Flash Fiction: Home by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story where a trip is mentioned or featured. This week’s story comes to us from Val Muller, author of Corgi Capers, the kidlit mystery series, and was inspired by both of her kids learning about space in school.

Home

By Val Muller

It’s a one-way trip. I mean, it’s supposed to be, but it has a sinister ring, doesn’t it? One way.

How does it feel to be the pride of my family, my hometown, my nation? How does it feel to be the pride of my planet? I believe I’ve answered that quite extensively in papers, videos, you name it—I’ve been featured. My name rings across the globe. And then the send-off at my parents’ house. It’s odd. It has the feel of a birthday party, a bridal shower, and a funeral all at once. The entire family is here, and friends, acquaintances. People I didn’t even know I’d forgotten. My first-grade teacher. Their last chance to see me.

Me, chosen for my biology, my fertility, my resilience, my muscles, and my brain. On this trip I will do irreparable damage to my body and push my psyche to its limits. My grave exists off-world. Perhaps as the first in a Martian graveyard, something to fertilize the soil that will feed my children. Or perhaps my grave is a cold one, among the stars in the expanse of space, floating with fouled instruments and the remains of rocket fuel gone wrong, the failed attempts at humanity’s start.

It’s that vision of a cold grave that gives me pause. I know from the trials that Mars will not feel like home. I know it will sound “off,” smell “foreign,” make my body lonely in ways I cannot imagine. My closest test had been those nights alone in the desert. But even there, under familiar constellations, when I cried for death in the cold desert night, I took comfort in knowing if I died there, I would be home.

At my party, as I cut the cake, I am already imagining my escape. I’ll take my little red pickup and just drive away. Somewhere, anywhere—but it will be on Earth. And with my training, I am adaptable. I can go anywhere, choose to live alone or among others. I can blend in, disappear, conform, cross borders, and eventually be buried here. Home.

My family will be disappointed, of course, but there are three understudies ready and willing to take my place (at least they say they are), and so humanity will not suffer for my decision. They can go to Mars, colonize, endure the hardships and loneliness. Their names will go down in history, and they will pay the cost. My name will be but a footnote.

I sit in my bedroom watching my loved ones in the yard below, celebrating. Their hardship will be only that they miss me. Mine will be much worse. I’ve already sold most of my things, and given away others. Mom and Dad wanted to keep the place looking like I still lived in it, of course, the way parents do. I cleared it out as an act of mercy. I told them to make it into a study or a guest bedroom, or just go ahead and sell the place. But they are going to use it to record the videos they send me. The agency thinks that nostalgia will be good for the soul.

I say, better to forget. Rip the bandage off. Which is what I’m about to do. I’m searching through my clothes for what little remains. I shove it all in a small duffel bag I used to take for camping. I have a wad of cash I withdrew from my account when I closed it. I’d meant to give it to my little cousins, but it’ll be my seed money now, and if I’m going, I have to go now. Everyone’s out there getting drunk or playing or dancing. They won’t miss me for a while. I could have two states between us before they know I’m gone. It’ll just be me, the open road, and the familiar pulsation of the Earth. I’m sorry for all the money and time the agency put into me, but my soul has made its choice.

A creak at my door tells me I’m not alone. It’s grandma. She’s very old now. I wasn’t thinking she’d even be around for the launch, to be honest. I don’t know how she made it up the stairs. I don’t know how my parents let her.

“Grandma, I—”

She sits on my bed, and I plop down next to her. She takes a while to catch her breath.

When she is ready, she smiles at me. “I know what you’re thinking.” I know in that smile that she cannot possibly know what I’m thinking, but she begins with a memory before I can speak. “When I was a girl, my own grandmother used to tell me stories of her childhood. She had no hope in her home country. Life was day to day. The family struggled to make ends meet. When she was a teenager, she had the chance to come here, but for various reasons, she and her brother had to come alone.” Grandma’s eyes are dreamy, like she’s looking at a movie on the inside of her forehead. “Whenever I had a bad day, my Grandmama told me about it. She came here, to a new country, and not a day went by but she cried and cried. The language was foreign, the food was new, the people were not friendly. She longed to go home. It smelled different. The trees spoke differently to the breeze. That’s how she put it.”

Grandma looks in my eyes. “Home,” she repeats. Her eyes, though. She’s looking into my soul. Maybe she does know what I’m thinking.

“For the rest of her life, Grandmama thought of Home as somewhere across the ocean, a place of memories colored rosy by time. She longed for it always. I’m sure when she died, her last thought was a vision of the home she had left. And yet she never went back, never encouraged her kids or grandkids to do so. The land was beautiful, she always told us, but our home was elsewhere now.”

I panic. I know what Grandma’s trying to say, but her story is one I’ve not heard before, and I think again that going to Mars is the wrong thing to do. All I’ve ever known is here, and there is so much I don’t know. I could spend a lifetime here and still have questions. How dare I leave?

Grandma knows what I’m thinking. She puts a hand on my arm. Her wrist is so lightweight, like a bedsheet on my skin. “I like to think that when Grandmama passed, her soul knew where to go. It traveled across the ocean and found itself under a tree somewhere, a tree perhaps she climbed as a girl. A tree that smells different from the ones here, that speaks differently when it talks to the wind. I like to think that her soul found the graves of her parents and her ancestors and felt the air breathed out by her cousins, and in doing so, found peace.

“And for all her pain, my parents have never asked to go back there, and neither have I. And when I think of home—” She raises her arms to encompass all of my room, the window and all it reveals. It is a grand gestures, and one that taxes her. “It’s home for me because of what she left.”

I nod. I know what she’s saying. I just don’t know if I’m that selfless. Then she lies on my bed, and I know in an instant she’s not going to get up again, and she knows it too. “You’ll find your way back here when you need to.” She closes her eyes, and she’s breathing softly, sleeping. I wonder how she can leave without seeing me off. Isn’t that the kind of thing people hang around for?

But as I unpack my duffel bag and prepare to rejoin the party, I understand. She doesn’t need to see what she already knows will happen. I take one final glance back, locking it into memory. Her face is peaceful. Her breathing, easy. On her lips a knowing smile that my journey tomorrow will create a home for kin she has never met yet. Or maybe she smiles because she knows that despite impossible distances, the two of us will meet again.

 

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/

 

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