by Sarah Pinsker
There’s a story about my grandmother Windy, one I never asked her to confirm or deny, in which she took her fiddle on a spacewalk. There are a lot of stories about her. Fewer of my parents’ generation, fewer still of my own, though we’re in our fifties now and old enough that if there were stories to tell they would probably have been told.
My grandmother was an engineer, part of our original crew. According to the tale, she stepped outside to do a visual inspection of an external panel that was giving anomalous readings. Along with her tools, she clipped her fiddle and bow to her suit’s belt. When she completed her task, she paused for a moment, tethered to our ship the size of a city, put her fiddle to the place where her helmet met her suit, and played “Wind Will Rove” into the void. Not to be heard, of course; just to feel the song in her fingers.
There are a number of things wrong with this story, starting with the fact that we don’t do spacewalks, for reasons that involve laws of physics I learned in school and don’t remember anymore. Our shields are too thick, our velocity is too great, something like that. The Blackout didn’t touch ship records; crew transcripts and recordings still exist, and I’ve listened to all the ones that might pertain to this legend. She laughs her deep laugh, she teases a tired colleague about his date the night before, she even hums “Wind Will Rove” to herself as she works—but there are no gaps, no silences unexplained.
Even if it were possible, her gloves would have been too thick to find a fingering. I doubt my grandmother would’ve risked losing her instrument, out here where any replacement would be synthetic. I doubt, too, that she’d have exposed it to the cold of space. Fiddles are comfortable at the same temperatures people are comfortable; they crack and warp when they aren’t happy. Her fiddle, my fiddle now.
My final evidence: “Wind Will Rove” is traditionally played in DDAD tuning, with the first and fourth strings dropped down. As much as she loved that song, she didn’t play it often, since re-tuning can make strings wear out faster. If she had risked her fiddle, if she had managed to press her fingers to its fingerboard, to lift her bow, to play, she wouldn’t have played a DDAD tune. This is as incontrovertible as the temperature of the void.
And yet the story is passed on among the ship’s fiddlers (and I pass it on again as I write this narrative for you, Teyla, or whoever else discovers it). And yet her nickname, Windy, first appears in transcripts starting in the fifth year on board. Before that, people called her Beth, or Green.
She loved the song, I know that much. She sang it to me as a lullaby. At twelve, I taught it to myself in traditional GDAE tuning. I took pride in the adaptation, pride in the hours I spent getting it right. I played it for her on her birthday.
She pulled me to her, kissed my head. She always smelled like the lilacs in the greenhouse. She said, “Rosie, I’m so tickled that you’d do that for me, and you played it note perfectly, which is a gift to me in itself. But ‘Wind Will Rove’ is a DDAD tune, and it ought to be played that way. You play it in another tuning, it’s a different wind that blows.”
I’d never contemplated how there might be a difference between winds. I’d never felt one myself, unless you counted air pushed through vents, or the fan on a treadmill. After the birthday party, I looked up “wind” and read about breezes and gales and siroccos, about haboobs and zephyrs. Great words, words to turn over in my mouth, words that spoke to nothing in my experience.
The next time I heard the song in its proper tuning, I closed my eyes and listened for the wind.
* * *
Traditional. Believed to have traveled from Scotland to Cape Breton in the nineteenth century. Lost.
“Wind Will Rove”
Instrumental in D (alternate tuning DDAD).
Harriet Barrie, Music Historian:
The fiddler Olivia Vandiver and her father, Charley Vandiver, came up with this tune in the wee hours of a session in 1974. Charley was trying to remember a traditional tune he had heard as a boy in Nova Scotia, believed to be “Windy Grove.” No recordings of the original “Windy Grove” were ever catalogued, on ship or on Earth.
“Wind Will Rove” is treated as traditional in most circles, even though it’s relatively recent, because it is the lost tune’s closest known relative.
* * *
The Four Deck Rec has the best acoustics of any room on the ship. There’s a nearly identical space on every deck, but the others don’t sound as good. The Recs were designed for gatherings, but no acoustic engineer was ever consulted, and there’s nobody on board with that specialty now. The fact that one room might sound good and another less so wasn’t important in the grander scheme. It should have been.
In the practical, the day to day, it matters. It matters to us. Choirs perform there, and bands. It serves on various days and nights as home to a Unitarian church, a Capoeira hoda, a Reconstructionist synagogue, a mosque, a Quaker meetinghouse, a half dozen different African dance groups, and a Shakespearean theater, everyone clinging on to whatever they hope to save. The room is scheduled for weeks and months and years to come, though weeks and months and years are all arbitrary designations this far from Earth.
On Thursday nights, Four Deck Rec hosts the OldTime, thanks to my grandmother’s early pressure on the Recreation Committee. There are only a few of us on board who know what OldTime refers to, since everything is old time, strictly speaking. Everyone else has accepted a new meaning, since they have never known any other. An OldTime is a Thursday night, is a hall with good acoustics, is a gathering of fiddlers and guitarists and mandolinists and banjo players. It has a verb form now. “Are you OldTiming this week?” If you are a person who would ask that question, or a person expected to respond, the answer is yes. You wouldn’t miss it.
by Suzanne Palmer
The dark green band along the horizon had grown thicker and more ominous since the last time Caer had glanced over the roofline, past the jagged teeth of the shattered seawall. He set the page in his hands down gently on the drying bed and closed the lid, flattening the wrinkled and blotched paper. He’d already lost a third of it to the mold, but the words he’d salvaged were irreplaceable.
That was assuming the storm didn’t finish the job. His drying bed was proof against most rain, but when the wind got fierce enough, the water would find its way through even the tiniest cracks. There was room for another three or four pages before the bed was full, but he’d learned the hard way that rushing made for mistakes and sloppy work he’d regret later. There was always another sunny day to wait for.
If it was a big enough storm, it would also bring in a new wave of ocean garbage, which would be followed by scavengers and potential danger. His time now was better spent locking down what he could, making sure his traps were set and working.
The large skylight in the roof had been shattered long ago, probably as far back as the Wave. He’d rigged cover over the broken parts, leaving himself a hatch and a ladder down to the fourth-floor balcony below. Where the glass remained he’d kept it clear as best as he could; light was a precious and fleeting resource inside. After one last check that the drying bed and other things on the rooftop—solar panels, his rigged-up hot water system, last year’s attempt at building a medieval siege engine—were secure, he climbed through the hatch and locked it above him, then made his way down the long, sloping ladder lashed to the balcony rails below.
There were three balconies inside the abandoned library circling an open atrium. The lowest balcony was barely above the worst of the storm surges; the main floor of the building, once a graceful, arched space dedicated to community and love of the printed word, was now permanently awash in the runaway sea. On calm days, when the tide was especially low and the sunlight from above bright, he could make out bits of the ornate tile floor through the accumulating silt.
He thought of the fourth floor as his eyrie, mostly because he loved the sound of the word, picked up from a fragment of a novel he’d recovered from a lower floor about a kid who could teleport himself away from trouble. He’d taken over a small corner between the stacks for his nest, sleeping sandwiched between history on one side, archaeology on the other. In the winter, when the outer wall seeped chill into the air, he moved over to sleep among the thicker engineering texts, closer to the rail.
Rummaging through his pile of belongings, he took out his longknife and his backpack full of repair supplies, then slipped on the insulated raincoat he’d scavenged during his first dismal spring in the library.
He took the curving stairs down to the third floor balcony, skipping with practiced ease around and over the cracked marble treads that could spill an unwary person down the flight; he’d thought about trying to repair them, but they were a useful if minor defense, if it came to it. At the bottom of the stairwell an arch opened up toward the floor’s stacks of poetry and classical fiction. Opposite it, in the outer wall, was a tall window with a matching arch. It was, somewhat unique to the building, still intact, although he had long since broken the lock on the left pane.
Pulling the half-window open, he took a minute to listen before he stepped out onto the wide ledge and shimmied his way along the building to the corner. Flagpole bases held the ends of the wobbly suspension bridge he’d made of cables and wood salvaged from the sunken remains of a marina. The bridge crossed the ten-meter span between the library and the roof of the parking garage next door. There were many buildings that he felt territorial about, but the garage and the library were the core of his life, his home.
Feeling always unsafe from watching eyes, he ran across the bridge as quickly as he could and took the driving ramp from the garage roof down to the level below.
The Wave had done an excellent job of rendering the garage virtually impassable, one giant debris-plug of jagged rusty metal and smashed glass thrown up against the shore-side wall, spilling over and filling the next ramp down. There was one sad-eyed black SUV squatting on top of a flattened Mini with a solid-looking hood, an equally passable roof; there was no other way in and out except over it unless you wanted to scale the crumbling cement exterior of the structure.
Caer clambered up on the roof, peered down at the hood, and then nodded in satisfaction. The rigging was still good. The weight of a grown person on that hood would drop anyone atop it like a trapdoor down through the carefully excavated engine cavity, and through the open sunroof of the mini underneath into its moldy interior. He also checked that the dried silt he’d spread thinly over the wall edge and downramp was free of footprints. He didn’t trust people and he hated surprises.
Satisfied, he went back up to the roof. On the far side of the parking garage from the library was a half-submerged mall. The bottom floor was a murky, seaweed-filled pool like so many of the other buildings that had floundered in the hostile surf. Its food courts and wide halls now teemed with what fish and other sea life had found a way to survive in the toxin-saturated water. There was little there left of much use to anyone but him, and even that last was starting to run thin. Still, he had a plank bridge over to its roof from the garage, made of pressure-treated decking and aluminum extension ladders from the sodden remains of the home improvement store.
The mall was dangerous to navigate, but also harder to protect. He drew back the planks first, then used the ropes to swing the ladders up and back. The effort left him sweating even in the cool air that was pushing in ahead of the storm.
Walking to the edge of the garage roof, Caer looked west at the remains of his town. There was a bright rectangle visible just below the brownish water, the original foundation of the Wintercove town hall. The rest of the building now stood, its gothic columns bright again in the afternoon sun, where it had been cleaned and reassembled higher up in the greening hills. New buildings and streets, new shops and houses surrounded it, the town alive again, if reduced.
Between it and him were the places—and people—not considered worth saving; the rough gray of a hastily built cement wall drew a thin, but confident line to mark out where the town had officially cut its losses.