“Did you know her?” Debbie asked me as we got in the car. I made sure Michael was strapped in before replying. I needed a moment to think.
Debbie just watched and didn’t press.
The school van in front of us took off slowly, we followed it through the valley of the satellite dishes that made up the VLA. It was quiet in the car as we passed the radar array, my own thoughts on the next message from the stars that these dishes would pick up, possibly were hearing them even now.
“Ellie and I were from the same sleepy town in Wisconsin, but of course she got out of it early on. Last time I saw her, back then, was at her dad’s funeral.” I looked into the rear-view mirror and found Michael’s face. “We were both about your age, Michael. Her dad had a heart-attack.”
“Yeah, it is. I remember seeing Ellie outside, on the porch. I tried talking to her, but she was very upset. My dad, your grandpa, talked with her. He tried to say that god has a plan.” I frowned at that. Debbie reached over and lay her hand on my leg, gave a reassuring squeeze that somehow made things better again.
“What was Ellie’s dad like?”
“Ted? He was great, used to tell dad jokes. Like the one about ears of corn, he’s the one you guys need to blame. Ha!” I smiled at that long-misplaced memory, and at the groans my own use of that line elicited. “He got Ellie interested in science, so that’s how we met the first time. Our school went to the observatory at night and we got to see Jupiter, as Europa passed in front of it. I spent a lot of time in there, on weekends, so I showed her how to use the telescope.”
“Ha, good one, dad!”
“Honest!” I held up my hand, as if swearing to tell the truth in court. “Taught her everything she knows!”
“Good one,” Debbie said and nudged me gently in the ribs.
“Michael, what Ellie told you, about the waste of space? Ted loved that line, he’d say it to us kids when we asked about aliens. Because we all did.”
“You didn’t see her after the funeral?” Debbie asked.
“Nope. She moved to California, to live with her aunt. Everything kind of changed, then.”