The band of cousins had been rolling over each other and playing like puppies all afternoon. Now they were settling down, sprawled out on the furs that covered the floor, squealing as one occasionally stepped on another.
“Grandma, how did you and Grandpa meet?” asked Marta, a newly minted teenager steeped in romance. The others perked up, struck by the curious revelation that their grandparents used to be people.
Grandma Rose looked into the firelight with a slight smile.
“I was at an interplanetary summer camp,” she began.
“You were childhood sweethearts?” Marta exclaimed.
“No. I was 19. I was a counselor. No more interruptions, now.” A deep indent appeared briefly between Grandma Rose’s faded brown eyes, but relaxed as she continued. “There was a boy there from Topec. He was tall like the mountains, and strong. He could lift me with one arm. That was strange to me, coming from Daltana where everyone was very small and undernourished.
“We spent the entire week together. We were inseparable. He told me all about his home, the frozen cliffs and rivers. You children know the winter because you’ve been here all your lives, but imagine if you’d never experienced anything colder than a summer hailstorm. I was transfixed. We shared many intimate secrets.”
As Marta and the other children listened with rapt attention, Grandma Rose tried to remember that boy. It was hard to extricate her sense of excitement about the strange land he described from her feelings about him. She had trouble remembering his face. He’d made her feel important. She recalled he’d been angry with his father, had said casually that he wished she could be with him when he went back to his planet.
When she’d returned to her own home, bad news awaited her. Her parents had joined the temple, dedicating themselves to eternal servitude of the under-cave lord. They’d left behind a packet of money for her, with an exasperating note in flowery language about their newfound hope. She would not see them again.
Cut adrift, she’d had no reason to stay. She’d purchased winter gear: a heavy space coat, backpack, and stiff boots that left her unaccustomed toes numb. Passage to Topec took most of the rest of her money. The shuttle brought her to the main city, and from there she’d boarded a blimp packet boat.
“Did he know you were coming?” Marta asked.
“I sent a letter, but I arrived before it was delivered. The packet boats only flew once a week. I remember standing on that horribly dark ice, watching the blimp sail away and wondering if I’d made a terrible mistake.”
It had taken hours to walk to the station. She’d carried a tall walking stick with a social signal flag. By the time she arrived her cheeks were numb with cold, and her tears had frozen her eyelids almost shut. She’d waved the signal above her head until her arms ached. Finally, a man in uniform opened the door and a pair of huskies bounded out to investigate her.
“You’re Daltanan!” The man had blurted out.
“I could only agree with him,” said Grandma Rose. “He was blocking the entry, and he seemed almost accusing about it, like he had discovered a secret. I told him I was there to see the boy. He scowled and said ‘That’s my roommate.’
“When I explained what I was doing there, he’d become even more serious. He said, ‘You’ve come here to live with him? But we have a tiny room!’ It took all my remaining energy to talk him into taking me to my friend.”
“Was he happy to see you?” asked Marta.
“He was polite, but distant. He —” Grandma Rose broke off as a blast of cold air whirled into the room and Grandpa Marcin came into the enclosure.
“Heyo, my pack of progeny!” he called out. “What’s doing? Is the party dying down?”
“Grandma Rose is telling us how you met!”
“Ah, I remember that day like it was yesterday,” he said. “You kids should have seen her, covered in snow, the dogs licking her face and knocking her over. She was a tiny thing.”
He smiled at Rose. “And a lucky day it was for me,” he said, “when my idiot roommate dumped you!”
Inspired by Vicente L. Ruiz’s weekly writing prompt: https://plus.google.com/+VicenteLRuiz/posts/1SohQ1r2mPR
Original image prompt: www.ioandumitrescu.com/portfolio/view/ec6fa4ab75aa47fc49fe406658a66573
For Part II of this story, click here: A Rose in Winter