Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
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by Lester Curtis

At mid-day, trading in a dusty off-world bazaar
I sat down in the shade to rest and drink cold tea.
A stranger approached me, smoking a crooked, thin cigar
whose sharp, spiced fragrance made me think of you.

He gestured at the empty chair across from mine,
I nodded, and he turned his tail aside and took the seat,
Shook out his feathers, caught the waiter's eye, and ordered wine
made from ice-berries in the North of Dannuk II.

His gaze then went to the company emblem on my shirt;
He said, "I knew another of your race who wore that sign."
He delicately tapped his cigar ash off to the dirt,
and it rolled away on the dry, hot breeze that blew.

"We have a partnership trading in esoteric goods,"
I said. "We parceled up the sector with our separate routes,
And barter raw materials and tools for wines, exotic woods,
and such artisan-work as collectors might pursue."

The waiter brought the wine, and the stranger paid
With seven-sided copper coins of recent mint.
I knew that before the day was out, they'd be remade
into other things, of which there were too few.

I told him how you'd learned from me to fly the ships --
Ephemeris Class, the last two ever built on Earth,
And how you loved logistics and the orbital ellipse.
He softly said that these were things he already knew.

He tilted back the glass and dipped his beak to drink;
His slender, pointed tongue licked up the balmy gold.
I sipped my tea, and it occurred to me to think
that your scheduled call was too long overdue.

He finished, raised his head and pushed the empty glass aside,
And looking in my eyes, he seemed to read my thought.
"Her engine failed on takeoff; I was with her when she died,"
he said, "but she wanted me to give this thing to you."

Extinguishing his cigar, he reached a hand into his bag,
Taking out a pale item on a simple, knotted cord
As the tea in my mouth took on the taste of crumbled slag,
and something that was within me slumped and fell askew.

He held out the pendant I had carved for you: in leaping pose,
A kitten, paws outspread, eyes wide in guileless awe,
And from its back, a pair of falcon wings improbably arose
to loft it skyward off to someplace interesting and new.

"That's how she was," I said, as I received it from his care,
"And now there's one less light to shine among the stars."
And I thanked him deeply from my state of disrepair,
He said, "For such as her, it was the least that I could do."

He said he'd learned from you the worth of all things free;
He said he had no wings, but you'd taught him how to fly.
"In another sense," I said, "she did the same for me;
"I learned from her to tell mere fact from what is true."

And now your pendant hangs above my console as I make my rounds,
Again and back to pay my bills and gather what I'm owed,
While all around me, the music of the spheres resounds --
and I smoke a crooked, spiced cigar sometimes, and think of you.

© 2010 Lester Curtis

Lester Curtis is an unemployed geezer and lifetime science-fiction fan living in NE Ohio. He likes to write poetry, science-fiction, and music, and sometimes he actually finishes some of it (this piece took over a year). He also does artwork of various sorts once in a while, including sculpture. When he is not being otherwise lazy, and when the weather allows, he shoots or paddles his canoe. He is an atheist, but wasn't always; at one point he even made up his own deity, but subsequently fired her for non-performance.

Find more by Lester Curtis in the Author Index.

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