A House on the Volga – Filip Wiltgren

A House on the Volga – Filip Wiltgren

The kalanchoes are blooming, a dusting of tiny pink flowers on dark jade leaves.

“Please, grandmama, hurry up,” says Darius, voice tiny, his heart carried on the radio from the ship.

He is a good boy, caring for his grandmother. His heart was in his house, but he is grown, a young man, and the house is no more. It is good that he leave.

The kalanchoe spins in my hands, as I cover it in plastic, round and round, like a tiny asteroid around a distant sun, pink flowers turning.

Darius’ voice is tiny as a single flower.

“Atmospheric impact in twelve minutes,” he says, hints of panic in his voice.

“I know,” I say. My hands are clumsy around the kalanchoes, wet soil crumbling from wet pots, seen through wet eyes. It is not good, being last.

Our asteroid has lost internal gravity. In twelve minutes it will lose everything. I keep wrapping kalanchoes in plastic. Six foil-wrapped bundles float by my side, another ten sit on their perches in our dorm. My dorm, now.

“We built this together, your grandfather and I,” I tell Darius. “Our home, and yours, too.”

“I know, grandmama. Please hurry.”

“I will,” I say. Seven floating bundles. Impact in eleven minutes.

“Mother, what do you think you are doing?” Michail’s voice comes strong and loud. No tiny suit microphone for him, the big engineer.

“Engineer Litvinenko, I presume?” I ask, as chilly as I can. His voice continues uninterrupted. For two hours, it has flown. From his office on the Moon, to the Volga’s orbit around Saturn. Michail’s grand office, where he’s making a name for himself, ignoring his house. Selling it.

“- the GN/BN-22 is company property, mother. You return it to regular orbit right this minute, you hear? The lawyers will-”

“Czernobog take the lawyers.”

And this asteroid has always been the House by the Volga. GN/BN is a designation. The Volga is a home. Michail never understood that.

Nine bundles by my side. Seven kalanchoes to go. A single detached, pink flower floats by, like a heart without a home.

Vladek brought our first kalanchoe shoot with him when we moved up, and they’ve grown well. Flowers thrive when there’s love in the house.

For a moment I can hear Vladek’s voice, but then I only hear the memory of escaping air, and the snap of radio static. So much lost to the stars. So much pain, so many memories. In the end, everything dies, this is the way of life. But as long as the hearts are beating, the family will remember. That is the way of life, too.

A warning shrieks. The system is trying to override.

Michail. Trying to control what cannot be controlled, take back what wasn’t given.

I yank out a circuit board, then reset the course computer.

“Grandmama, you need to flee.”

“Soon,” I tell Darius.

“Now, grandmama!”

Two kalanchoes left. I bundle the first one. Five minutes. Fifteen kalanchoes float tightly in my arms, then float freely as I release them into an escape pod before strapping them down in the only remaining seat. Every birth, every marriage, we planted a new one, a flash of flowers in the dormitory. When the hearts left, we kept the flowers as memories.

Children, grandchildren, everyone has left the Volga. Even Vladek is gone, lost to the void. Perhaps it was stupid to give Michail power of attorney. He never understood how much we struggled to make a home after the exodus. You can no more abandon your home than abandon your heart, or your family.

“Darius,” I say. “are you ready for pick-up?”

“God be blessed, grandmama. Plotting intercept now.”

“Take care of our flowers,” I say, closing the pod door.

The airlock cycles. The pod launches.


The panic is back in Darius’ voice. He is a good boy. He will understand, I think. I shut down the radio, severing the cables, and the possibility of a remote redirection of the Volga.

The family is gone, the House by the Volga sold, to be melted down for the nickel in its shell. But a house full of love is like a member of your family, and you do not abandon family. You follow them to their grave, and then you bury them. I take the last kalanchoe in my arms.

Vladek’s flower. The original one. He wanted to give it to me, but I said no. He had brought it from Earth. It was his heart.

I kiss the flower, its leaves smooth against my coarse, chapped lips.

“Goodbye, you old heart breaker,” I say, “hold a seat in heaven for me.”

Then I replace the kalanchoe on its perch and push off toward the last escape pod. The airlock cycles, the acceleration slams me into the grav-couch. Darius’ voice comes tiny over the pod’s speakers.

“Grandmama!” he says, relief saturating his tones, “for a moment I thought…”

A sad smile crosses my lips.

“You are family,” I say.

“But the Volga—”

“Will be buried,” I say. Then I shut off the radio, and watch a home briefly bloom against the great globe of Saturn.

One comment

Your thoughts?

%d bloggers like this: