Jennifer A. Howard

You on Mars

I started drafting the Mars story before we met. The lander had already crashed, and the botanist, or maybe she was the pilot, was the only survivor, though the story was in second person so: you, you contacted Earth and they weren’t sending rescue. You scavenged through the belongings of the dead for something to kill yourself with: a pinochle deck, ponytail holders, a little contraband cocaine, nothing lethal enough. But when I went back to the draft, this time a writer in love, I couldn’t type the word you without picturing your downturned eyes, the creases in your cheeks when you smile. The you was no longer an astronaut, or maybe a botanist, but you, your long guitar fingers digging through the rubble, 3D-printing a noose. I wanted the you to wonder if a guillotine on Mars would need to be built to drop upwards, but that sentence got cut to keep you safe, so she – the you, you – found a way out: a second survivor and the water machine intact and food enough to last until help arrived. Rescue was on its way after all! I couldn’t hurt her, even on the page, even on Mars. You are very far away, and I can only see the shake of your hair and your belly heavy with excited breath on my screen, here at mission control, but hang on. I’m coming for you.