Hey, sweet pea. Just got your message.
Not sure if you’re being genuine about what a sunrise looks like from space or trying to make me jealous (if you were, you’ll be pleased to know it wasn’t in vain), but it almost makes me want to get enlisted as well. So, the sun’s white up there but yellow down here because the Earth’s atmosphere filters out the other colors? Yes, I know that’s a shameless regurgitation of what you said, but I’m not the one with a degree, or on a military base orbiting the planet.
Anyway, I’ve been keeping our ritual alive; every day before breakfast I drag Ma up the hill and we sit there, dew-flecked grass kissing our fingers as the night leaves like a weight off our chests. Admit it, you cringed at that. Too much poetic elegance for your leathery skull. Well, you knew what you were getting into when you breezed into the library cafe and wondered how my dainty little fingers could flutter over the keys so fast. Us writers will either turn red as pomodoro sauce and slam the laptop shut, or dive into a starry-eyed monologue about why everyone and their pet goldfish should give a damn about our characters. You charmed me enough to do the latter, though I’m still not convinced you were paying attention to anything other than my hips. Okay, if I’m being perfectly honest, I was admiring yours too, but if ogling each other’s pelvic region means I get to gaze at the stars every night and know you’re shining alongside them, then I’m glad I let you pay for my Matcha frappe (with extra whipped cream).
Sorry, memory lane’s probably not where you wanna be when a drill sergeant is screaming bloody murder at you, huh? Where were we? Sunrise, the hill, Ma. Ah, yes, Ma. I get the feeling she’s only making the climb because she thinks I’m, what, grieving or something? Says I need to cope with the fact that you’re being trained to fight literal aliens, because her spine can’t. Please tell me you’re not siding with her. I promise, sweet pea, I’m fine. I just want a hand over mine when I watch the pinks and golds chase the darkness away like watercolor bursting across a canvas.
I just want to pick up where we left off when you come home. There’s nothing wrong with that, right?
It’s been a week and I miss you like hell, sweet pea.
Anyway, here’s me signing out. Hope you still have time to look drop-dead gorgeous between all those bench presses and cold showers.
P.S. Tell me if that Miranda bitch steals your shower sandals again, so I can stow away with the vacuum-sealed meatloaf aboard the next cargo ship and wallop her ass all the way to Jupiter.
Guess what blotted out the sun today? If your answer is “The Paladin, a mountain-sized star cruiser that I’ll be cooped up in for months when they whisk me away to Mars,” then you’re spot on. Yes, I know it was just an exhibition to ease public tension, but I honestly can’t care less about getting plasma-bombed into a fine mist by whatever alien tech we’re supposed to be afraid of these days. I mean, come on. Ma and I aren’t the ones about to be sent to meet the source of those bombs. I suppose safety isn’t exactly in a Space Marine’s job description, but they’d better be treating you like a human being up there.
Ugh, I still can’t believe it. You don’t belong in that floating hunk of metal. You need freedom on all four sides, ample space to gallivant from one whim to the next like the beautiful, feral creature you are. You need dirt and asphalt to kiss the soles of your trainers.
You need me, sweet pea, not those stone-faced instructors that’ll rip you to shreds for leaving a crease on the bedsheets. What was that thing the counsellor said? A tidy bed is a symptom of a stagnant relationship? I suppose that’s why we rented a motel the first few months. They’re paid extra to get rid of the stains, right?
You know, these days, I can’t help staring like a bug-eyed child at those sleek metal bodies slicing through the clouds as they do their training maneuvers. Will that really be you one day, owning the sky like there isn’t enough room down here to spread your wings?
Heh, I must sound like Ma, and you’re the last person that needs a parental mucking up their life. She’d enlist in my stead if it came to it. Guess I should be glad it’s you with a rifle on her shoulder and not Ma and her wobbly knees, huh?
The point is, I hope you’re having a blast up there. I don’t mean that sarcastically. And I don’t mean the plasma bombs either.
Signing out now. Ma and I are watching the broadcast tonight. Hopefully things are calming down, and then they won’t need you up there anymore.
P.S. Gloucester still curls up on the welcome mat every evening. See, I’m not the only one waiting. Or keeping our traditions going, on that note.
P.P.S. I swear I’m not trying to discourage you, or make you feel too homesick. You didn’t have a choice—none of us did, really, so all I can do is be proud. It’s just that there are cracks in that pride, and those cracks are filled with tears.
Sweet pea, how’d your first reconnaissance mission go? Did you nail any of those gel-skinned freakazoids? Will I get to trace my fingers across a badass battle scar one day and brag to my writer friends about how you got it?
Just kidding. I know your cohort isn’t allowed to spray bullets willy-nilly just yet, at least not until you complete advanced training, but it already feels like you’re some kind of war hero and it’s only a matter of time before they’ll erect a twelve-foot tall, polished-bronze version of you for tourists to ogle in a park somewhere. Wait, that’s what they do for people killed on duty, isn’t it? Crap. Sorry.
Speaking of parks, you know the one by the old-fashioned theatre? The one where we tried to take Gloucester for a walk, only to discover that strapping a leash onto a ten-pound Persian with the personality of a volcano is a surefire way to get blood on your brand-new sundress? Well, I saved up for a pair of sneakers, some fancy Japanese brand that molds around your feet for an ergonomic fit (I hear they’re doing some crazy things with virtual reality down in Tokyo, by the way) and I’ve started tracing paths around the big lake every other evening before bed. Figured I might fill in the void you left behind with my own awkward proportions, you know? I can’t believe it took you literally blasting off into space for me to realize how therapeutic this is, the night wrapping around my shoulders like a blanket while that sweet, sweet ache in my calves reminds me what it is to be alive. And just to ease that one overprotective bone in your body, no, I never go out without mace spray, and yes, I always stick to paths that have plenty of security drones.
I think it’s the moon I keep coming back for, sweet pea. Can’t get enough of it, that gigantic, bottomless milk bowl sitting primly in the middle of the lake like it’s waiting for me to dive in and have a taste. And maybe I will, if it means joining you up there with the stars and the otherworldly sunrises and the night that never leaves your shoulders. For now, I’ll have to be content with it smiling back up at me every time I catch my breath and sip some liquid chlorophyll. It’s a white pupil against a black iris, always there, always watching.
Does the Earth smile back when you look down, sweet pea? Or are you busy watching a different planet?
I throw pebbles, sometimes. Never learnt to skip them; you can thank Ma’s signature parenting style for that, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering she moved in the second you moved out. They plunge into the milk like fists, sending ripples scurrying to the shoreline, and the moon blurs for a few moments. It always comes back, though.
P.S. It’s funny how even the moon, bright and glorious as it is, can’t resist having its beauty captured down here, on the surface of a lake on boring old Earth.
Hey, sweet pea, I’m here. You can stop spamming the heartfelt concern (or not, because, y’know, I’m not exactly complaining). Sorry I went AWOL for a few days; kinda hard to get a signal when you’ve been herded a hundred feet underground and boxed in by walls of lead and plate steel.
I mean, you probably know more than any of us down here, but I still can’t believe one tiny craft slipping past the barricade caused so much destruction. Nowhere me and Ma frequent, thank god, but I think I’ll be having my sunrises with a side of smoke on the horizon for the next few days. It doesn’t really sink in until those live broadcasts start mentioning the city you live in.
I can’t believe that’s what we’re dealing with. I can’t believe that’s what you’re dealing with. And you’re already halfway to Mars, ready to go in guns blazing as soon as you touch down?
I know your batch is just reinforcements, but thinking about it snuffs out that little spark in the pit of my stomach. I’m not about to go all Ma on you, so I’ll sign off with this:
Give ‘em hell, sweet pea.
P.S. Do you think I’d be able to drift through space for months on end without losing my marbles? I always figured the change in scenery would vanquish my writer’s block once and for all, but still…
We saw the broadcast. I’m literally jumping for joy. Ma just gave me a good scolding for picking her up and twirling her across the kitchen. I’m not sure which one of us knocked the coffee machine over. Or stepped on poor Gloucester’s tail.
So, that’s it, then? You pushed them back to their Mars hideout? You helped the survivors on our side evacuate?
That means you’re not needed there anymore, right?
Please reply ASAP. And you can’t use the twenty-minute communication time delay between Earth and Mars as an excuse.
P.S. I haven’t seen Gloucester this angry since the leash incident. Or the coffee machine, for that matter. Man, I miss the days when those things didn’t wish you good morning.
Okay, since the world is right again, there’s something I’ve been wanting to bring up, and I haven’t managed to pull the cork off that bottle until now. Yes, I know, I should probably wait until you’re back, but isn’t it nice to have something (or someone!!!) to look forward to on the journey home?
I’ve been paying her a visit every weekend after book club. You remember that feeling we both had when we walked into the shelter and immediately gravitated towards a certain Persian lardball? Imagine that, but amplified a billion times over. You’d love her. She’s sweeter than honey and sugar and agave syrup combined. She’s got my eyes and your complexion—apparently, one donor was Korean, and the other Ghanaian. She’s perfect.
Obviously, nothing’s official just yet, which is why I need you by my side so we can finalize everything and celebrate your duty to the planet the proper way.
Ah, it’s been a while since I’ve felt this satisfied signing off.
P.S. Her name is Artemis, as in the Greek goddess of hunting. Wait ‘til she grows up and learns her mommy was the coolest alien hunter in the entire galaxy.
Sorry I missed a day, sweet pea. Needed some time to process your last message.
What do you mean, you’re staying? Okay, I get that an all-out assault on their Mars hideout might stop the attacks for a while, maybe even for good, but why throw yourself into the line of fire when you’re given the choice not to? Why not let the other volunteers kiss Mars dirt when you could be on your way home to meet your future daughter?
I’m not saying your reasoning isn’t sound. I mean, the world is literally at stake, and I’m flattered that you acknowledge I’m a part of that world, but what about my world? When does my world get saved, sweet pea?
I… oh, fuck, I don’t even know if you’re listening.
Please don’t do this to me, sweet pea.
P.S. “Art” for short.
You’re coming to your senses, right, sweet pea? That’s why there are tumbleweeds on your end?
Ma misses you too, but respects your decision; says you’re an adult who knows what matters.
Aren’t we what matter?
P.S. I chucked the biggest stone I could find into the lake yesterday. The ripples wouldn’t die down.
Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god.
So, we won. Biggest broadcast to date, by far. But, “heavy losses on both sides”?
Sweet pea, you know I was just joking about that war statue, right?
P.S. Gloucester is waiting. We’re all waiting.
Sweet pea, for the love of god, SAY SOMETHING.
Hey, sweet pea. Sorry I missed two whole months; the words just wouldn’t come out, and it’s not like you’d hear them through the tears. I should really be trying to keep our ritual alive now that one of us isn’t. They broke the news a few weeks ago, and the words were hailstones on the front porch, shattering with the sort of finality that leaves you gasping for air and wondering if all this isn’t just a bad dream.
Ma and I still watch the sun rise every day before breakfast. That’s the whole point of rituals; you do them even when their intended purpose peters out and leaves you in the dust. They’re like cicada husks, a remnant to remember the life once squirming inside after it’s long gone. People tell me it’s silly and futile, hanging onto something that doesn’t exist anymore. But I can’t help it; not when the sun does it every single day. Not when the sun is there to remind me that, once upon a time, there was a warm hand over mine as I sat in dew-kissed grass, and that was all that mattered.
Gloucester stopped napping on the welcome mat. I think she can tell, somehow. The whole neighborhood can hear her caterwauling.
I can’t bring myself to look into the lake.
P.S. If by some miracle you get this, just know that I’m not mad at you. I never was. I never was.
I think Art would’ve loved you.
You know what my favorite part about daybreak is? It’s when the sun is still grasping for a foothold on the horizon, and one of its clumsy amber hands finds its way onto a cheek; the gentlest of slaps, to banish the ghouls rattling around in my skull, to remind me that life is a treadmill with no apparent off button.
At least, that’s what I want to believe. To me, the sun stopped rising a long time ago. After that, who else but the night has been kind enough to drape a blanket over these cold, hollow bones?
I’m staring into the lake after finally mustering the courage, and the moon stares back like it’s accusing me of not coming to join you.
I have nothing against our rituals, mind you. It’s just that they’re only sparks in the dark, flickering into existence in the same breath that they fizzle out. Momentary light. It’s never dark around the moon.
Maybe I can reach you in the sky if I let the water take me, pull me down so that I can fall up.
Maybe there’s something at the bottom of the milk bowl, and maybe you’ll be there, ready to regale me with your war stories while I trace your battle scars with my fingers.
And maybe there the sun won’t have to set ever again.
P.S. Ma, when you find this, just know that I love you, and give Gloucester a scratch on the chin for me, the way she always likes it. I haven’t seen my sweet pea in a year and I don’t want to keep her waiting.