by Mannah Pierce

Ean was helping Granny Mary make apple tarts. These days that meant Granny Mary sat in her rocking chair and issued instructions that Ean no longer needed. Ean was fine with that. It was difficult for Granny Mary since her eyesight been had become blurred by cataracts and her hands had been twisted by arthritis. The least he could do was be her eyes and hands to make the apple tarts that everyone at Madame Lucy’s so enjoyed.

He wished he could do more; get rid of her cataracts and buy her painkillers that worked better than willow bark tea. Neither was going to happen. On Nova Tremaine only the wealthy had access to operations and apothecaries. Granny Mary would become less and less mobile, less and less useful, until she was carried off by some infection or decided that her life was no longer worth living and overdosed on laudanum. Then she would be buried in the small orchard with Ean’s mother and all the others going back to Madame Lucy herself.

Ean hoped Granny Mary didn’t go senile, like Granny Una had. He did not think he could bear that. Granny Mary had always been so sharp. It had been Granny Mary who had insisted that his birth be registered and that he go to school, even though that had meant paying the registrar and finding the five pennies a day for the teacher.

At fourteen, Ean now knew that registering his birth had been critical. Babies like him, born out of wedlock, were never registered by the mother. They vanished. The luckiest babies were claimed by childless couples and passed off as their own children. Next best was being left at the orphanage. Then there were the men who bought children, even newborns; Ean shuddered to think what happened to those babies. Perhaps the women who hid their pregnancies, smothered their babies and buried them were better mothers than the ones who allowed their babies to be sold.

Ean knew that the couple who lived in the blue house over the hill had wanted him. He wished he didn’t, but once you knew something like that you couldn’t forget it. His mother had told him when she had taken too much laudanum. According to her, she had kept him because she had loved him too much to give him up.

The couple who lived in the blue house had three children. One was older than Ean and two younger. Once Ean’s mother had said what she had, Ean understood why none of the three looked in any way alike and why no one ever mentioned it.

He could have been one of those three. One, the boy, had gone onto the Lyceum. There was talk of him going further, of him going to University.

If his mother had given Ean to the couple in the blue house, Ean could have studied to be a teacher instead of being told that it was pointless him taking the entrance test for the Lyceum because bastards were excluded.

Ean chopped the apples, threw the chunks into the bowl of salted water and made himself listen to Amelia, Kate and Ann, who got up earlier than the other whores. On mornings like this, when Else, the cook, was at the market, they liked sitting in the kitchen with the grannies.

Usually Ean went to the market with Else to carry the bags. Today Else had told him to stay home. Ean had no idea why.

Amelia was talking about The Spacer, so it was well worth listening. They had never had a spacer as a john. Ean had never even heard of another spacer leaving the spacer quarter of the city. He had walked in the day before and politely asked if he could be with one of the ‘ladies’ for the afternoon. Madame Jan had given him the album but he hadn’t really looked at it. Instead he had said he wanted someone experienced, who was kind and willing to listen. Madame Jan had picked Amelia.

According to Amelia, The Spacer had taken a bus out of the city because he had wanted to combine visiting a ‘courtesan’ with walking where there were trees and grass. Ean tried to ignore all the details; Amelia liked talking about sex and had no inhibitions, which made her popular with the johns. In between, Ean learnt that The Spacer’s name was Vic and that he had been kind.

Ean had managed to get a glimpse of Vic the Spacer as he had left. He was the tallest man Ean had ever seen and broad across the shoulders, even for his height. He had walked really smoothly; it had looked like he was dancing rather than walking.

“He said he would tell his crewmates about us and one of them might visit,” Amelia finished. She looked over at Ean, who had finished preparing the apples and was working on the crumb for the pastry. “Did you hear that, Ean?”

“I heard,” Ean confirmed. “I hope anyone who visits is as nice as Spacer Vic.”

Read Cast Adrift, Foothold and Homeward to learn more about Ean.