Author: Frederick Charles Melancon
Only at night could we have the memorial service for Ben. Well, as long as, we kept it far enough out in the desert so that none of the locals could bother us.
The vat of still water in the center was a nice touch. Back on our home planet, all the chairs would’ve surrounded a fire pit, but that tradition doesn’t resonate like it once did. I don’t know if I could speak in front of the flames, and really, if this woman, Sandra, from the coast, not this one, hadn’t reached out five times, I wouldn’t be speaking at all.
But, after the fourth time I said no, she pleaded, “He spoke of you often.” I still don’t know what to do with that.
I’m all but sure that he didn’t. Just for some reason, Sandra decided to know what I knew of Ben. She sits next to me now with her hand on top of mine. Our star, once home, shines above us brighter than any of the ones the locals ever knew. They’ve even started calling it their New One.
I don’t pay attention to the others speaking because I don’t know any of them. At some point, Sandra’s hand lifting from mine lets me know that it’s time to speak. No one claps at these things and maybe that’s a blessing. My speech will end like every other, with silence. Of course, it still feels wrong to do nothing after each speaker.
I tell them how we met, playing with fire. Both of us doctors in the thermal consortium. These days, I’m a journalist. Luckier than Ben, janitor, because on arrival there was a need for a fresh perspective of our kind as long as it didn’t contradict theirs. That was Ben’s problem always too honest. I tell them about his daughter, but I don’t talk about the spaceship and the journey here where we realized that we were both the wrong type of doctor. In that way, three people who knew each other like family got on a spacecraft but only two strangers got off.
Instead of this, I speak of the nights back there, our wives and us playing games and pretending on the screens with his child. After every game, whether we’d win or lose, we’d cheer and applaud. Even in front of the water, it’s hard to talk about the last game. At that point, it was just Ben, his daughter, and me. We did so well that night. And despite the rest happening all around us, we roared and pounded hands until they stung.
One of his coworkers comes up next. He’s not one of us, but he has stories. He speaks of a collection they picked up after the local fair was over, a cat that Ben took care of. He talks about his daughter who contracted the GH virus. Choking up, he speaks of the support Ben gave when the local couldn’t pay all the doctor’s bills. Ben even waited up nights with the man, and the local’s girl lived.
When he steps away from the water, I begin to move my hands together but stop before I make a sound. Stepping around the vat on the way back to his chair, he bumps into it and grabs the rim. Apologizing too much, he thinks he’s committed some cultural insult. The water spills out over his hands, and inside, our star, the one that Ben named his daughter for, breaks into tiny fragments surrounded by black waves. And everyone, but me, gets up to lend a hand.