MISHPOCHE IN SPACE • by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

The rocket boys treated questions from us soft-science types with the tenderness you’d show the simple son at the Seder table.

I could practically hear their brains cracking as Donovan and Ozorof searched for words of one syllable to explain relativity to me, and I did finally manage to get a picture in my head of — just the concept of — the elasticity of time. Such hideous equations expressing something lovely as that!

But then, I’m a horticulturist in the interplanetary program. Go figure.

I couldn’t wait to start getting my hands dirty. This planet was ideal for development as a hub for supply routes feeding research stations on less congenial worlds. The rich black soil of its vast, temperate steppeland region could grow a lot of soy.

We’d tucked our own new station into the first eastward rising of foothills that grew steadily into heavily forested alps. We weren’t going to waste an inch of arable land.

I headed out from the side gate so I could do a bit of hiking over the slight rise before I reached the plain. I’d just made it past the last little rock outcropping when I ran smack into something looking fierce enough to snort flames from its nostrils. I was frozen; absolutely flummoxed. Or perhaps I should say farmisht.

You took your time getting here,” she said, “the meal is cold already!”

That little downward crinkle to the outer eyelid went so far back in our line that I couldn’t help gasping in astounded recognition. Some time-space continuum had dropped me right at the gate to the house of my alta-to-the-infinite-power bubbe.

This wasn’t the Crawling Eye pretending to be grandma, either. Though anything serves you cherry varenishkes that good, you don’t worry it should turn out to be some kind of subjective delusion that’s gonna serve you up later.

I unfroze enough to follow her across the yard and shrugged out of my backpack in the tiny parlor before going into the kitchen. It was a mild day, but the big porcelain stove was roaring. The table was set for two. She pumped water for me so I could wash my hands and then she ladled out food and we ate. She poured me a glass of scalding black tea and put a little cut-glass dish of lump sugar in front of me.

She kept looking at me with an expression of ferocious love. She might have been humming something, softly, but I can’t really say. My head was swathed in that sort of glowing fog that means either a transcendent experience or a wretched case of the flu.

“You better get going, they shouldn’t wonder what happened to you,” she said, after I’d drunk down my second glassful. I couldn’t help glancing at the samovar, bubbling quietly away on the side of the stove.

“I don’t let it go empty,” she said. That said a lot more than you might think.

I got up, and she walked me to the front door.

“Next time, come earlier, I’ll give you a pail for the blueberries. Down by the river.”

She wasn’t a smiler. She gave me a hard kiss, lips to lips, tasting of fruit and onions.

I recollected myself enough to collect a few specimens on my way back. There were blueberries, down by the river a half-mile or so from the research station — or at least there were small berry-like fruits I wouldn’t hesitate to classify as Vaccinium.  Later, a whole pailful ended up filling a platter-full of blintzes.

I didn’t try to understand what this was or what it meant. A gift like this you accept graciously — mindful of that word’s root, its original context. My greenhouse was nearly ready; soon I’d have to stop collecting and start working with what I’d found. I wouldn’t be able to come more often and I’d probably have to come less. I never saw anyone else there with Bubbe. The idea came to me somehow that if I showed up on Shabbat, I might find all of them waiting around the table, but then it would be wrong of me to leave, after the lighting of those candles, and go back to the station barracks as though nothing had happened at all. The principle that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” might not have been meant for a situation like this, but I had more brains than to risk it.

I knew I wasn’t nuts, though. Had independent verification of that. Donovan and Ozorof were ragging me all the time now, expressing it as only those math and science boys can, but the plain English of it was just what kind of little freak did I think I was, gaining weight like this on our standard regulation rations?

Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds.

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