Letter From an Artist to a Thousand Future Versions of Her Wife

by JY Yang · from issue 0

My dearest Anatolia:

Before you left this world, you asked me to celebrate the dissolution of your body. And I have. Are you proud of me? It has been seventy-two days since you left Earth. Fifteen since we were told the ansibles don’t work. Fifteen days to mourn broken promises. Fifteen days to realize that without instantaneous transmissions across the gulfs of space, your voice and mind are lost to me forever. You are not dead, my dearest, but it feels like you are. I have held ceremonies and read poetry and lit candles with friends and family. Your belongings we gave to the needy, your flesh we fed to lions and eagles. Tomorrow, I distribute your bones.

I have been putting this off, but people keep asking, and I am the last of the ship-folk’s kin not to have held a bone-wishing ceremony. So I must. There’ll be a luncheon at the old church where took our vows, attended by all our family and friends, and I’ll give your bones away. You didn’t leave a list of who gets what, so I’ve made one up.

But my ceremony won’t be like the other bone-wishings, grim and dreary and spartan. I have been to those, and they left a bad taste in my mouth, like ashes and charcoal. I refuse to give your bones away in little boxes, for them to sit on shelves and gather dust. What a terrible waste that would be.

So I’ve taken your bones, my love, and made them functional and beautiful. I’ve strung them up and wrapped them in velvet and platinum and precious stones. They served you well in this lifetime and they will continue to serve your loved ones well. I have made spoons of your scapulas and a dinner bowl from your skull, I have threaded your teeth into a bracelet for your youngest grand-niece.

Your vertebra, strung with pearls, will make a fine necklace for your sister, so she can carry the weight of your bones around her neck. Your ribcage, adorned with lace and sequins, shall grace the lobby of the institution, so that all the scientists passing by will never forget their founder.

If I could imagine you reading this, I’d imagine you laughing and saying something like “This is why I married an artist,” in whatever passes for laughing and speaking in your version of existence. But I’ll never know the truth.

I’m not good at math, never was, so your sister explained how this letter will work. I hope I’ve got this right: Radio transmissions travel at the speed of light. But your ship is headed to the edge of our galaxy in jumps a thousand light-years apart. Your first stop will be in the vicinity of Delta Orionis, and it’ll take my letter a thousand years to get there. But that’s okay, because each stop will be a little more than a thousand years long, because the hydrogen fuel takes that much time to gather, because you ship-folk can afford to wait, immortal as you are in a bunch of ones and zeros created out of brain patterns. Then your ship will jump another thousand light-years, while my letter continues outwards at the mere speed of light. We’ll be leapfrogging our way across the universe: Ship, letter, ship, letter, ship. Over and over again.

So this could be the first time you’re listening to this. Or the seventieth. Or the thousandth, far past the edge of the Milky Way.

I feel like I should be writing to a thousand different Anatolias, all the Anatolias of the future, but I don’t know any of them. I don’t know what wonders the universe will peel back before you, and how that new awe will change you. By the time you’ve gotten this I’d have been dead for hundreds of years. And it’s only the beginning. At a hundred thousand years I will have been nothing but a tiny blip, an organic aberration in the long path of your life. I’ve remained flesh-bound and heavy while you sprint light through the heavens, having shed your blood and bones.

How much does the iron in your blood and the calcium in your bones remember of the heart of the star in which they were born? And if they can forget that terrible, magnificent heat and light, what hope do I have of being more than an unremarkable footnote to you?

I’ve been thinking of that beach in Seattle, the place where we first made love on the soft sand, the waves murmuring at our feet as pleasure took us, over and over again. In my memory I held your sweat-glazed body and kissed it while you pointed to the glittering night sky and talked about the birth and life and death of stars over scales of time I couldn’t grasp. You talked about how our galaxy would merge with the Andromeda in a hundred billion years, described in glowing terms the spectacular light show that those around to witness it would see.

A hundred billion years. I could not even imagine what the planet would look like in one of those billions. What humanity’s children would look like. All I saw were strange, distant flickers in the sky.

At that moment I knew that I would lose you, long before the idea of mindships were proposed, long before you tried convincing me that ansible technology would keep us in contact in jump-space, long before the ashen-faced project director told the auditorium full of relatives, “We can still track their progress, but send/receive is not working”. Way back then, on the beach, I already knew you would one day slip from my grasp.

After all, you were the brilliant professor with her gaze forever tilted to the heavens, and I was only the silly little girl with her feet anchored to the sand.

Science is about taking risks, you once said. So is love, I countered.

I have saved your right femur for myself. It’s not that I treasure it more than the two hundred and five other bones you left behind. But I looked at it and I saw a flute, thin and hollow and metal tipped, and where I saw flute I saw endless potential. A way, my love, that the remnants of your earthbound existence can bring me joy. Your grand-nieces, in your family’s grand tradition of being brighter than suns, are building their own radio-transmitter to send messages to big Aunt Anatolia. When it is done, we will bring it to that Seattle beach, together with the flute I have made your bones. And there I shall play. I shall send your boneflute song soaring over the bowl of the sky, out to the edge of the Milky Way, where in a hundred thousand years it will whistle past you, gentle as a butterfly’s whisper over a forest.