40th Anniversary Feature: WE’LL BE ALIVE FOR MARS
By KATE LORENZ
BWR Editor 2009-2010
Carla is on a dinner date, sitting across from a man her work friend has set her up with. This is an unusual scenario, since these days a person usually consults the internet to find a potential match. The internet algorithms have gotten very good. And twenty minutes into the date, Carla finds herself wishing she had consulted the internet after all, since the conversation is sparse and awkward, compounded by the fact that she and the man have both ordered salads that require a lot of time for chewing.
Carla tries to stagger her bites with his so at least one of them will have an empty mouth at any given time and can therefore offer something to say that he or she has thought of while chewing a previous bite. Then the other can respond during a break in his or her chewing. But the man Carla is on a date with has not picked up on her system. Since it would be rude to lower her fork again after she’s already raised it to her mouth, she settles for mostly simultaneous chewing punctuated with bits of talk about the weather and their jobs. Her job: paralegal, Carla having recently given up the idea of being a concert musician. His job: something to do with science.
Carla latches onto science, and the man says his academic background is in aerospace engineering. This has potential; she would very much like to talk about outer space. Carla hadn’t realized she was interested in space until after college. Hers had been a childhood of scouting programs and summer sports and daily violin practice, of developing skills without much thought to imagination. But then she was given some DVDs of a very well-made science-fiction show, and it changed her whole perspective on the universe. She attempts to relate this to the man.
“I’m on the aeronautical side, though,” the man says.
“What’s the other side?”
“Astronautical. That’s what you’re talking about, isn’t it?”
Carla guesses it is. She looks out the window. She thinks of the stonemason outside who hooted at her when she walked into the restaurant. Carla has worn a skirt somewhat tighter and shorter than her usual attire on this date, since these dates did not come around too often, nor, really, does an occasion to go out to eat at all. Unfortunately, the aerospace engineer’s gaze has not fallen below Carla’s nose, except to look at his plate during the composition of a satisfactory bite of salad. This, like the chewing, takes some time. Carla somewhat wishes she were on a date with the stonemason, who would probably have ordered a sandwich and who would definitely have examined her cleavage by now.
Carla figures she might as well stick with space.
“My biggest regret is that I wasn’t alive for the moon landing. I was born two years later,” she says.
He nods, and she forks another bite of salad, chews it, swallows it.
“Just a few years too late,” she reiterates.
“Don’t worry,” the man says, finally. “We’ll be alive for Mars.”
This gives Carla a small grain of hopefulness. Like the hopefulness when she says to her mother, “I finally have my eating under control,” or, “This time I’ve really quit smoking.” Because she believes what she is saying, and as proof she is fitting better into her clothes and increasingly enjoying the taste of her coffee in the mornings. But out of nowhere, her car’s transmission could go kaput, or her cat could get a virus, or an important promotion could be lost. Then the pizza comes back into the equation, reminding Carla of her tenth birthday party at the video arcade when she won more tickets than the other kids. And the first new inhalation of smoke reminds her of standing on a porch at sunset, during college, before she had any responsibilities, therefore before she had any sorrow or longing to speak of.
This grain of hopefulness allows Carla to let the aerospace engineer pay for dinner, even though the modern etiquette is for the woman to offer a small contribution. It allows Carla to let him walk her to her car, to put a hand on her waist and to kiss her. Surprisingly, he puts his tongue in Carla’s mouth. She can still feel it in there when she says goodbye and turns the key in the ignition. She wishes she could engage in a better kiss immediately, to cancel out the tongue of the aerospace engineer. She thinks again of the stonemason. What would happen if she went back? But there is no going back, Carla has learned, in space or in time. All you can do is prepare for a quick and friendly future.
Kate Lorenz’s work has appeared in the Denver Quarterly, Everyday Genius, The Collagist, Versal, Beecher’s, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Stardust, was published by Blue Hour Press. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is the founding editor of Parcel.
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