Hilda Ashman’s heart ached from loneliness. She felt that she was stuck in the most forgotten corner of the least interesting planet in the galaxy. As much as she loved her grandmother, the years of caring for her alone had begun to wear her out. Lately she had begun to find strands of silver in her bright red hair and thought she might just lie down and die next to the 86 year old Beatrix Bluestar.
The truth was that Hilda was in a protected corner of the most hidden planet in the galaxy. And though her eyes were milky white with blindness and there were only a few hairs on her head, Beatrix was using her incredible inner strength to keep her granddaughter shielded from the rest of the world.
But that inner strength had begun to ebb. Beatrix knew she could not maintain the concealment nor should she keep Hilda with her forever. There was exciting, dangerous, important work for Hilda to do.
Hilda smoothed the coverlet over her grandmother. It was early morning and the old woman had had a bad night. Sweating, slipping in and out of sleep, muttering. She was in a deep, peaceful sleep now. Hilda collapsed into a chair beside the bed and watched the first rays of sun shine through the curtains. There were two small succulent plants on the sill in bright blue pots.
Next to the window was a small dresser with the few articles of clothing, Beatrix still owned. Above it on the wall hung a mirror and next to it a framed picture of Hilda, her sister Giselle and their mother Raphaela. Near the door were another wooden chair and a low table full of medicine bottles.
Hilda could name every item in this house, in which she grew up. There wasn’t a shelf, corner or drawer that was unknown. The meadow next to the stone dwelling was also as familiar as the back of her hand. The small orange wildflowers were as numerous as the freckles that spread out across her hands and up her arms.
The familiarity, as well as the constant nursing duties, was draining the life out of her.
“Hilda, you are the only one left,” whispered Beatrix, suddenly awake. “You must be so sick of me.”
Hilda hated it when her grandmother seemed to be reading her mind.
“Grandma, I take care of you because I love you. You know that.”
“Yes, I do. But it isn’t good for you. You’re 26; you need to get on with your life.”
“I’ve never needed anything more than … this town, this place. Have I ever complained?
“You could go visit your sister. Just a short visit. Hire some nice capable woman to take care of me. A little vacation for you?”
Beatrix pulled a cramped hand from under the coverlet. Hilda took it in her own pale, long-fingered hands. The old woman’s touch was warm. Did she have a fever?
“I couldn’t do that. What if you…”
Beatrix grunted. “What? What if I died while you were gone? Oh, child, I know you love me. You know I love you. We have had many important conversations. I have nothing left to give you. Go see Giselle. I know you want to.”
Hilda blushed. Blind – or deaf and dumb for that matter – her grandmother always knew how she felt. The sun had fully risen filling the room with light. She wondered what sunrises on other planets looked like. What was morning like in New Amsterdam, the capital city of Terra Nova, where Giselle lived.
Giselle. Fate had chosen a much grander life for her. No, she had created her own fate, left this planet, married well and lived in the highest penthouse in the most luxurious city in the galaxy. She had twin daughters, Elspeth and Cressida, about eleven. Hilda had only seen pictures of them, pale blonde hair and big blue eyes – just like their mother.
Hilda wasn’t ugly. She just wasn’t the dazzling beauty that Giselle was. She was small, thin and angular. She had bright red – almost orange – hair, and none of the curves that graced her sister’s body. And inside she was beginning to feel her soul becoming hard and angular. There were far too many sharp points wounding her heart. Nothing soft was left.
A breeze lifted the old gauze curtain. For a moment it transformed it into a fantastical undulating shape, a beckoning hand.
“OK, Grandma,” said Giselle standing up. “I’ll visit Giselle. Now you get some sleep.”
She kissed the woman’s forehead. It was cool and dry now. Beatrix smiled sweetly up at her.
That night, in her own bed, Hilda made lists. There was a packing list. That one was short. She had just a few outfits, a journal and a picture album. No jewelry or fancy clothes, because there were few reasons to get dressed up in her town. It was really just a collection of farms, a few shops and a school. Not even a theater. And no one seemed to mind. Everyone had been shocked and confused when Giselle had left, as if there were no world outside their own.
And there was the list of Beatrix’s medicines and favorite foods for the hired woman. Mr. Bevins said that Mrs. Seawell was the second cousin of the first grade teacher from the next town over. He didn’t really know her but she seemed nice enough and was looking for work. And as soon as Hilda had met her she felt as if she had known the woman all her life. She was sure her grandmother would be safe with her.
And now with moonlight pouring through her window, Hilda was contemplating other moons circling other worlds. She drifted into a sleep that was filled with dreams of excitement and danger and importance.