â€œMy mother taught me to endure pain. It is no help, now. I’ll always ache without her.â€
She thanked him and sent it. Later, she would send a longer mail, telling him how she felt, and trying to console him in his loss, but for now, she curled up on her cot â€“ five months away from her mother â€“ and cried.