A Biography in Six Scenes

A Statement of Opinion

There was the brightest light she had ever seen, and that, and the absence of the steady thump that had vibrated through every cell of her body all of her life, was outrageous.  She drew her first breath and complained.

"It's a girl," said a woman.

The girl screamed again as she was swaddled.  Everything was too bright, cold, and loud.  By her third scream she had mastered the trick of turning one deep breath into a continuous high vibrato, inhaling, and continuing with the next.  It would be some time before she could be specific about her dissatisfactions but that would not stop her from stating her opinion.

"And healthy," said a man's voice, dryly.

Voices From Far Places

The girl was sitting in front of the radio in its dark wooden cabinet.  Its speaker panel was filled with woven lion's mane shot through with gold.  She was not supposed to touch the precious fabric, so she did so only when no one was looking, feeling sound flutter beneath her fingertips.

"Live, from..."

The girl took a deep breath.

"...The Metropolitan Opera, brought to you by Longenes-Whitnaur..."

She leaned closer.

"...and Texaco, Star of the..."

"Where is she?"

"...and now your host, Milton Cross!"

"Turn that down!"

She eased the dial slightly to the left.

"...and Richard Tucker as..."

"Way down!"

She eased the dial further over and crouched listening to the story of life and death in ancient Egypt.  The swelling applause of the audience told her the conductor had entered and bowed.  Her red sandals light on the bare wooden boards, the three-year-old rose to dance to the overture.  She thought Aida was none too bright, for a princess: They usually managed to live happily ever after.

Putting Away Childish Things

 The poem had gotten an A-plus.  Her teacher had showed it to everyone, even the principal.  Her mother looked at the damp paper that had ridden home, tight in one hand kept in the girl's coat pocket, and began laughing.  "...to the tintinnabulation of the bells, bells, bells," she gasped.  "Edgar Allen Poe," she added, half-tore the poem across, then handed it back.  "Priceless!"  Her laughter pealed again as she pulled a book down from an upper shelf and handed it to the girl.

The ten-year-old ex-poet tore the paper to shreds in her own room, after reading, "...With a desperate desire,/And a resolute endeavor,/ Now to sit or never/By the side of the pale-faced moon..."  Followed by the damning chorus with the meter and rhyme pattern she had, somehow, copied, although she did not know the poem.  "Oh the bells, bells, bells,/What a tale their terror tells/Of despair!"

Extracurricular Activity

She was competitor Number Four, picked to fill out the quota that her teacher could bring to the State Latin Competition, so when she had filled out all she knew well, run through every mnemonic she knew, guessed at vocabulary she was sure she had never seen, and stared at convoluted sentences of unknown construction, the girl ornamented the margins and backs of the pages with columns Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian, the face of gods and goddesses, and ships sailing wine-dark seas of graphite.

Some weeks later, Competitor Number Four was called out of class to the principal's office and soundly rated for spending time doodling when she could have been working on the test.  She returned to class puzzled.  Nothing had been expected of her.  Why would anyone care what she had done, quietly, after she had filled out all she was able to do?

Later, in Latin class, her outraged teacher told her he was not pleased to find she had spare time and spent in such frivolity: She was not taking Roman History but Latin.    Then he told her she had scored the highest of his students and barely missed the next round of the competition:  Of all the testees she was the only one who had gotten all the history and culture questions correct.

She decided not to tell him that her knowledge, while it owed a great deal to books like Gods, Graves, and Scholars by C. W. Ceram, was also indebted to The Last Days Of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, though the Victorian best-selling author was not yet notorious as the author of Paul Clifford, which begins, "It was a dark and stormy night..."

Knowing Hands

The blank page of paper was beautiful.  Her hand hovered, making arcs.  Then, the moment of truth as the pen touched the sheet and began carving with darkness, turning the flat surface into three dimensions.  A curve, an eyebrow, an eye that looked out at its creator.

Her hand hesitated, and she watched it begin to scribe, slowly:  "Against the apricot blaze of sunset, the winged riders circled and landed on the silver towers."  Some thousands of words later she wrote, "'My lady, that which was sought has been found.'"  She put the pen down, thoughtfully.

Expecting to Fly

The machine turned of, her breath rattled in a throat made rough by mucus.  When the room was silent, the body lay, bathed in earthshine, waiting to become moondust.

Sometime later a man came in and said, "Certifying, 'Dead.'"

"Usual protocol," said a woman's voice out of nowhere.

"I wonder why they come," he mused as he sealed this and uncoupled that so the equipment could wheel itself away and the room make itself ready for the next tenant.

"They were born before the Transition," said the woman, "and anyway they pay.  That's what matters."

"Yes," said the attendant indifferently.  "Half a Sol more and I'll have enough for Mars."

The woman laughed softly.  "'O, brave new world," she said, "that has such people in't!'"

The man, knowing she could see him, repressed a smile, then went away without sparing a glance for the view of Earth, hanging in the black sky like a cloudy sapphire.  It was twenty k's on the line to Endeavor Dome, and by the time he got his things, he could pick up the container of gray grit and vent it at the waystation.  He'd get a bit of overtime and the ride won't be charged to his account.  He planned to fly the full length of the Dome.  Flying was one of the few things he would miss about the Moon.  He had an untried almost-new pair of Icarians, bought from a woman who'd made the fee for Mars passage last month: they had optional manual feathering.

Copyright 2016 Catherine Mintz. All rights reserved.

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