I paddle out, breathing evenly in the early dawn, mist rising from the water. The whole place is quiet and still except for Grandfather. He tells me to hug the shore. The oars are light in my hands. I’ve been practicing since the ice melted and now it’s paying off. My arms are strong.
Grandfather points and I aim for the spot, a place where the marsh grass bends to the side. It’s close enough to touch but I keep my hands on the paddle and pull the boat into the narrow inlet.
Behind me, Grandfather is silent. I resist the urge to ask him again where we’re going. I just keep paddling until we run aground.
Grandfather gets out first, then turns back to give me a hand, pulling me up onto dry ground. The wind is cooler here and the sky blue and immense over the long marsh. Far above us two shuttles hurtle in the direction of Faso, the nearest hub.
I follow Grandfather across the spongy ground to the trees that mark the forest. There, a path leads up the steep incline, thick with cedar, oak, and pine. At the top is an old road that doesn’t lead anywhere, and I wonder again why Grandfather has brought me this way.
Suddenly he stops, listening.
A second later I hear it, too, a jingling sound, and then we both see him coming, this man with bells and a box strapped to his back that tells me who he is: a tinker.
We don’t see them very often anymore. Who needs a tinker when there’s a whole town just down river or a super hub an hour away?
His face brightens at the sight of us, and he opens his jacket wide. The lining glitters with jewelry, utensils, knives, watches, trinkets. Old stuff.
“Do you see anything you like, Cammi?” Grandfather asks me. “Something to take with you when you go…?”
It’s then I understand he wants to buy me something, a going away present. It isn’t like him but I think maybe he’s feeling sentimental so I take a step closer, looking hard at what the tinker’s got.
An old watch catches my eye, the sort that opens and closes and sits in your pocket. I point, and the peddler hands it over for me to look at. The bottom side is smooth and worn as if rubbed; the top is engraved with a design I cannot cipher. Flat, pearly gems mark the edge, flush with the metal, glimmering. I can hear the clock ticking inside.
“How much?” I ask, intrigued.
“We’ll take it,” Grandfather says.
He shoos me away, negotiating in whispers with the peddler, which worries me a little. But I like the watch. I like how it feels in my hand and the faint ticking sound it makes.
Grandfather joins me, and the tinker waves goodbye, his bells jangling as he goes back the way he came. We head back down, and we’re almost to the boat when I ask, “Did you know he was going to be there?”
Grandfather smiles. But he doesn’t answer.
A week later I leave for the academy, the watch in my pocket and Grandfather reminding me not to trust CGE—the company that’s paying for my education. I resist the urge to roll my eyes.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my grandfather, more than anyone. More than the father I don’t remember, and more than my mother who thought nothing of leaving me so she could go off and chase her dream. But he’s old fashioned like a lot of old people. Always thinking things were better when he was a kid, and that ‘everything’s gone to shite.’ I think he’s being a little dramatic, or maybe just remembering wrong. ‘You forget, Cammi, I’ve been around a long time,’ he reminds me. Which is true; he has been around a while. He was around when Cedar made first contact (although he maintains it was CGE who made first contact) and he was there at The Vote, when Cedar joined the AP. ‘A day of infamy,’ Grandfather likes to say dramatically.
“Then why are you letting me go?” I asked him the last time he went on about CGE.
“Because I don’t want to lose you,” he answered.
“You can’t lose me, Grandfather,” I said, hugging, him. “No matter what.”He waves at me now, and I blink back tears, missing him already. It will be three long years before I see him again.