I woke to Vivaldi’s “Winter” performed by Olga Scheps on piano. The melody was at first barely audible from the speaker above my bed, but the volume steadily increased slowly. By the end of the piece I was fully alert and ready to absorb the announcements.
“Good morning, Newerth,” declared a composed and pleasant feminine British accent, “Today is Friday, September 18. It’s 6 am, time to rise and shine! Rain will occur today from 10 am to 11 am, and again from 10 pm to 11 pm. Please plan accordingly.
‘The Shuttle I departs at 9 pm tonight. If you have items to ship, please notify the Transport Authority by 5 pm for pickup. If you are departing tonight, we wish you a safe journey, and a happy life.
‘Spiritual Enrichment will be available at the Gardens this afternoon at 2:45 pm. Dr. Reginald Cailloux will provide a reading and sermon from the Bible and small group discussions will be followed by a tea, hosted by the Cailloux family. If you can’t make it today, it will be repeated on Saturday and Sunday. Hope to see you there. Reminder to the Raj Ganchi family, you’re in charge of Spiritual Enrichment next weekend.
‘Following the tea will be a going away party for Pryce Frazier. Mr. Frazier has been a pillar of our community for 50 years, beginning as an apprentice weather director upon his arrival with his wife Paulina. Mrs. Frazier, unfortunately passed away due to Failed Oxynization, within one year of her arrival. Mr. Frazier served as Weather Director until his retirement three years ago. He will be missed by all of us, especially his brother and sister-in-law, Kyler and Sonja Frazier of West Quadrant, and their children, Kyler Jr, and wife Wilhelmina; and Augustus Pryce. Mr. Frazier will depart on the Shuttle tonight. Please come see him off.
‘That’s all for now, but tune in for announcements at nine. For now, here’s some ‘Summer of Love’ for your morning workout. Get that blood pumping and I’ll talk to you at nine!’
Mrs. Jones, my sister Madeline, my mother, and a few other residents of B Quarters, were in the Big Room doing aerobics when I emerged from Hall 4, my family’s wing.
“Good morning, Ben,” my mother called in a breathy, cheerful voice between knee lifts, “There’s scrambled eggs, avocado toast and kefir on the counter. Fuel up! It’s gonna be a busy day.”
I loaded my tray with food at the counter, and grabbed a glass of goat milk and a cup of chai tea from the carafes, and made my way to a long table to join my friend Shi and his mother, from Hall 8. We ate and visited quietly before exercises ended and we were joined by the aerobics ladies.
“Winnie, is Augustus excited about the wedding?” Mrs. Jones asked my mom.
My mom rolled her eyes playfully, “Not as excited as he is about the honeymoon.”
All the ladies laughed, for some reason.
“But really, I think my brother-in-law is ready to settle down, now. He’s corresponded with several girls and then he landed on this one,” Mom shoved a handful of pecans in her mouth, then delicately topped them off with a raspberry. “He was stuck on this one that was light medium golden, an Ancient Medicine specialist, for the longest time, but she wouldn’t leave. But this one, her name is Adzo, she’s a music teacher from somewhere in Africa. Her parents are coming as well. Her father is an agriculture specialist. They are already in transit.”
Mrs. Jones’ eyebrows shot up, “Is she pretty?”
Mom shrugged, “Yeah. She’s medium deep almond. Seems sweet enough.”
“I’d say Augustus is a light golden, that should make for some cute babies,” Mrs. Jones laughed, “So when’s the wedding?”
“April,” my mom replied, “They arrive in March.”
Madeline, my sister, fluttered her amber eyes and said, “I’m so scared for Uncle Augustus! I mean, what if this girl, this love of his life, gets here and her lungs can’t take it and she dies?”
“Don’t say that!” I yelled at her, “That won’t happen!”
She rolled her eyes and leaned back in her chair, sipping a berry smoothie, “What do you know? You’re only eight.”
Mom came to my defense, “And YOU are only 15! You better lock it up if you want to see 16!” She patted me on the leg, as if to comfort me, and continued to Mrs. Jones, “I don’t think it’ll be a problem. They are only allowing Blood Type A’s now. We seem to adjust to the air better than other types. Back in the day so many of the newcomers died, like Auntie Paulina, but these days, nobody hears much of FO any more.”
“In-processing has improved,” Shi’s mom chimed in, “Things have gotten better.”
“Absolutely,” agreed Mom, “and on this shipment, I heard we are getting horses!”
“What?” Shi and I both exclaimed at once.
“Yes,” Mom said smiling, “Twenty horses, for recreation. Hopefully their lungs will be strong, but I expect we’ll lose a few to FO. We’ve never had them before.”
“I want one!” cried Shi.
“I want two!” I responded.
Mom sighed, “They’ll be kept at the Gardens for everyone’s enjoyment.” Speaking of the Gardens, we need to get moving. We’ve got Spiritual Enrichment and then decorate for the going away party. The Committee approved my request for alcohol! We’ll have wine and brandy for later. Uncle Pryce always loved his brandy.”
Shi laughed, “I guess in his day, he could have brandy anytime he wanted it.”
Shi continued, “I don’t even understand what that’s like!”
Mom replied, “I know you don’t. And you never will.”
That evening, I carefully crouched under the window of the porch and eavesdropped on the conversation between the two old men. They each held a glass of the coveted brandy my mother had ordered several months ago. Uncle Pryce’s packed bags sat on the front steps, as if they could not wait to be scurried off to the station. Grandpa topped off each of their glasses, and sat back, staring at the sunset as he spoke to his brother.
“Great party today,” Grandpa uttered stonily.
Uncle Pryce laughed softly, “It sure was. Yes, quite a send off.”
“You sure about this, huh?” Grandpa asked for at least the third time tonight.
Uncle Pryce stared out into the same distance as Grandpa, and answered in a steady, unemotional voice. “You sound like you did the night I married Paulina.”
Grandpa snickered softly, “You still sure about that?”
Uncle Pryce again replied soberly, “Absolutely.”
Grandpa took a long swig from his drink and replied. “Yeah. It’s too bad things didn’t, you know, work out.”
“Things always work out, Kyler,” the younger brother responded, “One way or another. Given time, things work out the way the Man meant for them to.”
Grandpa nearly snapped back, “Why leave now, Pryce? We’re old men now, and we’ve been together all this time. You’re my family, just like Sonja and the kids and grandkids are. We’ve been together all this time, we built this place and now–” he choked up so that he couldn’t speak until taking another drink from his glass. “Now, you’re leaving. And this is forever, you know that, right? If you leave on that ship tonight,We’ll never see each other again.” He dropped his head in his hands and I could see his shoulders bobbing, hear his sniffles.
“Brother,” spoke Uncle Pryce, ever calmly, “Don’t you believe I’ve thought long and hard about this? And not for months, but years. I’ve enjoyed the work we’ve done here. I loved living here, and watching your family grow and–”
“It’s your family, too!” Grandpa interrupted, “We’re one family.”
Uncle Pryce sighed and smiled softly, “Kyler, you and Sonja have always tried to include me in your family, and I appreciate it. But I’ve been alone in a crowd, you know? Maybe if Paulina had lived, if we’d have had children–” he seemed unable to speak for a few seconds, but then regrouped, “but losing her so early on, I don’t know. I started thinking of going back right after she died. I tried to push that feeling away, but every year it got a little stronger. When I think of home I think of Texas–after all these years, that’s home. My birthday last year, my 70th, I decided if I want to go back, I need to go now. Don’t think I won’t miss you and Sonja and everyone else but, I need to go back. I need to.”
“Back to what?” Grandpa was not hiding his tears now, “What will you do back there?”
“Oh that’s easy,” Uncle Pryce smiled and his voice remained soft and soothing, even as Grandpa’s became broken and anxious. “I’m going to rent a car and drive on some back roads. I’m going to find a black neighborhood and listen to blues until 2 am in some smokey bar. I’m going to go to a fair and enter a pie eating contest. I’m going to go to an Octoberfest and find a pretty blonde to dance with. And on Sunday morning,” he stood up and stepped to the porch railing and stared up toward the sky, “On Sunday morning, I’m going to church. I’m going to listen to a choir–hell, I’m not going to listen, I’m going to sing along with them. I’m going to smell incense and go to the fellowship hall for coffee afterwards. I’m going to eat fried chicken and macaroni and cheese and fried okra…cobbler with ice cream….I’ve missed all that. I don’t want to miss it any more.”
The lights from the transit shone brightly in the dusk. It stopped in front of the house and we heard the monotone announcement from the side speakers.
“This transit will depart this address in five minutes. Please ensure you have your transport pass and all your belongings, as the transit will not return to this address. If you are being transported due to unlawful behavior, remain inside your domicile and you will be escorted to the transit by an officer. Otherwise, present your transport pass to the attendant at the front of the transit.”
My parents and I, along with the rest of the family, poured onto the porch from the house. Uncle Pryce turned to them and gave a wave. He opened his mouth to speak, but he seemed overcome with emotion. Tears welled up in his eyes as he extended his right hand to his brother. Grandpa clutched it in his own right hand and yanked him into his chest.
The transit emitted a friendly reminder, ‘Four minutes, please.’
When they separated, Uncle Pryce’s face was stained with tears. “This is it, Brother. I’ll miss you.”
“And I, you.” choked Grandpa
“Three minutes, please.”
Uncle Pryce turned and collected his luggage. “Be well,” he said, barely audible to Grandpa, then louder to the crowd behind, “Be well.”
He walked purposefully to the end of the walk, and from the back you would never know that his face was stained with tears and his heart was broken. He looked proud, excited for his journey. The attendant met him at the curb, stowed his bags, and opened the door for him. He ascended into the vehicle as Grandpa descended from the porch.
“Pryce!” Grandpa shouted in agony.
Uncle Pryce never turned back. He held his right hand up beside his head with all five fingers spread, but he never looked back. Even for a man who helped create the new world, some things are just too hard, I guess.
That night, as Grandpa tucked me in, I saw the teary, far away look in his eyes, the same one I had seen on the porch this evening, when he watched Uncle Pryce board the vessel. When we hugged he held on a tiny bit longer than I did, and he tousled my hair before I snuggled in for the night.
“Grandpa?” I whispered.
“Yes, Ben?” His eyebrows and the corners of his mouth raised a bit at the sound of my voice.
“Why did Uncle Pryce go back to Texas if things are so much better here in Newerth?”
He bowed his head and raised it again, searching the ceiling for the words.
“I mean,” I pressed on, “all the work all of you did to make sure Newerth was the best place ever, that we wouldn’t have all the problems you grew up with, and now he wants to go back, forever. Why?”
“He misses some things,” Grandpa’s voice shook slightly, “He misses his youth.”
“But he’ll never get his youth back. He’s old. And the environment is so healthy here. That’s what my teachers say–everybody says it. The air, the food, the work/life balance–it’s all better here. So why go back to all the things that make you old and sick?”
He rose from the bed and collected my water glass from the table. Again, he tousled my hair.
“Aw, Boy. There are things that make you feel young again. Things you don’t understand.” He strolled over to the window, checking his watch. I checked my bedside clock. It was 9:59.
“What things, Grandpa?” I sat up in bed, just seconds before hearing the first drops of the 10:00 pm rain hit the window. The old man shook his head and turned fully toward the window, deliberately hiding his face from my eyes. I got out of bed and joined him at the window, slipping my hand into his, and repeated, “What things?”
He sniffled and swallowed a big lump in his throat, keeping his gaze at the droplets on the glass.
Slowly he spoke, “Things like, church bells on Sunday morning. Rummage sales. Ice cream. Blondes. A thunderstorm that comes out of the clear blue.” His smile returned as he continued, “A good cigar. A big, juicy steak. Whiskey. Driving your car too fast down a bumpy road–”
“That’s dangerous!” I exclaimed.
He smiled down at me. “Yes, danger can be fun sometimes.”
I felt suddenly sad and distant from him. “I don’t understand.”
He knelt and pulled me to his side. “I know you don’t. You never will.”