I spent most of last night on Mars. All of it, actually. And the night before that. And the night before that. And the year before that …….
Colonizing Mars, actually, although that sounds grander and empowering than the experience. Let me tell you, Mars feels a lot like Kansas or Nebraska during the Dust Bowl. Well, except for spacesuits and cold.
There’s this grinding isolation, which I’m okay with, surprisingly, but it flattens everything. A numbness that comes with having a really predictable daily experience. I guess kids can adjust to all kinds of things as long as it seems normal to them. It was normal for me to study, do my chores, watch threads of wind scour the flat plains, lift the dust, and drop it back down.
It was okay. There was a kind of simple beauty and comfort in reading, teleconvos with my online school friends, chores like prepping food and checking the condensation levels for the bioplots in the greenhouse. I always wondered how they got called a greenhouse since there was NOTHING green anywhere in there. Then watching the horizons alone and daydreaming for hours on end. It wasn’t okay when Mom and Dad died.
I think it kind of took me a while to really grasp that I had to do something, and that no one else could or would. After all, there was my brother to think of. It wasn’t like he could take care of himself, after all. I might be able to imagine that I could survive on my own for a long time and pretend nothing much had changed, but he needed regular medical care. That wasn’t something I could do.
Mom and Dad had always taken care of everything he needed, and I hadn’t really paid attention. I feel a little weird about that now, wishing I knew what to do, but at the time, I didn’t even notice I wasn’t noticing. It wasn’t intentional. I was just oblivious.
So. I guess we’re going to the City. Ugh, the City. It probably had a name, a proper grown-up name (or named after a grown up, more likely), but if it did, that was something else I was oblivious to. It wasn’t like Mars had a lot of cities after all, and so it didn’t really need a proper name. For me, it was just The City.
I know how to load up the buggy for a trip, the landmarks to steer by to get to the nearest transit point for the subway. I packed enough supplies, food, and clothes for a few days, leaving the buggy itself outside the cave entrance to the tunnels. After all, it wasn’t like there were a lot of neighbors or travelers in the area. Down through the cave to the tunnel. Set up the alert to ping the train to stop the next time one came by. Wait. Feed the boy. Wait some more.
I can’t imagine a place more different from our family farm than the City. It kind of makes my skin crawl to be around so many people. No horizon. No sky. Walls and walls and walls, and even the streets aren’t empty or open. It always feels so peculiar and wrong to put on City-clothes. Performing normative behaviors. That’s what Mom always called it when she’d insist I change to City-clothes. See why I said UGH?
But I can do it. So I did. I got me changed. Got my brother changed. I know how to talk to him, but … I don’t know how to talk to him alone, without Mom or Dad. But we talked. A little. Sort of. I don’t know what I said. I don’t know what he understood. I think he just kept expecting Mom and Dad to come do the same things they always did. I don’t know if he was comfortable or not. I might have waited a little longer than I should have to take him in to the city. I just wasn’t thinking, I guess.
I knew the route Mom and Dad always took to the Medical Center. We did it enough times, and I always came along. Got bro in his sling/sleigh and skimmed along the edges of the crowded streets until we were there. Slipped quietly in the side door, and took him right up to the usual desk. I did not expect them to ask me when our appointment was. What appointment? They weren’t expecting us. Well, him.
All of a sudden it really hit me that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know whether to go or stay, ask for help, or what. I didn’t know what we would do or where we would go if we DIDN’T stay in the Med Center, like usual. I didn’t know how to ask for an appointment. The lady at the desk was checking something in the records and frowning. I didn’t know if there was something else that was supposed to happen before we got there. And here I’d thought I knew so much.
I thought maybe if I ran away, they’d at least take care of him. I mean, they know him. He’s there so much. They know what to do, and they would, right? They’d do it, they’d take care of him, right?
I think the lady at the desk realized I was starting to tense up. I started to spin around to run, trying to remember if I ever noticed stairs or a lift or a slide to a different level. I know the door we’d come in had been behind us, but I couldn’t even see it now, with all the people. I gulped, and spun back round, looking around for a gap, a direction to run, anything that looked like a place to go.
“Hey!” she said softly, “Wait.”
I paused, perfectly still like when I’d watch the dust back home, but watching her, as if something was about to happen. I waited. Waiting is something I know how to do.
“Your folks aren’t here with you today.”
I waited. I watched her.
Maybe my eyes shifted a little. I don’t know. Her cheeks went down a bit. I kept watching. It felt like my mouth was frozen shut.
“Something happened. I’m sorry.”
She reached out and lightly touched the back of my hand. Her hand floated for a second as if she was deciding what to do next.
“Don’t go, please. You’ll need to stay here for a bit, so we can figure out how to help you and your brother.”
I looked up at her eyes. They looked a little sad. I cleared my throat, and asked, “What’s going to happen?”
She looked down. Pulled her one hand back to her other hand, and squeezed them together quickly, and then let go. She looked back at me, right in the eyes, looked away again, smiled as if she didn’t mean it, and said, very gently, “Well, we can’t know that until it happens, can we?”
Capturing this here because, even though I was just writing down a dream I had that morning, it turned into something people are perceiving as an intentional short story. Thus, capturing it as a kind of creative writing exercise.
Originally posted on Facebook, March 27, 2019: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10156363374777903
Image used: File:PIA17944-MarsCuriosityRover-AfterCrossingDingoGapSanddune-20140209.jpg originally from NASA