Before we left Earth, I was in love with a woman named Rhonda. I know, right? Rhonda. It doesn’t exactly sing. But she did — alto, knew all the harmonies to all the songs. Or it seemed like she did, she was that good at making them up. I used to find crazy radio stations, playing styles I normally would have hated, just to hear her jamming with those loonies.
Rhonda loved her cat Rufus. Rhonda and Rufus, like a couple from an old TV show. But Rufus didn’t love me. In his eyes I was the annoying neighbor who wouldn’t take a hint and leave. He used to tow my sneakers around her apartment, worrying them like a dog with a bone. They always ended up closer to the door when he finished with them. Or he’d crawl into my lap, all sweet, and Rhonda would coo at us, and he’d dig his claws into my leg. In and out.
“He’s kneading you,” Rhonda said. “That’s what they do when they’re happy.”
Sure, he was happy: happy to be gouging my thigh, and probably dreaming of taking a swipe at somewhere a little more delicate.
Not that I left because of Rufus. You don’t have to flee a whole planet to escape a housecat. I think I might’ve won if I’d stayed to rival him — and that would have been a shame. In the end, Rufus was going to die in that house. I was just stopping through.
That’s the way relationships go. The chances of incorporating another human being into your happily-ever-after are slim under any circumstances. And personally I’d picked out my ending years earlier: “And he left with the Mars colonists.” That didn’t leave room for anybody else.
I’d signed up a decade before I met Rhonda. There’s a wait list about an acre long, on top of it costing a kidney and a half. That’s a metaphor; it actually cost cold hard cash, which is also a metaphor because I paid by debit card. Plus they take half your weekends. You’ve got to learn all this survival crap.
Anyway. The call came. I had made a downpayment. It was my dream. Et cetera.
I sat on Rhonda’s couch, my last night on Earth, watching reruns with her. I microwaved some popcorn. Rufus licked my fingers and dug into my thigh. For a couple of hours, it felt like we were a family in a catalog, like we’d stay right there forever.
I wore nice neat clothes kind of hoping Rhonda would mess them up. But she was tired, and she had to work early the next morning. She dressed in gray sweats and kicked me out early with a quick kiss. “See you this weekend? You don’t have space training Saturday, do you?” She said it with a little half-smile, the leftover amusement from early days when she thought my dream trip to Mars was a fantastic joke.
I shook my head. “Not this week.”
When she closed the door I was halfway down the first flight of stairs. I crept back to leave a letter by her door, where she’d step on it in the morning.
Outside, the moon hung low and yellow among tree branches. I put my palm on my car’s window and stood for three breaths.
Then I went back. Collected my goodbye. And headed home.
I set an auto response on my e-mail: “Sorry, Jason has gone to Mars! (Yes, really.) Thank you for your friendship or business in his time on Earth. Best wishes!”
So I guess she’s found out where I disappeared to, by now.
I threw the letter out, with most of the stuff in my apartment. She didn’t need a memento, and neither do I. Better for both of us to move on with things.
Bet Rufus is pleased, though.
Some nights — well, using the term loosely — during the long flight through space, after the lectures on colonization, on air-supply safety or homestead construction or greenhouse gardening are through, I can sit quiet, meditating, and feel Rufus’s claws going in and out of my leg. I remember Rhonda’s rich alto harmonies, and the way she laughed, burying her face in Rufus’s fur or my shoulder, almost interchangeably. I’m glad I don’t have a letter or a photo to get maudlin over, or to scare off the girls on this trip, the available few from among whom I’ll need to find a mate to populate a new world.
Wilma Bernard has previously had work published by Metro Moms and Youth Imagination, as well as here at Every Day Fiction.