Author: Craig Finlay
You’ve kept a list of firsts ever since you were six and learned you were the first generation of humans to be born on a generational space ship. You knew this earlier, but for some reason six is when it clicked, what first really meant. While reading a book about Leif Erikson you looked at the cold, miserable-looking men in their little open-topped boat battling through the North Atlantic and realized you’d be in a book someday too. So you started keeping lists of firsts, for posterity.
They were mostly mundane. You couldn’t tell the difference between the historically important and the personally important so you just recorded everything. Sorting it out would be a job for historians. First goal scored in soccer. First A on a math test. First time you saw a dead body. First time your fingers crested a girl’s hip and found their way down that eternally mysterious landscape you’d been obsessing over for years. First prayer and, several minutes later, first time a prayer wasn’t answered. First kill.
You were on the weekly trip to the greenhouse with Mom and Dad and Stella holding your hand the whole way as you skipped 10 meters at a time through the light gravity of the inner ring. It was warmer there, drawing heat from the power core. Perfect for plants and the misting sprays hung so long in the light gravity you didn’t need to pretend like you’d ever seen a cloud.
The odd way things impose when you’re too damn small to use the world correctly. Not just the adults and the air you could see but the banks of ferns and the ever-novel soil that held them. You’d taste it, quickly. And every time knew you missed it somehow, despite never having had it, never having walked on Earth.
And really, that was it. The knowing of it all. What Stella told you. That we’d never leave the ship. That we were born to fly the ship and we would die, too. We’d teach our children the ways and workings. Let them fly into the orbit of some other sun. Your parents were so angry when you asked them about death and children and Stella promised to never ever tell you a secret again you little twerp.
So it seemed fine, you found a tree frog in the greenhouse that clung to the underside of a hemp tree leaf. There were very few but you found one. Low, where you could see just fine. Uncle Mack said you could be a Southerner, not a Yankee yet. As if such had meaning still.
And it clung to glass when you placed it there. And to your hand when they told you to put it back, clung green and still. You managed it into your hands. It seemed fine that you squeezed tighter and tried one great leap to get out but your hands closed too quickly. And fine too when you returned it limp to the leaves.
Stella was right and she had a way of saying something that was self-evidently true and somehow make it seem profound. But you had nothing to say to Mom and Dad and Uncle Mack when they asked you again and again about the frog and why you squeezed it until it went limp and laid it back on the leaf. Staring then, just staring and not saying anything, at the same knot of grain on the tabletop Mom’s heirloom, real wood. Staring and hoping you could bore into the rings of the knot and make a hole big enough to climb in, just you and a frog that still breathes and clings, and finally make an escape. Later, you wrote it in your journal – the first thing you killed. Small frog, April 5, 2127.
They didn’t ask you if you ever wanted to be a part of this trip, of course – how could they? Who has the luxury of being asked permission before they’re born? And everyone finds themselves in odd atmospheres now and then, something that felt fine, because they’re moving through it for the first time, too. There’s no damn reason for it, no greater take.
Not when you’re six.
Six is such a goddamned mystery.
The following week you ate your first pickle, and recorded that it was yucky.