Household status at the beginning of this installment:
Gail (Gen 3 heir) and her husband Ratna (the one with the goggles)
Antares (Gen 4 heir)
Vega (Gen 5 heir) and her fiance George McCarthy
~ ~ ~
Immediately after college, I had to fulfill my summer-service reserves requirement. It wasn't quite a draft, but it wasn't full enlistment, either. Something for rich kids like me to avoid going to war. When I got out, and returned to Westerly, Vega and her family had just moved to a newer, smaller house, farther away from the town.
Her father and grandfather weren't getting along that day. Vega's brother had run off one week before graduation, leaving behind a note for Vega that he was going to fight in the war - at least, that's what she told us. We never heard from him again, and we couldn't find any trace of him in the armed forces. It made for a very tense time.
Vega showed me around the place; there was a fruit tree, and a greenhouse, and a fishpond. A two-story brick house loaded with security features, and a small "mother in law" type apartment off to one side. (It wasn't even truly an apartment - just a place to put a bed and a toilet and sink. But given the number of people to live in the house...) There was also the Memoriam, where all the portraits of the generations were displayed. Vega had brought home the ones from college. It was kind of strange, seeing the evolution of the nose throughout the family. It just kept getting larger and larger. I supposed my own nose would now contribute.
We had our wedding shortly thereafter, and Vega had an odd request. I had two brothers, so my family name was not in danger; would I mind taking her family name, as it didn't seem likely her brother would get married and have kids, much less tell us?
I hemmed and hawed about that for a while, but in the end, I agreed. Yes, it was selfish of her, I suppose, but it would save me in the long run; as a married man - and more importantly, with luck, soon to be a married father - I'd be that much less likely to get uprooted from a comfortable job, particularly one in a war industry. I still had to take that offer, of course, - the one for the medical-prosthetics company - but I was sure I'd get it.
So we got married. Vega and George Tellerman. There are worse last names, to be sure.
Vega's grandmother, Gail Tellerman, was the famous ripaway-bra queen in the cinemas. She was much like many of her characters. She talked about her new movie, just released: A Date with Death's Door.
I did have to ask, what did the title mean? Because it didn't make sense. She called me a philistine. I suppose arguing with the four-time Breast Actress Award winner was a pointless move.
For a while, we - or rather, Vega and her family - worried over Astrophel's disappearance. Any incoming call, any letter, might be from him. It never was.
It was a few days before I realized there was no television, no radio, no stereo; and there was no newspaper delivery. Vega said it was to avoid upsetting her father with news. If he heard of some major assault, he might worry too much about her brother, and he was already in a delicate state of mind. At least, that's what Vega said. I wondered if it were her own aversion to politics of any kind. This way, nobody in the house had much contact or news from the outside world, except her and her mother, because Gail continued to make movies, and Vega had taken the proffered position with Crey-Gesellschaft-BioTekNik, or CGB.
Vega had never liked politics, or discussing the Little War, so I suspected she was behind our isolation from news. Yet - and this is strange, I know - we all seemed happier if we didn't know all the details. Ignorance may be bliss, but it's still ignorance.
To my surprise, my own job offering had been filled over the summer, by a different hire. The field was a hot one, yet I couldn't seem to find employment. I spent my days around the property, helping with the garden, fishing, sending out resumes, trying to network. I spent nearly a year in this mode, worrying how this would look on my resume - if I couldn't get hired out of college, and with all the time now accumulating. Was it me? Was I setting my sights too high? Or was it an outside factor?
During this year, we had our first child, a girl we named Kessa.
Vega spent hardly any time on maternity leave. "You'll take care of Kessa while I'm working," she told me, flatly. "I'm the breadwinner now, and she needs a parent."
I was a little surprised by Vega's attitude, but what she said was logical enough. I still had no job, so why not become the stay-at-home parent? (At least I had her father and grandparents there to help me.)
Not that I knew anything about child-rearing, you understand. I was the middle brother in my family, and didn't remember anything about my or my brother's infancies. One of the first things I ordered was What to Expect The First Year. Kessa proved a difficult child, hard to keep happy, though she lacked for nothing.
I was also very, very glad of the other Tellermans in the house. Antares, Vega's father, took gladly to helping care for fussy Kessa. Perhaps because he had already raised one green-skinned, blond female infant?
Gail finally received an Academy Award nomination, for Best Supporting Actress, as the general's wife in A Grand Little War. There was some controversy over the bath scene, though having lived with her, I knew exactly what had prompted her "improvised" dialog.
Shortly after that, while finishing what became her final film, she died at home, near the flower arranging station we'd bought for Antares to fill his days with. (He needed something to do besides paint pictures of hummingbirds and Tenochca skulls, and he was agreeable to working with flowers and plants instead.)
The official report was natural causes, but her agent played it up as supernatural, tying it in with the cinema she'd just finished. In this way, Curse of the Peekaboo Death Panties became a cult classic far out of proportion to whatever merits it might've had. What better way to advertise a Curse cinema than to promote the death of one of the players?
I wasn't related to her except by marriage, of course, but her death deeply affected the rest of the family.
Her husband, Ratna, said he'd never expected to outlive her. They'd been the same age, after all.
With the despondency affecting the rest of the household, I shouldered more of the childcare duties than ever. I suppose it helped me bond with Kessa, but I longed to make my own mark. I wanted to be more than a 'mister mom'. I hadn't gone to college for the partying and drinking, after all. And having my wife become the financial head of house galled. (Ratna was retired, and Antares unemployable on disability.)
The apple tree in the front yard actually produced fruit. It did not look appetizing.
Antares, who spent most of his days gardening or working with flowers, harvested a good crop. They tasted much better than they looked.
That fall, the pond froze over early, but it was a strangely dry winter, bitter cold, yet without much snow. The elder males of the family had stocked the freezer with plenty of fish; I realized that with the fishpond, the apple tree, and the greenhouse, we were very close to being entirely self-sufficient, using Vega's pay for the mortgage, utilities, and other bills, but not for groceries. While I approved, I had some concerns over how long this could keep up; once Ratna and Antares passed on, it would likely fall to me and any of-age children to play farmer.
That winter, Kessa's features became more strongly pronounced; it appeared she'd take after me quite a bit. But you never know with children.
Speaking of children, Vega announced she was a few months' pregnant. She'd become something of a workaholic, but we still managed time for each other now and then. I suppose she was concerned she'd better produce a son this time, to keep the family name strong. But - another child? True, we weren't lacking for money, but... I still didn't have a job. Would I be relegated to childcare provider forever?
It certainly wasn't how I'd planned my life to go.
~ ~ ~
Vega brought home special "protective additives" for our food. It was supposed to neutralize certain "oxidants, carcinogens and toxins" that might or might not be there.
I'd gotten used to our isolation from the world at large, and the Little War. Now I worried. We were far from town, but perhaps I could make a trip in to find out what was happening. Though, in fairness, the additives were strangely appealing, with their sparkling fairy-dust appearance. They did not impact the taste of the food. I'd worried about that.
As spring approached, Gail's ghost began to appear. The Circle of Thorns had begun its expansion from Paragon, in the wake of the heroes' mass enlistment to fight in the War. It was commonly regarded as not safe to leave your loved ones' remains in a community graveyard, unless you heavily defended them somehow. So we kept Gail's cremated remains in an urn in the Memoriam, until such time as the Circle would be pushed back or defeated.
Antares had a brief resurgence of his old researcher mentality. "Yes, I see her - it appears she is deeply upset over moving her urn to the Memoriam."
In late winter, Vega had her child - or should I say, our children. She herself had been a twin, and now she produced twins of her own - twin boys! I hoped we could afford all three, especially if we hoped to put them through high-quality schools. And it appeared I would continue as the primary caretaker. Ratna was elderly, Antares mentally unstable, and I remained unemployable. It was quite a blow to my esteem that even now, I couldn't get a job, even after I reduced my salary requirements, after applying for nearly anything that might relate to my degree.
We named them Kyle and Keith. They, strangely, were pale-skinned, like Antares, not like Ratna or myself, or green like Vega or Kessa. I may never understand how these things work.
So now we had three children, Vega's father and grandfather, and myself, on her income. Granted, her father had a pension - albeit much reduced - from his time at Crey before it was bought, and her grandfather was on disability. But still...
~ ~ ~
We got by. With the greenhouse, the apple tree, and the fishpond, we provided a lot of our own food. CGB continued to give Vega our supplies of food additives; we got used to food constantly sparkling. I hoped it wasn't just a placebo.
The war took a break over the winter, and then there was a year of bitter stalemate in the Caribbean and Egypt. We got word that Antares' wife had disappeared in action on board the Tisiphone. That made me tolerate my own current position more.
I stopped looking for work for a while. I had my hands full with the twins, and the household; and the constant rejections in job-searching was depressing. Maybe I'd just never find anything.
Kessa became old enough to go to school. She resembled me a lot in features, and she had my eyes. She was incredibly shy, so we had only a small party amongst the family, with the only awkward moment being Antares squawking there was no roof, and he could see clear to Mars.
The year passed, and that winter was one of the coldest, darkest and longest on record - possibly due to the eruption in the Philippines. We were isolated for long periods - sometimes with Vega, sometimes she couldn't get home.
We tried to bundle up and conserve fuel, and I was glad for all the preserved food. It felt like we were back in the days of the pioneers, but at least we had flush toilets.
Antares would go out into the night and build snowmen.
Undoubtedly there was some deep trauma behind his creations, but I have to admit, he unnerved me enough already.
Of the twins, Keith was very easygoing, even-tempered, a dream to take care of.
Kyle was a lot like Kessa had been. Well, one out of three, I suppose.
After a while, my resignation turned to something resembling contentment. So my life hadn't been what I'd wanted; there were many things still good about it. I just wished things had been different, but...
That was the year Ratna died. He'd attributed his long life - 83 years - to keeping in shape, yet we found him at the treadmill.
Antares took it hard, of course; now both his parents had passed on.
Within two months, Kessa said the ghosts were coming out and scaring her. I attributed it to stress and the trauma of losing her great-grandfather.
Antares didn't help - he claimed he saw their ghosts, and talked to them. Nobody else seemed bothered, but I tried to keep him from telling such stories to Kessa.
Kyle outgrew his fussy stage and into a good kid. He had Vega's nose. I suppose that was to be expected.
Keith was very serious, and - if I can say it of my own son - a bit flatfaced.
They all seemed none the worse for wear for living out in the middle of nowhere.
That spring, we were low on supplies, so while the kids were bused in to school - so far, almost an hour each way - Antares and I concentrated on replenishing the larder. He still gave me the willies, but he was the only other person around, for most of the day. He was better than me at most of it, but I tried to learn.
One night, Vega's boss called in - she had to come in to work immediately. The bomb had been dropped on Mumbai.
I didn't tell the kids or Antares - I didn't want to scare them. I had them sit down to dinner together and told them to start without me - we'd be there in just a moment. But I had to find Vega. She wasn't in the house - where was she?
Then I remembered, she'd gone out to the Memoriam to look at the family portraits. I ran out there, and to my horror...
Oh, God, no! It had to be Gail's ghost. It was the only explanation - we'd kept her remains here to be safe from the Circle - but it must've been a ghost that killed her.
"Gail, you stupid bitch! How could you kill your own granddaughter?!" In a rage, I stepped forward to smash her urn. How dare she rest in peace after murdering my Vega?
But Gail rose up from nowhere, and I felt my heart stop.
No... no... it can't be. She couldn't. I've got to get up.
I was so cold. This couldn't be happening.
What would happen to our children? They couldn't be left with Antares. They all liked him, but he couldn't care for them.
I had to get up...
I had to...
~ fin ~
R.I.P. Gail Tellerman (78 years), Ratna Tellerman (83 years), Vega and George Tellerman (halfway through adulthood)