Herring Bones and Moon Rock

Geoffrey W. Cole

From Issue 2

In the spring of his fifteenth year, Buck Ramer traded one Rock for another: he bussed from his home in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, to the ferry terminal at Port aux Basque, and from there he took a ferry, another bus, a train, two flights—the second of which was a gut-wrenching orbital flight to the Mao Geosynchronous Torus—and finally a translunar shuttle to Avalon City on Luna, where he joined his father’s ice prospecting company. His mother in Corner Brook never forgave him for leaving and didn’t speak to him for twenty-five years.

On his eighteenth birthday, Buck’s father challenged him to a drinking contest at the Pickled Puffin, the famous pub in Avalon. Early in the morning, Buck met his first wife, Ginny, the coroner’s assistant, who wheeled Buck’s father out of the pub and scolded Buck for letting the old man drink so much Screech rum and Tang. Eight lunar days after Buck and Ginny wed, she found out about Sandy, the mechanic who took care of Buck’s drill rigs, and Buck, during long prospecting trips. Ginny divorced Buck and wrestled control of half plus one of the prospecting company; as her first act, she changed the company’s name from Ramer & Son to ColdCore.

Buck started to drink a bottle of Screech every day. He couldn’t remember marrying Sandy, and often in their nightly bouts, he’d accuse her of tricking him into the marriage. Sandy shipped back to Earth when the ice ran out, and she left Buck with their pair of twin boys. He cut back his Screech and Tang on account of the twins, whom he’d named Joey, after the man himself, and Phil, after his own father. He talked about building a fishing pond so he could show the boys what life should be like. When the boys started school, he reduced his drilling trips to one a month and analyzed samples at the ColdCore office while the boys practised their numbers. Don’t make the same mistake as me, he told them. Get some learning so you’re not stuck rubbing stones.

Buck was nearing his fortieth birthday when his mother called for the first time since he’d left the old Rock. Come home, she said. I’ve got the cancer, and not long. He spent all the boys’ university money to buy passage for Joey and Phil, but there wasn’t enough for him to go too. When the boys returned after the funeral, they said he looked older—balder, and rummy enough to knock flies from the air. Joey got a scholarship and moved to Tycho, on the Russian hemisphere, for his degrees.

Phil worked with Buck at prospecting, though Buck hated to teach his son the trade that he blamed for his unsteady hands. When the shakes got too bad, Buck left Phil to run the rigs while he stayed in the plant and sorted through rock samples, but after a year, the shakes got so bad that he went on disability. Joey came home one Thanksgiving and said, You’ve got to get off the Screech, Pops. That shit will kill you. Buck winked at him and said, Tang’s got the vitamins an astronaut needs. Your old man will be fine.

When Joey graduated, he went to work for the Russians at their base on the Sea of Tranquility, doing something with numbers and rockets that Buck pretended to understand. Later that same year, Phil struck a vein of nickel rich enough to buy the Pickled Puffin a dozen times over.

Now you can teach us how to fish, Phil told Buck that Easter. They stood on the bank of the pond behind Phil’s new home while herring and mackerel chased each other in the salt water. Buck couldn’t get a snail on his hook—the damn thing kept moving on him—but the boys helped and they all threw their lines out into the pond. Tug it once you feel a bite, then reel it in easy, Buck said. They ate fresh mackerel that night.

The boys married nice girls, and when Buck forgot their names, he called them Sandy or Ginny. After Phil’s second daughter was born, he moved Buck out of his home and into a care centre in Luna City. When the boys and their families visited every two months or so, they brought smoked herring that the children had caught. Buck didn’t recognize his grandchildren and complained that the fish was too bony. You trying to kill me? he said after he spat out translucent bones.

The care centre nurse was the one who messaged Phil and Joey to tell them about the tumours. Phil smuggled a bottle of Screech into the palliative ward and slipped it into his father’s hand. Buck gave the unopened bottle back to his son and uttered his last coherent words: The moon and the earth used to be the same thing. I watched a special on it. Some huge collision blew them apart way back when, but inside, they’re the same rock. Joey’s shuttle from Tranquility touched down in Luna City a few minutes after Buck had died.

The boys scattered his ashes around the pond, just the two of them and the fish.

Geoffrey W. Cole’s short fiction has appeared in publications such as Clarkesworld, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Apex and is forthcoming in On Spec. Geoff has degrees in biology and engineering, and he lives with his wife in Rome, Italy. Visit Geoff at