Each colonist was allowed three personal articles, and each had to be able to fit in the palm of a hand. They were reminders of life on Earth. As time passed, new generations revered these objects, their peculiarity and their contradictions. What use was a pocket watch to a day longer than twenty-four hours? Except it was a pretty contraption, winding up to make a musical sound: tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.*
Necklaces, pocket watches, writing utensils, silver knives. Elos’s grandmother had brought a pair of sunglasses with the inscription The Land That I Love written in cursive along the elbow, a necklace made of seashells, and a pearl wedding ring. They all reminded her of her life next to the ocean, which is a water-space the size of billions and billions of liters of water. She called it “a body of water.” She said it was an expression.
Lenore would tell Elos bedtime stories about Earth, and invariably water connected them all. She said she missed the black alligator skin of an avocado held in her hand, and Elos would shout out questions to race toward imagining them for himself: “What is an alligator?” It’s a scaly reptile that lives in a body of water called a swamp. “What is an avocado?” It is a delicious pale green fatty fruit that has an eyeball in the center. Avocados had been left behind because they took too much time to grow and cost too much water: 237 gallons per pound. Olives were 1,729 gallons per pound. Almonds, 1,929 gallons per pound. Coffee was 1,056 gallons per pound. Most of botany class wasn’t spent on extinct produce, but instead was devoted to the monotonous food of Mars: the potato costs only 34 gallons of water per pound. The only animals on Mars were chickens because they required the least amount of water to grow, the least amount of terrestrial space, and their eggs required even less water.
The personal articles were used as dowries for wedding ceremonies; they were traded infrequently for years’ worth of rations or changes in colony occupation—even the first crime ever committed on Mars was a stolen porcelain teacup from the Family of Kenneth, whose crest was a bear bathing under a waterfall. Since there was no jail, the culprits’ occupation was changed to sanitation, and they spent the rest of their days operating the machine evaporating urine back into table salt.
Lenore told Elos that back on Earth, water fell from the sky. She told Elos about the time she went swimming at night in the ocean, diving down to imagine a life of a sea fish and looking up to see the mirrored surface of the waves overhead. Fish don’t know stars, she said. What does a fish sound like? Elos asked. The older Elos grew, the more he felt like the fish who didn’t know stars, trapped by the atmosphere of Mars reflecting back his desire to escape and know more… The curiosity Elos soaked in didn’t douse his peers, who were more content tending to their families’ chickens and harvesting their potatoes. He found Mars to be missing so many colors, devoid of so many of Lenore’s earthly sounds.
When Lenore passed away, she was the last person to have swum in the Pacific. Elos stole away into her room to take the sunglasses with the inscription The Land That I Love on them, their last family heirloom and reminder of Earth. In his dreams, he loved it too.
* The Family of Johnson would invite their closest friends over to listen to it. Their crest was a crowned snow leopard rolling in the snow.
Jory Pomeranz is a holistic chef specializing in using nutrition to combat neurodegenerative diseases. In his spare time, he works as a chess coach at schools and hospitals around Cincinnati, OH.