26 parts of a Speculative Fiction story by J Lenni Dorner
I pull in the garage, turn off my truck, and rest my head for a moment before getting out. The trash cans haven’t been brought in. It’s doubtful that anyone got the mail from the box. My neighbor’s dog has left a “present” at the end of my driveway again. Welcome home, Attie.
Inside I find my youngest, Mercedes, taking up the entire kitchen table and surrounding floor. Is she cutting up vegetables for dinner? Washing the dirty dishes? Doing any chores at all? No. Of course not. I should be glad she’s doing something other than watching videos on the computer. “Dare I ask what this is?”
“Science project. We had to either make a computer model presentation or a craft one. I decided to do the craft one since I don’t have my own laptop.”
I ignore the veiled message about wanting her own electronics. “Uh huh. And when is this masterpiece due?”
Deep breath. I turn around, open the refrigerator, and pull out ingredients for dinner. “The teacher certainly didn’t give you much time.”
“Yeah. I mean, she mentioned it once, one freaking time, like back in the first week of school. But then today was the first time she said it’s due tomorrow.”
“Mmhmm.” I nod as I picture the class calendar with reminders posted on it. I don’t have the fortitude to argue today.
“Mystic said to tell you that you owe her for gas and for these supplies.”
“I see. And where is your sister?”
“Duh. It’s Tuesday. She has group.”
I chop a freshly washed carrot. “Right. Glad she’s going.”
The grief groups had been too much for me. But today, of all days, I’m grateful that she has support. I take my knife to a butternut squash.
“So what is this science project, anyway?”
“A model of the solar system. Is Earth more blue or green? Or maybe brown?”
I mince the garlic cloves. “Astronauts nicknamed our world ‘The Blue Marble.’ Our oceans take up more space than our land.”
“Okay. Phaeton is green. Do they lack oceans?”
“No, it’s mostly swamp, we think.”
I toss the carrots and onion in a pot, letting them soften as they cook.
“Why don’t we know? I mean, it’s the next planet over. How come we haven’t been there?”
The onion gets to me. Just the onion, nothing more. “Many victories earned may please Justice straightaway, unless nothing progresses.”
“What?” Mercedes looks at me like I’ve lost my mind.
“It’s a mnemonic to remember the planet names and order. Mars is our neighbor. Phaeton is beyond that. And because of the way planets orbit, it’s usually on the other side of the sun.”
“Earth is about 93 million miles from our Sun. And Phaeton is about 221 million miles from our Sun. So Phaethon is 314 million miles away?”
“Sure.” I don’t want to explain the math. Tears run down my face. It’s from the onion. It has nothing to do with the mnemonic my son had come up with when he did the same project that Mercedes is doing now.
Do you have a mnemonic to remember the planets of the solar system? (One that probably doesn’t include Phaeton. Ha ha.)
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