My dad gave me the ansible when I was ten. It was a little black box with holes poked in on one side to hear the people through.
I cupped it in my hands and tried to listen, but nothing came out. Dad said it worked, but he needed a special battery to get it going. Something he couldn’t get around here, he said. Something he needed to get from a special friend.
One night I stayed awake holding it real tight and trying to make it work by thinking hard, but it never did.
I put it on the dresser and waited, looking at it sometimes.
One day when I was twelve my dad left for a few days. He left me alone in the house while he was gone. I had food and water and everything and I still had the ansible and my dog Buzz, so it was okay.
The old man with the green hat who lived on the farm next door came by two times to check up on me, but I told him I was fine both times and he looked at me and mumbled some old man things and went away. I would’ve offered him something to eat, but he had an ear of corn the first time he came and a bag of beef jerky the second, so I didn’t think he was hungry, even though I was.
Beans were my favorite thing to eat back then and I still like them alright. Back then my dad always got pork and beans in a can. Most of the time he’d buy a dozen cans at a time, which means twelve cans, and sometimes he’d get a “baker’s dozen” which is thirteen, but I don’t know why they call it that.
He’d got a regular dozen for me before he left on his trip, and I’d eaten all twelve cans by the time he came back. I even stacked them up like a pyramid on the kitchen table. I also taught Buzz a trick and looked at all the pictures in a magazine about space about a million times.
I remember my dad’s face when he came back and saw all the empty cans. His mouth was a big “O” and his eyes were real wide like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Then he laughed and said he’d have to get a loan from the bank or something just so he could keep feeding me.
He was funny like that sometimes, but not all the time. Sometimes he stood outside at night and stared up at the sky with his hands on his hips, not being funny at all.
I did that too, sometimes, but not like him. When my dad looked at the stars, he looked real serious.
After his joke, my dad sat me down with him and he gave me a wrinkled paper bag and told me to open it up.
Inside was a silver cube — flat and smooth all around with these neat little symbols on each side. It was warm, too.
My dad said he saw his special friend on his trip and that the cube was the battery we needed for the ansible. I ran and got it off the dresser in my room and my dad pried off the cover and put the cube inside.
After it was in we sat and drank 7 UP and waited for nighttime because he said the sun caused problems.
When it was dark, we went outside and sat on the steps and he showed me how to turn the machine on. The holes glowed green and yellow-green when it did. My dad took it and messed with it a little bit, turned it round and round and held it up and touched it in different ways. He said he was calabrayting it.
He did that for a while and I watched. I don’t remember if the moon was out, but I wasn’t looking for it.
Then my dad got real quiet. He held the ansible up to his ear and listened hard. He started whispering some things but he was too quiet and I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Then he said, “Okay. Here he is.”
I remember exactly those words: “Okay. Here he is.”
He gave me the ansible. I held it to my ear and listened.
“Say something,” my dad told me, so I did. I said, “Hello?” — like on a telephone.
“Ben? Ben, is that you?”
It was a woman. I looked at my dad. “It knows my name,” I said. “I mean, she does.” My dad just nodded and waved his hand real fast which meant that I should hurry up and keep talking.
“Hi,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say. “This is Ben.”
“Ben,” the woman said. “Ben, this is your mother.”
I laughed then. I don’t know why. I never had a mother, but it felt like a game so I said, “Oh, hi mom,” and I told her about my pyramid and the old man next door and how my dad can drink a whole can of 7-UP in five seconds and the woman who said she was my mother laughed and said some other things that I don’t remember and then she started crying.
She said she wished so much that she could have watched me grow up, and for some reason I said “you too” which didn’t make sense and then she started laughing and crying all at the same time.
Eventually my dad took the ansible back and started whispering to her again. He did that until the green-yellow light flickered and went away.
My dad looked at the ansible and put his hand on it, like you would touch your dog after it died, then he sighed and stared at the stars for a long time. When he was done, he pried the cover off again and took the silver cube out, which was black now, and threw it into the yard.
We never got it working again.
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