The first time I saw it, I don’t think I said a word. You could only see it from a certain angle as the window was so tiny. I saw the illuminating blue light out of the corner of my eye first. I inhaled deeply in through my nose and held it in before I exhaled through my mouth. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to happen from this but I felt as though I should do something. Something before I saw the Earth for the first time from space.
My body digests, this usurping spirulina,
As my eyes try to taste,
This freckle of Earth, I now see.
Once on the Red Planet, the view isn’t quite the same. You have to squint to see it, and even then, your mind tricks you into thinking that you’re still on Earth. The weighted suit you’ve grown used to wearing is now a second skin. I close my eyes and think of Sarah, she’ll be turning two soon. Of my beautiful wife Alice, whose maize coloured locks I’ll no longer stroke. When she wakes in the morning and I stare at her sleeping. Gently soothing the back of my fingers against her cheeks. Careful as not to wake her.
I feel this light-hearted soil, within my retracting marrow.
The freckle of Earth is now just a distant grain in my eye. I could rub it away and it’d be gone. There is much work to do and I can feel myself shrinking – my body feels as though it’s an exoskeleton, operating on command. I long to know what this place smells of. Alice had asked me before I left.
‘What do you reckon it’ll smell like up there?’
‘Well, we won’t actually ever be able to truly smell the air up there – the Martian dust particles are as thin as icing sugar and it’ll stick to your lungs like burdock.’
‘Always so serious. Come on, I want to know what it would be like.’
I smiled at her, realising that my Martian knowledge was lost on her.
‘Give me four words,’ she goaded.
‘Ok, if I had to guess four, I’d go with, Earthy…
‘Well, I would imagine that the compounds of the…
‘You’re doing it again.’
‘Sorry, right, Earthy. Umm, mineral. Volcanic. And, I’d also say, metallic.
A waterfall of pinpoint dust,
sucked into the walls of caverns untouched.
At night, I lie looking at the most recent photo of Sarah. She’s wearing a fluffy penguin dressing gown on her birthday and is standing up trying to walk towards me, her hand reaching out for me. I must have felt to her then as I do to her now. So close, yet impossibly far.
I’d trained relentlessly from the age of eight for this mission. Each muscle tightened impeccably. When they came and offered me some “psychological support,” I’d batted them away with a swift swipe of the hand. Chin up echoed around my frontal lobes.
I must remind myself that the work I’m doing is for her and her children some-day, so they can enjoy a brighter future. Free from the worry of nature’s wrath. But the selfishness inside me just wants to be able to stretch out my arm to hers and grab it and not let it go again.
A restless stillness,
Occupies my inner cavities.
They’re due to launch the next shuttle shortly. Soon there will be others on this planet that we’re gradually beginning to call home. Our captain Derrick says we’ve all grown close like a family, and he hopes this won’t change when others arrive.
I spoke to Alice last night, although there’s something very unnerving about asking a question and waiting twenty-two minutes for a reply. I sometimes just expect not to hear her at all. But when it comes through, her soft voice is a relaxant to my tensed shoulders. I try to imagine that it’s when we first met. Checking my phone was like waiting for a pot to boil. When my phone would finally light up and I saw her name, I forgot my irrationality and I absorbed each of her words over and over again.
Saturating skies, absorb this deathly silence.
When I told Alice I was going, I wished she’d been angrier at me. Hurled insults and told me I was self-centred and how could I leave her and her daughter on this ocean-soaked planet, where the temperatures continue to surge, and endless nights of rain grace the skies. She says to Sarah now that the rain is ‘Daddy’s tears falling down from space because he misses them both so much.’
Congealed blood seeps around my foreign body.
Derrick said today that they’re delaying the next launch. Apparently, the work isn’t far off being completed on the latest VTVL (Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing) vehicle which they believe will be capable of landing on Mars and making a return trip. He also warned that if this was to go ahead, they would be eager to send one of us from the original crew back to Earth so they could study the physiological changes to our bodies from our time on the planet. He seemed angry.
‘We are Martian people now. Don’t they know what we’ve given up to be here? They want to take all that away from us. I won’t allow it. They can’t force me to put anyone back on that rocket and I’ll do all I can to stop it.’
The Earth seems bigger than it has done for a long time tonight. More like a mole than a freckle. I see Alice and Sarah in my mind’s eye. She’s about to take her for a bath. Once, Alice couldn’t take Sarah to aquatic therapy and she asked me to go instead. Sarah looked at me dumbfounded as I held her there in the water. I playfully squirted some water at her and her cheeks puffed out as she giggled away at me.
I might be able to see that face again soon.
I wrote Freckle of Earth in response to visiting the Moving to Mars Exhibition in London which was followed by a Terra Two workshop.
I was captivated by the effects that living on Mars would not only have on you physically but also emotionally. I wanted the reader to be able to capture a sense of both and decided to combine the prose narrative with lines of poetic verse. This was influenced by Ray Bradbury in the Martian Chronicles. Bradbury’s language has a poetic tone to it and inspired me to draw on the senses for the poetic sections. ‘Every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning the house with handfuls of magnetic dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind.’
The first team assembled to Mars will be aware that this will be a one-way trip. I was really intrigued about someone making the decision to go to the Red Planet and the emotional strain on someone, especially if they were leaving a family behind. Have they prepared themselves for the isolation and stillness that will be presented to them on Mars?
Bradbury, R. (2012). The Martian Chronicles. [St. Louis, Mo.]: Turtleback Books.
Andrew Milne is currently studying an MA in Creative Writing at York St John University. Interested in people, technology and the mind, he explores the relationship between them, notably the consequences of technology within his prose and non-fiction. He enjoys the spring country air over the bustle of city life and enjoys writing trips away to the coast.