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"From the heights of the apartment complex all escape is impossible. By day, the horizon dissolves into a haze as if the sun were turning the sand into glass."

ESSAY

AT THE END OF THE DAY

RICHARD MEROS RESPONDS TO PIONEER-CITY.COM  

 

June 17

Darling Laura,

I believe in you and love you with all of my heart and want for you to be happy. Do what makes you happy. That’s an order.

I’ve enclosed something you might be interested in.

Mum

 

June 23

Dear Mum,

Thanks for the vote of confidence. Was just telling friends you're the best. They all ask the stupidest questions. Its like how people talk about going on a trip to Africa. “Isn’t it dangerous?” I love how you instinctively avoid such tosh.

I know how you’ll miss me, but that I have to follow my dreams. You know me like you knew my choice to teach science, to share the clarity of the world’s healthiest method.

There's a debate on Friday about whether we, as a species, should go to Mars. I don’t think it'll change anything, but lets see what the bright sparks have to say.

They say there's roughly a forty percent chance I'll advance from here. That means they've already said no to an awful lot of others from the first round. I’m confident. But not too confident.

Thanks for the article too. Isn’t that always the way – you don’t think about other planets all of your life, and then when you actually get the chance to be part of something like this, well, it's everywhere. Like love… I mean, its like being in love. Like seeing his name everywhere. Oh Mars! Even sort of sounds like a man’s name doesn’t it? Or like a sheep.

And the feminine of Mars would be Marsha? I’ve never known a Marsha, nor a Masha, who I haven't liked.

Regardless of these silly things  – the feminine name of Mars! – I’ll report back on the debate. I mean, I want to go, and maybe I’ll learn something. We could all learn something.

I’m including a copy of the application form – look at the part where they ask about family. They’re just like any other apparatus: aiming for control. But once I’m out there, on Mars, I’d like to see them try!

love,

Laura

 

June 30

Dear Mum,

Of course I know you’ll miss me. That’s the easy part to understand. But sometimes I wonder how deeply you understand what comes after it? I must do what I must do. I know that you know this. I know that you feel this.

Yesterday morning was my physical. The doctor kept asking these leading questions about why I don’t have children, about depression and self-harm. I’m not sure if one of my referees said something odd, but I just played it cool. I said something like, “well… I’ve not even got a boyfriend, have I, so why would I have a child? I’m a science teacher, not your average baby factory.” He probably thinks I am some sterile wretch.

I went to that debate. It was just as I should have expected. Should have? I did expect it!

Why can’t this mission be a cause for coming together and blessing? Why must it be just another chance for these same old bastards to air the same old grievances?

The statement for the debate was: “Mars should not be settled until the main troubles of earth are under control”.

First up was the affirmative.

If you had been there you would have called him a liberal. He was one of those types of guys who wants to save the world from… well, from itself. At least, that's how he sounded. He was arguing in the affirmative so perhaps he was just a very good actor! He said that mankind had done very well in offering the technological possibility of colonising Mars, but that there's no real point if we were just going to ignore the political, economic and social factors that have made earth worth abandoning.

The guy was really popular. It was like his whole fan club had turned out or something. I couldn’t tell if the crowd was just dumb or if they actually believed what this guy was saying.

The other guy, John I think his name was, representing the negation started quite well. But that's all he did. I mean, he bought up all of the points that I would have said if I were in his position, but he spoke like he hadn’t actually considered going. He just provided this kind of wicker man of an opposition that the others could burn down on their next turn. He had the passion of plywood: layering of valid arguments, but useless cause it's so ugly.

The negation guy – the guy who spoke all of my arguments with zero temerity - was soon buried. He replied to any argument by waving his hand and claiming “At The End Of The Day There Is No Alternative”. He definitely shouldn't have used those words. Even I don’t want to hear those words. No one wants to hear them. The crowd was pissed. The affirmative team were chuckling, stupid hopeless grins across their self-satisfied mugs. They’re what’s wrong with this country… but I wont get into that again!

So that was it: one side that was all meek and recalcitrant and the other, those who were supposed to be about frontiers and life existing elsewhere, could barely muster enough gusto to turn logic into a persuasive argument. I’d had a guts full even before their seconds had their turn. I left.

Hopefully we’ll find out by next week if I pass the physical. That’s me ending on a pleasant note. I guess I should thank you for sending me to that fancy school after all – it sure has made a proper woman of me.

love

Laura

 

July 12

Dear Laura,

Don’t joke about education. It is not so clever as it might sound. What I mean to say is that you are more clever when you just accept how gifted you are.

The truth is that I’m jealous of what chances you’ve had. I wish that I weren’t too old to go. Maybe I’m not. Maybe I’ll apply too. It’s starting to sound like the kind of life that, well, is a life.

Charlie is having tea with me tonight. Jeanette is at her sisters. I bet he’ll think I’m mad. But he’s always thought that. So maybe he’ll think I’m sane.

love

Mum

 

July 14

Mum!

So you want to go too huh?

How about that eh? I’m still not over it. I hope I didn’t say anything too stupid to you over the phone. And I hope that you’re still as happy now as you were then. I couldn’t bring myself to say it at the time, but I think that Dad would be happy with your choice. He’d have wanted you to go. Maybe we can take his ashes?

After we talked I went outside and sat on the steps, looked up at the sky. The clouds had parted a bit and the stars were up there, as they should be. The rain had cleared all of the dust from the atmosphere and it was as there was nothing keeping us from a direct experience of the universe.

Do you remember that book of telescope photography of outer space that Dad bought back from his trip to Cairo? I still remember the photos of odd purples and greeny-blue gases. Oh, I know that Mars isn’t there, but imagine it once we are in the ship. Will there be windows? I suppose not. That’s a shame.

I hadn’t really thought what it would be like leaving you behind until I worked out that you’d be coming! And now that you are coming, I am beginning to think about Cyrus, and my friends too, and about all that.

Sorry airing my worries, Mum. I should screw this paper up and just start again, but… well I guess these questions are no less important than whether space ships have windows.

Ain’t it great that the new world will have a need for us? Someone, somewhere has a use for teachers as much as for those over 50! I’m so glad they’ve announced this Guardian programme. We’ll have so much fun! Especially once I find a nice Martian man… suspicions are that young, wide-hipped ladies have been given preference for the settlement.

Love

Laura

 

July 16

Dear Laura,

I do want to go. I thought that with your Father’s life insurance and my Kiwisaver money I’d be comfortable for the rest of my days. But that was just some sort of hibernation. Mars seems like such a better option than knitting my days away in Te Kuiti with holidays to Raglan. Bah! Give me adventure or give me death. Or give me both!

Your brother says he has talked to you about an investment on Mars. He says that you are keen and if I sign up we could double or even triple our profit. I know that you are smart and can make up your own mind about this. I’m not much interested in these things, but if you and Cyrus wish to buy some Martian land for your future then I’ll help. By the time the real profits are realised it’ll probably be for your kids anyhow. For your Martian kids.

I just thought that it would be a lark to fill in the form. I thought that it would serve them right to have my withered old face amongst all of those young models in the advert. And that’s all it is right? I mean, they didn’t even ask for a photo, so it is not like there will really be that many good-looking people on Mars.

I don’t mean to say that you wont find your Martian sweetheart. I've always known you'll find a husband who has as much upstairs as down.

I do remember that book your father bought back from Cairo. There’s something about the Egyptians that lends itself to the cosmos isn’t there? Must be all of those pyramids. God, I’m drunk again, half a bottle of wine and well, I better start on dinner… will there be alcohol on Mars? Or will we take those synthetic drugs that they sell in the dairy?

Oh and I thought of this today… will there be a judicial system or will all the people just be, well, nice? I’ll have to ask them.

love

Mum

 

July 18

Mum,

About the Mars property: I see your point. I'd appreciate it if you could make the investment. I’ll transfer the money, once the documents arrive.

When do you go in for your physical?

Love

Laura

 

July 19

Laura,

I’m in! I’m in! I’ll give you a call.

Mum

 

 

July 20

Mum,

SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!

Fuck them. If they don’t know what’s good for them then I am not going. You know why they did it, don’t you? Because I'm as barren as outer space. Bet you didn’t know that, huh?

Well fuck THEM. I’ll spend six months in Goa instead. There’s still plenty to do on this earth. I will go to Goa for six months and show them how barren Laura Page is!

Come with me Mum! Fuck them! Come with me! We’ll get fluoro body paint and dance to techno and drink coconut juice from the coconut!

We’ll sleep with Indian men who will worship us and our pale, rare flesh.

love

Laura

 

July 20

Mum - are you serious, Mum?

You’re going to abandon me and Cyrus to this shitty earth? God knows it won’t matter to Cyrus, but me? We need people like you here – what happens when the most sensitive, the most caring, those who are the brightest sparks for the future, take off to the middle of nowhere? My god, the shuttle probably not only doesn’t have windows, but it’ll probably explode on take off!

You really think that this city is going to function once all the sheen and excitement wears off? The joy of Christmas doesn’t last a week, and the joy of Mars won’t either. You could do so much more here, if only you could transfer your passion to what is here and what is real, instead of fancying all these ideas of petri-dish justice.

Have you thought about that? Have you even thought about it?!

Laura

 

July 21

 

Mum,

Cyrus said he talked to you last night. See: even Cyrus, who we both know could have made a lot of money out of your property on Mars, thinks that it would be a bad idea for you to go. I’ve told you that if you need an adventure you can come with me to Goa. Got my tickets and all. They’re on special at the moment.

love

Laura

p.s. Sorry for that last letter. I shouldn’t have been so mean. You can make up your own mind, of course, but I just wanted to let you know how I feel.

 

 

   

March 19, the following year

Laura,

We’ve arrived! We stepped out of the ship’s hatch and into, well, they could only be described as hatches. They’re just like the rabbit huts you had when you were growing up, except here there is triple glazing instead of chicken wire.

Everything is going so well, that some seem to be spooked by the easiness of it all. Some talk of the glory of God. I just try to keep my job as a Guardian. The general assembly has forecast that the first set of buildings will be running by September, that the bore water will be sustainable in four weeks and that we will be sustainable in terms of food before the second ration ship arrives in July.

I don’t want to sound glib or to contrast your lot with mine, but I do genuinely want to ask about Goa. I’m sorry – I know how these things sound at a distance. Anyway, if I could wipe all of the tone out of this I would, and then I would ask, “How is Goa?” “How was Goa?”

Send me some news. Please, Laura, a little word means so much to me.

love,

Mum

 

December 18, some years on 

Dear Laura,

From the heights of the apartment complex all escape is impossible. By day, the horizon dissolves into a haze as if the sun were turning the sand into glass. By night, all of the world, except the cold, the memories of Earth and the thick red walls, might be forgotten. You wouldn’t like it here. I can’t see how anyone can, beyond the first few seasons.

It’s all so much different from that afternoon when you and I chatted to that Helen McCarroll woman. Remember? Remember the sun shining off of slippery Taranaki St? Remember the way she smiled and nodded as she invited our hands to grasp a Mars Bar, to strip the cellophane, and to enjoy the dream of a better, cleaner world. Remember what you said afterwards? “I’d like to see her there, without those heels or shoulder pads. I’d like to see her living the hard pioneer life”. And what did it mean? Nothing. It meant nothing. I bet she is still there, presenting her face to sell something to someone, to entertain. And I’m jealous of her and of easy days to be played away.

My complex is one of a series of three hundred and thirty-three built by the Pioneer City Corporation. Our complexes keep their distance from one another. They were built that way, spread out at the distances a rover might cover in one day. While the traders of yore used the stars as a guide, we now live among the stars. And now that the navigation systems have stopped working, and we’ve forgotten how the stars might guide us, I don’t know anyone who would risk travel.

I don’t know much, really, about much. Knowledge tends to breed solutions. It is easier when you never knew anything else – things don’t work because they’ve never been dreamed of, but here, like in the FSU we’re cloistered with these machines that once worked and are now a testament to our inability to inherit knowledge.

One thing that I do know is that a baby hasn’t been live-born in fifteen years. Perhaps that accounts for our gloom. Perhaps that accounts for the drops in productivity. Ha! Oh Laura, things are getting weary for this old husk.

Guests from the other settlements are no longer welcome. In the past, when the complex was open, rovers would drive in, yelling out their cordial greeting as much for the fresh air as to anyone who could have cared. They’d yell in their native languages. Their accents would remind us that things old and some new could excite. Those few words of welcome sustained us as the leaves of permaculture.

This will be the last you hear from me. Imagine me in the old myth of the Inuit of Northern Alaska. I’ve somehow found my iceberg and I’m about to push off.

love,

your Mum