art by M.S. Corley
While Memory Holds a Seat
by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Give us your sky for two hours and we'll fill it with story-telling spectres! That's one of the pitches we use for our traveling troupe, Wide Sky Theater. We ride the skip nodes bringing cultcha to everybody, or so we tell ourselves and each other, and then we sometimes snicker, sometimes bicker, sometimes laugh loud and long, and our new cast members, they really believe it, those wonderful naifs.
Our ship was on the way to a fringe planet called Streak. All seven of the cast and crew had gathered in the central room for a strategy discussion.
We were all cast and crew both, and we all pitched in on styling our ship, Big Bertha, to suit our needs and personalities. Every other chamber in Bertha connected to the central room, which was foamed and carpeted on every surface. Most of its furniture consisted of cushions, some firm and many squashy, in jewel colors. If the ship's gravity shifted, which it had been known to do, capriciously, our furnishings pillow fought us instead of whacking us. This said nothing of what we did to one another. We had all learned how to land.
The scent of my daughter Verna's plum lamb casserole carried everywhere, roasted meat and sweet mingled. Verna, in lavender tunic and stained apron, leaned against the wall beside the open galley door. She had her father's dark beauty, a little softened by my generous body shape. It was almost suppertime, so this meeting would be short.
I sat against a wall near my cabin door, knitting long narrow leaves of Philloland spicebrush into a matrix of wooly cinnamon-colored yarn. I wasn't sure what would come from my fingers. A snood for Caliban, perhaps. Lately I had been surprising myself; the turquoise strands I had knitted with crackle nesting strips had turned into a strangle rope instead of the necklace I thought I'd been making for my granddaughter.
"Streak has been out of the trading mainstream for a couple of centuries," said Captain Mike, who that day was dressed like a fantasy pirate in a big-sleeved shirt, billowing pantaloons, and boots. We all borrowed from the costume closet anytime we pleased, which lent a welcome variety to our days. Mike's head sported wild waves of grizzled red hair; his bushy beard was a stripy mix of red and white. His face was wide across and short from chin to temple; he looked like a Japanese demon when he grinned and showed all his teeth. You saw that face above you in the sky, you could read every thought as it crossed his mind. Mike made a wonderful villain. "Nobody knows how far they've twisted away from galactic normal. We're going to want something basic. Universal."
"The hero's journey," said Tiller, the youngest and newest member of our company, a woodsy boy we'd found on a backwater world, anxious to rid himself of every speck of home planet dust.
I remembered that ancient urgency. I thought of the little wooden box of dirt I'd picked up last time we landed on Found. Sometimes I opened that box to stir the dirt and sniff it, catching the faintest whiff of my childhood, summer star-catching parties in the gather wallow, our hair plastered to our heads with fine warm mud as we slipped and slid amongst each other, streaking for falling bits of brightness catapulted from back porches by our parents.
Tiller longed to play heroes, but so far made do with sidekick parts.