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Story by Sara C. Thomason (Read author interview) December 16, 2019

Art by John Baker

Her child—three months old, sits in her lap smiling and she’s afraid. Afraid that her child will one day grow up and move to Mars. She knows it’s crazy, but the world is crazy, and this is a real thing she’s watching on the news.

A commercial space program. A contest. A weeping mother discussing her daughter’s one-way ticket to certain death on some mysterious flight set to leave eight years from now. The daughter appears on a split screen next to her mother, who sits in a studio holding a balled wet tissue, dabbing her eyes. She is being beamed through the TV from the middle of a rocky red desert in Texas—already separated from humanity and playing space, living in a pod to prove resilience before takeoff. She’s there with seven others. “It’s fun!” she says.

Her child fidgets in her lap, makes a snorting noise that results in drool. Is this what a cold looks like? Is the baby’s forehead hot? Are these just her own warm palms?

The mother on TV says something about how her daughter looks thinner, the opposite of what she’d expect. The camera does not add pounds. The daughter makes a joke about missing Starbucks and those madeleine cookies she likes too much. “I’m on a diet,” she says, and holds up a packet of freeze dried ice cream. “When we sent you to space camp, when you were little,” the mother says. “When we bought you those packs of ice cream. The ones you’re holding there? This is not what we wanted.” The daughter shrugs.

Her child gurgles and grabs her fingers—pinches hard with sharp little nails. She wants to grab a Kleenex and dab the sweat off her palms, but she can’t bring herself to uncoil the tiny fingers from her own—little nails digging in and holding tight.

When the interview ends the mother and daughter both say “thanks” at the exact same time. The daughter laughs, and then the mother does too. After this happens, they both look up at the ceiling, or maybe at what’s just beyond that.

At the window she holds her child tight, snuffing out the chill with her own heat. The moon is full—a perfect glowing ball. Night light, she whispers over and over into the sleeping ear, but then stops that mellow incantation, because this is not really true. The moon is already beginning to peel away, to melt into nothing. Of course, it will soon return. And how to explain this circle of time in a way that will be useful? In a way that will imprint itself on her child’s mind? You cannot completely disappear. Not ever. You always come back. Do you hear me? That’s the message. That’s the take away. Do you understand?

About the Author

Sara C. Thomason holds an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. She was awarded second prize in the 2012 Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Contest. Her work has previously appeared in Tin House, Witness Magazine, New World Writing, and Atticus Review, among others. Currently, she lives on Isle of Palms, SC where she is hard at work on a novel.

About the Artist

Find more from John Baker on Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Six of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Six

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