The spaceship leaves in two hours. It's not enough time for Clara to decide.
When Doug walks in, he doesn't notice the packed bag on the table, perhaps because it's so small. Clara can't take much--none of the colonists can. Launching a spaceship is expensive enough without added weight.
He grabs his pencils, and for a moment she wonders if he's going to sketch something for her--a bird, the moon, the path in the garden--like he used to do. Instead, he says, "I can't stand the look you're giving me."
She crushes a flyer in her hand. "Scientists wanted," it says. "New settlements, new worlds." A goldilocks planet lies nestled near where the wormhole lets out.
"A new life," the flyer says.
The spaceship leaves in one hour and forty-five minutes.
Doug leaves the room without saying anything else.
It's the heaviness of their relationship that startles her. Every time he comes into the room, it settles down on her, enfolds her. This is what it would feel like, she thinks, to come back to Earth after living on Mars. Relentless gravity. How hard would it be to lift her hand? Her head? How hard would it be to stand? Would it feel like this, she thinks? This weight? She pictures a red dust landscape stretching ahead and behind, unending. A planet without life. A planet where there will never be life. And coming home, a weight pressing so closely down, heavy where there was never heaviness before.
As a child, Clara dreamed of living on Mars. She's always wanted to travel in space, to see the Earth below her and the stars stretching out far ahead. She'll never live on Mars--no one thinks it's feasible to terraform anymore--but there are other worlds. The program needs ecologists. She's already been approved--three questionnaires, five interviews, one fitness test. All that's left is to go.
The spaceship leaves in one hour and thirty minutes.
Clara needs to be outside. She always thinks more clearly, outside. In the garden, she runs her hand over roses, careful not to touch the thorns. A maple tree reaches over her, sunlight filtering through its leaves. She tries not to think about how this might be the last time in her garden--the last time she sees a beetle or feels the grass between her toes. Clara leans down to touch a daisy, then pulls her hand back. She used to pick daisies for Doug every morning, putting them next to his plate while he bustled around the kitchen. When they were newlyweds, he would bake amazing treats--cookies light as snowflakes, rich cakes, delicious breads.
She's not sure when he stopped baking. Maybe after she took the professorship. They've had so many fights about it that she can't remember them all. Long hours are part of her job. He never wanted to live here. She doesn't like his new group of friends, and he thinks her research is, although he's never said it directly, useless. Every fight holds layers of past fights. Their words become weighed down, until one word can stand in for so many.
Clara doesn't pick the daisies. She hasn't picked daisies in years. He wouldn't want them, she thinks.
Clara walks along the garden path. Two stones are crushed together, worn against each other.
After a fight, she makes coffee in the morning. Sometimes, Doug drinks it, and they do the morning crossword as if everything is okay. Inevitably, the next fight comes soon after, oppressive with past words, with their history, so that she can hardly breathe.
Clara has tried to tell Doug about the space program, but somehow the right words never came.
The spaceship leaves in one hour and fifteen minutes.
Clara finds Doug in the kitchen. He's never in the kitchen. On the counter, there's a baking sheet caked with grime, discolored from disuse. When Doug sees her, he puts down the flour and mixing bowl. Without a word, she hugs him. Startled, he hugs her back. A last hug or a new beginning, she's not sure. His arms fall heavy on her shoulders, like gravity, holding her to the Earth. She thinks again of Mars--the red, barren planet. Although perhaps that's not a fair description. Scientists have found pockets of water hidden under the surface. A possibility. The hope of life.
"A new life," the flyer says.
The spaceship leaves in one hour.
This story originally appeared in Factor Four.