Tasha lay atop the covers of their bed in her pajamas as Sanjay changed into a T-shirt. The boys had finally settled down into their beds, while Laila had been asleep for a few hours already. The long day of the funeral had drained the little girl and her parents, too.
Sanjay sighed as he pulled the shirt over his head. His wife re-appeared in his line of sight, and he smiled. He loved the way she looked in her pajamas, which were nothing more than a tank top and a tight-fitting pair of shorts. After three children, she still looked stunning. The top hugged her voluptuous breasts, which turned Sanjay on despite his extreme exhaustion. His mind wanted sex, but his body wanted sleep.
He tied the knot on his pajama pants and hopped on the bed next to his wife, who lay motionless with her eyes closed as if she were meditating. He rubbed his hand along her left arm draped across the bed closest to him.
“Not tonight, honey,” she said.
Sanjay shook his head comically, “I didn’t say anything,” he protested.
“You don’t have to. It’s not that hard to figure out. We’ve been married ten years.”
Sanjay laughed. “I’m too tired anyway.” He pulled his hand back and reclined onto his side of the bed.
Tasha let out a deep breath ending her meditative state. Sanjay looked at her. Her smooth, brown skin glimmered in the light on her nightstand. She trained her green irises on him and smiled with her full lips. He still felt the urge to make love to her despite the fact that she had shut him down. Before he could appeal, she asked him, “Did you tell Laila we were going to Mars?”
“She said you told her we were going to Mars.”
“I told her I am trying to.”
“Why did you do that? You haven’t been selected yet. You shouldn’t get her hopes up. Besides, I’m not sure I want to do it.”
“You’re not sure?”
“No. I’m sorry, I’m not.”
Sanjay shook his head, incredulous. “What if I get selected for the mission?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
“Were you going to tell me this eventually?”
“Yes, but I didn’t want to squash your dream outright.”
“Squash my dream? This isn’t a dream; it’s a last-ditch effort for survival.”
“I don’t buy that.”
“What is there to buy? Have you not been paying attention? Most of the ice caps have melted. A third of the land we once populated is under water. Rampant disease has killed off almost half the population from its peak in 50 years ago. Our nation is under constant threat from extremists who could start a nuclear war at any moment.”
“That’s the negative view.”
Sanjay widened his eyes in exasperation. He’d known that his wife was a skeptic, but she rarely expressed it outwardly. She’d made casual mentions that she doubted climate change despite the obvious visual evidence. She’d come from a long line of deniers. Her father and grandfather were prominent businessmen who profited from enterprises that no longer existed thanks to the shifting climate and economic changes. It was like her family held a grudge against the inanimate forces that doomed their businesses.
Rather than argue, which he was too tired to do, Sanjay redirected the conversation, “What if I get selected for this mission?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
“But let’s say I get the call tomorrow and I’m on it, what will we do?”
Tasha looked at her husband askew as if she were annoyed by him. She sighed and turned away. “I don’t know if I want to go.”
“What? Why not?”
“Mars doesn’t look too appealing to me. What kind of life will that give our kids?”
“What kind of life will they have here? The clock is ticking here, Tasha. If we stay here, they won’t see adulthood.”
“You don’t know that.”
Sanjay took another aggravated breath. “I don’t know the future. You’re right, but I do know what’s happening right now. Rapid climate change, war, disease…it’s not exactly promising. Mars gives us a fresh start. Not everyone will be lucky enough to escape. This gives us a chance to live a full life with our kids and be pioneers.”
“I don’t want to be a damn pioneer. I want to live my life with my kids here.”
“We don’t have that option, Tasha. I’m sorry, but we don’t.”
“You don’t know that, Sanjay. You and your goddamn science. You’re so fucking arrogant. You think you know everything, but you don’t know shit about life.”
Her comments stung him and he winced. “I never said I knew everything. I just want what’s best for my family.”
“What’s best is not always what you want. It’s what we all want.”
“The kids are too young to make that decision. We have to do it for them.”
“And ‘we’ will, but not right now,” Tasha said trying to end the conversation.
“But soon. I should hear any day now.”
Tasha leaned up and turned off her bedside lamp. Sanjay’s lamp provided the only light in the room. The street light outside their window illuminated the dark space on the far side of their bedroom. The blue hue of the light brought back many childhood memories for Sanjay in the brief instant he recognized it. He longed for the simpler times when he was a child, when life-or-death decisions weren’t yet a part of his conversations.
He couldn’t let their discussion end. “Do you remember the Middle East?”
Tasha looked up at her husband in the dim light as if he had woken her. “Not really. I’m not that old. My dad used to talk about it.”
“Did you not take history in school?”
“I don’t remember all that boring stuff.”
“It’s not boring when you consider the lesson in it. The extremists destroyed that region of the world. They kept fighting to their illogical end and turned an entire region into a nuclear wasteland. Millions of people were wiped off the planet, eviscerated.”
“Why are we talking about ancient history?”
“It’s not that long ago…only 50 years.”
“Still…I’m not getting your point.” Tasha closed her eyes as if she were trying to force sleep.
“My point is that the extremists will stop at nothing. They are too blind to see anything but their misguided ideals even if it means widespread self-destruction. They’d rather die and take the entire region’s population with them than give an inch. That’s what will happen here. The Western States can’t hold them off forever, and even if they manage to hold them off indefinitely, the extremists will just self-destruct and take everything with them.”
“We’ll bomb them into oblivion before that happens.”
“Just like we did in Texas,” Sanjay smirked. “That worked really well. So well, that a few of them sneaked across the border and killed my father.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“But that’s what happened. They saw him as the enemy. He was one of the founders of Western States. They will stop at nothing…even the complete annihilation of North America.”
“I’m confident our military will stop them. I’m not worried.”
“My dad wasn’t worried, either, and look where that got him.”
“Sanjay, stop. It’s been a long, emotional day. You buried your father. This is not the time to make final, life-altering decisions. We’ll talk about this later when the time is right. It’s not right tonight.”
Sanjay sighed. His patience frittered, but exhaustion forced him to back down. “Just let me make my point.”
Tasha exhaled loudly. “Okay.”
“I don’t think there’s going to be a choice for us. The situation is dire here. If I get selected to go on the Mars mission, it will be our opportunity to start a new life and ensure our kids’ survival. I don’t think we’ll have any assurance here. Between the imploding climate and the march of the witless extremists, life as we know it is coming to an end. We have to do what’s best for the kids.” Sanjay emphasized the last four words of his argument hoping to drill home the idea to his wife.
A long silence followed, one that made Sanjay wonder if Tasha were still awake. Finally, she responded, “We will do what’s best for our kids, but it may not be what you want to do.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means we’ll talk about it when the time comes. Good night. I’m too tired to continue this conversation.”
Sanjay looked at his wife as she turned on her side away from him. He acquiesced, not something he normally did very well, but exhaustion had pulled him down for the count. He leaned up and kissed his wife’s cheek before he turned off his lamp and lay back on his pillow.
For the longest time that night he stared at the ceiling listening to his wife’s breathing. She kicked and started as she fell into sleep, and he found comfort in her relaxation. His body ached for sleep, but his mind raced around the scenarios inside his head. To him, the decision was obvious. There were no good choices left. The hopeless situation haunted him as he drifted off to sleep.