James Bruce May


Allegory of the Planets and Continents by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

They moved up on Wood Hill after the war in ’46, the grandfather ancient even then. He lived another decade but died bemused by the baby boomers; the village suddenly full, new houses going up all over the place. His son got rich off the land and Papa was bitter. He disowned the lot of them on his deathbed for selling out to the immigrants, him an immigrant himself!

But Daddy took the money and holed it up and never did invest in his kids, two brothers and a sister, all handsome and bright. They went to the same school as the rest of the townsfolk. Who knows what they could have become with a better education. They’d get teased about it, everybody knew all about the money; that town was nothing but a gossip mill.

Anyway, they settled locally, the girl pregnant young, the two boys working together in logging, seven nippers between the eldest son and the sister, five boys and two girls. The middle brother died in his early thirties, tragic accident at work, his new wife expecting their first which she lost to the grief. She moved away following a breakdown at the memorial party. After a shouting match with Daddy, the family never heard from her again. Daddy called it a public disgrace.

Of the seven grandchildren, Daddy doted most on the youngest girl, an inquisitive, brave child who resisted her grandfather’s love. His end came with a broken heart, begging forgiveness on his deathbed – pitiful, like Papa before him – but as he’d never mourned his second son, the family turned their backs and let him die alone. Nobody went to the funeral. The ceremony at the same quiet cemetery where Papa, the middle brother and his lost child all were buried, was back up there amongst the silent, knowing trees on Wood Hill.

Then Daddy got his revenge from beyond the grave: the money went to the young girl, locked away ‘til she was 21. This brought more bitterness. Her mother tried to unlock the cash for herself; the uncle argued that his kids should have it, and their respective partners both advised against the other. The law wouldn’t allow it anyway, and suffice to say the family fell apart, stopped talking; the kids were even barred from seeing their cousins.

The youngest kept her head down, studied hard at school and, so completely exhausted by her family’s internal hatred, when she sailed through her exams she packed off to university as soon as she could. She missed only her big brother, but even he thought her privileged. He never understood why she needed to leave their hometown.

She graduated with a science degree and her mind was made up: as soon as the money became available she invested into a doctorate and then, marrying a promising young physicist, they set up a laboratory far away in the south, testing and manufacturing new engines for the next generation of vehicles. They won contracts to work first for the state and second the government. It was big business and before their first came along – a boy – they were already working on rocket ships for the space industry. Now, everybody knows what befell the world in the next century.

The first asteroids were drawing closer to Earth and she’d taken her family into the shelters to prepare for the start of the exodus (having helped build the ships for the new colonies, she was able to get places on-board without much argument). Then she appropriated the biggest truck she could lay her hands upon and took off to the north.

The roads were fierce and it was hairy to get across, everybody in such a complete panic – it was chaos – but somehow she made it through. She had an address for her brother, knew he had a family there, but once she made the town, she didn’t recognise the place at all. Nothing was the same. The old school was gone, the centre seemed one big mall, and up on the hill, even the forest had all but disappeared. She found her brother’s house empty. So many of the homes there were abandoned. The whole place was
eerie and deserted.

She had no choice but to get back into her truck and leave, cursing the empty seats next to her, not knowing the whereabouts of her brother, any nieces or nephews she might have had, and who knew about any cousins, let alone second cousins: she had no way of knowing who she’d left behind.

On the freeway things had calmed down. Folk had made their moves to their nearests and dearests and were hoping to sit things out. Only, she knew better.

She got to the facility, got her family and got off that planet as quick as she could.

Just as they made it past the curving horizon, well that was when the first asteroids struck home. It was terrible to watch. Just awful. She turned and saw the giant rocks pound into the silent blue world below. Bright explosions spread faster than anything she could imagine. Quicker than speeding avalanches, faster than tsunamis.

She covered her son’s eyes from the glare and held her hand out to touch the cold glass of the ship, and all she could do was cry, picturing her old town being torn apart in the maelstrom, the quiet old cemetery awash in flame, the last trees of Wood Hill snapping and falling, her poor uncle, his baby, his father and grandfather, their coffins all shuddering violently beneath the ground, the home they knew destroyed, their offspring gone, and she, flying out smooth and safe on a craft made from Papa’s money
– and it was all of theirs, just as that incinerated town was all of theirs – all she could do was cry, cry with her son tugging at her arm, until finally, a thought asked as if by ghosts within: but where will we call home, now?


About the writer:
James Bruce May is a writer from London. He has been writing poems and short fiction steadily since studying for an MA in creative writing at Goldsmiths College. May has published internationally in The Honest Ulsterman, Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal, Gravel Magazine, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Stockholm Review of Literature, and others. May is currently a content assistant at the opera house in Covent Garden.

Image: Allegory of the Planets and Continents by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770). Oil on canvas. 72.9 x 54.8 inches. 1752. Public domain.