The Martian’s Last Fortnight #1-#5
The martian has fourteen days left. Fifty-two bottles left. Three times a day, he urinates into a bottle, then distills it in the purifier. He is down to the last fortnight of supplies. He used to wonder about the sense it made: the money spent to transport so much water across space just so that he could drink it in and piss it out, only to make it water again.
The martian, his beached stomach blooming with ocean, is growing the tree. The first of many, planted in soil inside the dome on the surface of Mars.
They have fourteen days left of intimate breathing: of connected heart beat. Put yourself alone in a room with only one growing thing, and you have bloomed a brother.
There is a library in the dome that predates this mission. Today the martian reads to the tree the thoughts of Wernher von Braun filtered through Guy Murchie’s Music of the Spheres: the martian laughs at geometric progression. Increasingly complicated systems need increasingly more hands. It does not take one of Adam’s arms outstretched to touch the hand of God, but rather a myriad of infinities of hands spooled together: each fingerprint a Rorschach for the stars.
Large systems become unknown to themselves, folded into thought experiment glove boxes: we are the a and the i in m()crocosm. The martian is neither the genesis nor the endgame, but rather that perfect median: the only man on Mars reading to a conifer as a body of water flows through him.
The martian is reading to the conifer about the filmmaker La Meniere, filtered through Norman M. Klein’s Freud in Coney Island. La Meniere was financed by a man named Labrouste who told the filmmaker he could pay him back upon the completion of a film. When Labrouste died, his outstretched hand became an estate, waiting for some return. La Meniere hid his films away in a secret place, all marked incomplete.
The martian laughs at the idea of completion. He wonders about a life of conscious abandonment. Perhaps La Meniere was waiting for them both to die, for a century to pass and for both their estates to turn to dust.
The martian’s work will not be made public for decades: he too is hiding himself away, the fluids of his body numbered and refrigerated, a calendar pissed away.
Perhaps this is how he will say goodbye to the tree: by not saying goodbye to the tree. He will leave it unfilmed, so that they will both know their work is never finished.
The martian is reading to the conifer from Eugene Ionesco’s Present Past Past Present: Ionesco says, Yesterday, literature valued weakness. It seemed to find nobility in sadness, powerlessness, our spiritual misery . . . but today we live in a world of tigers. A universe full of fire and steel.
That fire and steel brought the martian here, but we are all so weak alone. The conifer knows how weak it is, bending itself toward the martian wherever he moves, as if he were made of sunlight. The martian knows how weak he is, forever looking forward to the next need. I need to drink. I need to piss. I need to breathe.
Nature made trees of needles. Imagine the cactus cousin cameling water in its soft belly, never knowing when there might be rain again.
The awareness of our fragility is a call to arms to wrap ourselves in fire and steel. These are not opposites, but rather two ideas fighting to be either the clam or the pearl.
The martian cannot see the stars from inside the dome, but he knows he came from that fire light, that in either form he is weak and dangerous.
Guy Murchie wrote that without the whirlpools of gravity, space travel would be like a swim in the ocean. The martian wonders how many bottles of distilled water it will take to fill the outside plains. Some day long after him, his water will sink into the red soil. Some day cuttlefish will rise and fall in an ocean named after him. Some day children will toss pinkish pinecones into the ocean to watch them float.
The martian had a brother once. In Midwestern woods, they hid on opposites sides of creek bed bases, unsticking cones from the wool of their autumn gloves. Hours later they would stumble home hoping the itching they felt was only the leaves in their hoods.
Some creatures hide in leaves. Once the brothers found a turned-over rowboat in a creek bank. Turning it over, they saw a nest of rattlesnakes like long tongues hooked to pinecones.
Time can spread its arms so that two bodies never touch. Time can sink a body like creek sand after the rain.
Jean Baudrillard recounts Susan Sontag in The Intelligence of Evil, which the martian recites aloud through gulps of water. During the television coverage of the moon landing, Sontag asks her gathered friends, What are we watching? They reply, Television. The experience is not the story: the experience is the screen.
The martian is conflicted because seeing is seeing, and we cannot escape the gaze. We can record to remember or focus only on present observation, but the eyes remain.
Before leaving earth, the martian gave a speech. He practiced it in his mirror the day before. Then he gave the actual speech. Then he played back the memory on the ride home. And countless times after. The initial memory is tethered to retroactive eyes. He anticipates, lives, observes, but to recognize the pattern distills everything down until only observation remains.
When he looks into a bottle of water, he sees a distortion of his own face. We do not choose to create in our image. There is no choice. The martian attempts to describe to his tree the most alien thing he can imagine: something unrecognizable and Other. He traces the roots and sinks his hand into cool soil, telling stories of sentient gases with arms of ice and of acid insectoids with golden sweat, but he knows there is no original thought, only the redundancy of memory.
Perhaps memory was the first sentience, creating a reflection to give itself purpose.
No one will watch the martian on television. True history sinks into time. We can only seal our fingers together and cup our hands into the ocean.
David Rawson is the author of A Jellyfish for Every Name (ELJ Publications).