“You don’t love me.”
Marie sat stoically at the table before Ava, her elbows perched on either side of her cereal bowl. She shifted her weight forward onto her elbows as if she were bracing herself for an impact. The rain beat against the large windows behind her whipped by a ceaseless wind that had pounded the city for days.
Ava looked up from the screen she held in her hand as she ate her cereal. The research document she had been reading begged for her attention. She wanted to focus on it rather than the emotional decrees of her partner. They had been together for over a year, but she had sensed a shift in their relationship that she had ignored. Her work consumed her. She knew this, and she thought that Marie knew it too.
“More than your work?”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You knew I loved my work when you met me. I thought you were okay with that.”
“I was at first. Now, I’m not.”
“What does that mean?”
“Ava…this isn’t working.” Marie waved her hand between them gesturing to her and herself.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Nothing, but I’m moving out.”
Concern washed over Ava’s face as she turned off her screen and put it on the table beside her bowl of cereal. She leaned toward Marie. “Marie, no…let’s talk about this.”
Marie shook her head slowly as if she reluctantly accepted her own decision. “Ava, look around you,” she began. She gestured to the large windows overlooking the beaten-down city 20 stories below them. “None of us are long for this life. We can’t breathe our air. We have to buy manufactured water to drink. Our country is under attack every day. Half the planet is uninhabitable. The world population has been halved in ten years. The weather has turned on its head. Just look at this hurricane. It’s only May for crying out loud. You’re headed to another freaking planet. I don’t know if you’ll make it alive or if I’ll ever see you again.”
“You can come with me. I told you that. Part of the deal is that the crew gets to have their families on the first transport to Mars. That’s a guaranteed ticket for survival.”
“Is it really? Are you confident that we can make it? We’ve never successfully landed a manned ship on Mars. What makes this mission so different?”
“We have to. We have no choice. It’s either do it or die here or in space.”
“I’d rather die here. I’d rather live my life, however long that may be, to its fullest and go out with a bang, not a whimper in some weightless darkness or in the endless sand of some desolate planet.”
“It won’t be desolate if we’re able to get a good portion of the population there.”
“I really doubt that’s going to happen.”
“Did you not listen to Senator Sprockett’s press conference yesterday? He went over his grand plan to colonize the planet. He believes we have a very good chance of success.”
“I don’t believe a damn thing any politician tells me. They’re as worthless as their over-inflated egos.”
“Don’t be such a pessimist.”
Marie shook her head. “This isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh, yeah, you’re moving out…”
“Yes. I’ve already made my decision. I’m sorry. I still care deeply for you, but this is not the life I want.” Tears pooled in her eyes and glistened under the pale light above them. Her breath hitched, and Ava thought that Marie would start sobbing right there in front of her, but she didn’t. Ava felt some strange relief when Marie held her emotions in check. She hated it when Marie cried because she didn’t know how to deal with it.
“I do love you,” Ava said.
“Not as much as you do your work.”
“That’s not fair. I shouldn’t have to choose between you and my work. You should coexist.”
“I’m fine with coexisting. My work and you coexist. Your work shoves me into a corner and barely lets me breathe.”
“That’s not true.”
“I’m done arguing with you, Ava. I’m tired. I just want to move on and live whatever life I have left in the most enjoyable way possible. If you love me as much as I love you, then you’ll accept my decision.”
Ava slumped back in her chair and stared at her partner. A lump formed in her throat, and she could feel the tears gathering in her eyes. She didn’t want to cry, at least not in front of Marie.
“I’ve already put your name on the list of family members to be on the first transport ship.”
“You can ask them to remove it. I’m not going to Mars.”
“Staying here is a certain death.”
“I know.” Marie sat stoically. Her solemn countenance, punctuated with the sparkle of tears in her eyes, oddly warmed Ava’ heart. She loved Marie more than she had loved any woman in her adult life, and even though she could feel her slipping away at that very moment, the scientist in her remained clinically detached like she was engaged in some emotional experiment. Her mind twirled as she sat in silence alternating between the darkened screen on the table before her and her partner at the other end.
“I should get going.”
“You’re moving out now?”
“I’m getting a hotel room for now. I’ll come back later and move my stuff out.”
“I’d like it if you weren’t here when I come back for my stuff.”
“It may not seem like it, but this is hard on me. Seeing you hurts me, and I’m sure deep down inside that clinical mind of yours you’re hurting too. It’s best if we don’t see each other for a while.”
“That seems cold if you ask me.”
“I’m sorry.” With those last two words, Marie’s voice broke, and she quickly turned toward the hallway leading to the bedroom they shared. In the wake of her exit, Ava stared at the sullen room around her with its giant glass panes hovering over the street so far below. The rain slapped and wailed against the window. She could see no more than two or three feet beyond the perch outside. She sighed heavily, and then, she picked up the screen to continue reading the research paper a colleague had sent her as if her life wasn’t falling apart around her.
After much time, Marie returned to the open living area to find Ava still sitting at the table with the screen angled between her hands deep in thought. The remaining cereal in her bowl had turned soggy in the shallow pool of milk. The faint, sour smell of warm milk wrinkled her nose.
“I see you’ve already recovered quite nicely,” she said. She meant for it to be a moment of levity in a painful situation, but it came out wrong, and Ava just looked up at her with a hurtful expression. Marie thought to apologize, but the emotion stole her words and she clammed her mouth shut.
Ava frowned at her, but beyond that betrayed none of the pain that clenched at her chest. “I wish you’d reconsider.”
Marie shook her head vigorously before she said, “This is for the best.”
“For both of us.”
Ava cast her eyes down to Marie’s feet and scrunched her lips together in disapproval. She wanted to tell Marie that she loved her more than anything, even her career, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t leave herself exposed like that, to love someone so openly without fear of rebuke.
“I’ll get my stuff tomorrow.”
Ava looked up at her. The sting in her eyes was obvious, like a glaring light beat down on her. “I’ll be at work.”
“I know.” The words croaked, broken by the pain that Marie felt. She could say no more, so she turned, with her overnight bag clutched in her hand, and walked away before she changed her mind. When the door closed behind her, she felt like she had shut the door on her future. Her time was limited, that much she knew. Tears trickled down her cheeks, but she stood firmly erect, found some determination deep within her, and walked down the hall toward the elevator resisting all urges to rush back into the apartment she shared with Ava.
Ava stared at the closed door to their apartment from the other side. For a brief moment, she hoped that Marie would change her mind and come back in to work it out with her. She could change. She would for Marie at least, but pride and stubbornness kept her planted in her seat. The shock of what had happened rippled through her and she wavered like a tree fighting a strong wind. Finally, she picked up the screen again and flicked it on to finish reading the research paper. She always had her work. It would never pack up and leave her behind.