Authors: Phoebe North
For my mother,
who lived her own story
well before I lived mine
9th Day of Spring, 29 Years Till Landing
Momme wants me to ask you to give your mother our order for the harvest festival. I asked her why she couldn’t just give it to her herself, but she gave me one of
looks and told me it was none of my business, and I knew I’d better keep my mouth shut. You know how she can be. Anyway:
• two dozen hamentaschen (NO poppy seed—gross!)
• two loaves challah, one raisin, one plain
• two dozen rugelach—raspberry, apple, and apricot if you have them this year; she says she knows the crop’s been thin
• one large lemon meringue pie
• a carrot cake
I will bring the gelt when I pick up our order.
38th Day of Spring, 22 Years Till Landing
I know what you and your friends did to Mazdin Rafferty. He’s younger than you, and it’s NOT FUNNY. If you don’t lay off, I’m going to the captain’s guard to report you. So watch it!!!
39th Day of Spring, 22 Years Till Landing
You don’t believe that I saw? I was on a tree on the dome’s main deck. One of those maples out by the granary storage. It has branches that are laid out almost like a ladder, wide spokes that are easy to climb. I found it years ago, when Eitan turned sixteen and things got bad between him and Tateh. I couldn’t stand it in our quarters, like the walls were suddenly much too close for the four of us. Anyway, even though Eitan’s gone now, off to a home of his own, I still go out to my tree when the nights are long and lonely, tuck myself in against the rough trunk, close my eyes, and let myself drift. Out in space, the stars are always sparkling, always moving. I can imagine how our ship might look as it streaks through the night sky, a capsule of silver and glass, a bright speck in a world of darkness. The future feels big, then, and full of possibility. And I don’t feel nearly so small.
But it’s hard to relax when the sound of boys fighting pulls you from your rest. It was Tuesday, but then, you know that—don’t you? You were the one who smacked your fists into his middle over and over again as your friends pinned back his arms. It’s a wonder the captain’s guards didn’t see you. From my place in the maple tree’s heart, I could see them—winding down the pasture paths, idle, chatting. They didn’t see what I did, the way Mazdin winced as you pummeled him.
Maybe I should have called out to them, as I scrambled down from the tree, waving my arms like a madwoman. But I didn’t want to get you in trouble, Benny. I remember who you used to be, when we were young and our families still friendly. You were always so shy when we saw you for festival days, your head in a book. It didn’t matter that you were more than two years older than me—your brown skin still turned almost purple when I teased you. Tateh said you had a kind heart; Eitan snorted at that, like you should have been ashamed of it. But when you recited the festival benedictions, your black eyes went sharp. I always knew that there was an intelligence behind your shy smile.
So I think you might know better. Beating up a younger boy! And you, a man—nearly nineteen! There’s nothing he could have done to deserve that. You should be ashamed, Benny, truly ashamed. What happened to the boy who used to feed Laika table scraps? That boy is gone, I guess. But if you think I’m happy about that, you’ve got another think coming.
41st Day of Spring, 22 Years Till Landing
I saw you today, out by the granaries on the port side of the ship. At first I wasn’t sure it was you. It could have been any educator, with that flash of white on your shoulder, dressed all in black as you wound your way around the pines. But then I saw the strange, slumped set of your shoulders—the way you tucked a curl behind your ear as you stopped at every tree to crane your head up. Searching, searching.
Were you looking for me? If you wanted to talk, you could have just written me back. Look, I’m sorry I got angry about Mazdin. I’m sorry if my letter was unkind. Momme says that I have her temper. I don’t know if that’s true. When she and Tateh fight—which isn’t often—she always ends up throwing something. A fistful of dried pasta. A chair. Her precious tools, which Eitan and I were never even allowed to touch when we were little. Tateh usually just looks surprised, his eyebrows knitting up until they nearly meet. But after, Momme always holds her face in her hands, ashamed.
“I keep saying I’m not going to do that anymore,” she’ll say, groaning into her palms, and then Tateh laughs at her.
I’m not like that. I’ve never thrown a vase—never even slammed a door. But I do lose track of my own tongue sometimes. My pen, too, I guess. They get away from me, swept up in a tide of emotion. The things that I’ve called Momme! Embarrassing. But she understands.
So I hope you’ll understand, too. After all, you were the one who
someone. Who am I to talk about tempers? I’ve never even been in a fight before. Does that surprise you? I know when we were little, Eitan said I was all snails and puppy-dog tails, hardly a girl at all. I was always restless, eager to run out into the dome and join the boys in kick-the-can rather than sit around and listen to the grown-ups talk after dinner, like you. But the truth is, I’m soft inside, Benjamin. It’s what I always liked about you, what I thought we had in common. A kind heart.
Is your heart still kind? Or has it hardened? Is that what happened when you turned sixteen and became a man? I’ll be a full citizen soon, too, but I hope that doesn’t mean I’ll lose myself. That’s the last thing I ever want.
45th Day of Spring, 22 Years Till Landing
I got your letter. I don’t know how you reckoned which tree was mine, but there that scrap of paper was, tied to one of the branches with a red ribbon like the gifts we all get at school on our Birthing Day. But there was only one package last night—one just for me. I can almost imagine what you looked like as you sat, strong legs straddling either side of the branch, your hands clumsily making a bow. Maybe that’s not fair. Your work in the library is probably careful, precise—sewing new signatures for books, gluing down the spines. And I know that you were an unusually patient boy once. But your hands have always seemed to be your mother’s hands, broad and strong. Meant for baking, for kneading and pounding.
Is that why you hit him? Because your fingers are thick and your hands restless?
What you said in your letter—I don’t understand it, Benny. It makes no sense at all to me. What does it matter if Mazdin’s parents are part of the Council? I’m surprised that you, of all people, care about what color threads run through someone’s rank cord. So what if the Raffertys wear gold, and you white, and your parents green? We all support the same journey, don’t we?
. Zehava. I know you probably think that these are only the words of a naive girl. But I’ll be getting my vocation in just a few weeks, and then I’ll turn sixteen and I’ll be a woman. And someday, my children will live to see the arrival of dawn on a new world. Who cares if Mazdin’s children are Council children or common-born? They’ll all have to work together if they’re going to survive.
So call me naive. Call me idealistic. But I don’t think that slamming your fists into Mazdin Rafferty fixes a damn thing. We’re in the same class in school, you know, Mazdin and me. I know how obnoxious he can be—smug and cloying, a real brownnoser when he’s trying to get what he wants. But nobody deserves to be hurt, to be broken, by bullies bigger and stronger than you. Even Mazdin deserves kindness. Or else what sort of man will he someday be, when he sits on the Council and decides all of our fates?
That’s all I ask of you. Kindness. Oh, I know I have no right. We hardly know each other, not like we did when we were children, hiding under the galley table, full of giggles while the grown-ups talked and talked. But I see it in you: potential to be better than the other young men. Better than Mazdin. Better, even, than me.
46th Day of Spring, 22 Years Till Landing
I saw you there, up in the tree. I know that you spotted me—I could see the change in your face, how your eyebrows lifted and your lips lifted too, showing that chip in your tooth from when you tripped and fell on the concrete steps when you were nine and I was seven. I know that you saw me as I turned on my heels and sped away down the path. I’m not really sure why I pretended otherwise, like you were a stranger, or worse. Like you were someone I don’t like.
Because it’s not true. I
like you, no matter the bad blood between our mothers. I always have, ever since we were small.
I think I was only shocked, that’s all, at the sight of someone tucked within the bows of my tree.
tree! How absurd. As if I could own a tree, any more than I could own anything else on this ship. I think about that sometimes, how my room has belonged to generations of children before me. How, beneath the shine of enamel paint on the doorjamb, there are height marks for boys and girls long grown or dead. Someday, that tree,
tree, will be chopped to pieces. It will become a table, a chair, a piece of paper. I wonder if the paper I write on now was once a tree—a tree that some poor girl fooled herself into believing was all her own.
Look at that. All I’ve just written. My words get away from me once again—didn’t I tell you? But the difference is that I’m not angry this time. I’m pleased. I’m mostly very pleased.
And it scares me, just a little bit, how pleased I am.
47th Day of Spring, 22 Years Till Landing
I want to remember every moment, and so I’m writing it down just for you.
I can’t pretend that tonight, I didn’t expect to see you. I’m not quite as young or as silly as either of us would like to believe. When I went to my tree after dinner and my chores and a fight with Momme, I was dressed in my favorite green dress, the one that brings out the color in my eyes.
“Where are you going, Zibbeleh?” my father asked as I breezed down the steps, but I think he must have known. The smile curled up the corners of his lips. Momme looked up from the dishes, a knowing smirk on her mouth too. They always look like that lately, all winks and arched eyebrows when they’re not annoyed at me. I know what they must be saying when their bedroom light turns black beneath their door.
A boy, a boy, a husband soon!
Because I’m nearly sixteen, and that’s what the lives of girls my age are supposed to be about, isn’t it?
It never was true before tonight.
My heart pounded in my ears as I walked through the dome. I felt a smile spark on my mouth, then falter and die again. I knew—no, I hoped—that my words had done their work. I’ve never been so daring before, Benjamin. I’ve never been so direct. Not even with Arran Fineberg, who was sweet on me last year, who followed me after class like a lost puppy, begging to carry my books. Please, don’t be jealous. I might have been a little flattered, sure, but I never liked him, not really.