“Rain is something happening in the past” by Jie Wang

“Destruction and Hope” by Paul Klee (1916) via The Art Institute of Chicago

“I woke up during the dawn. It was raining. The sound and shadow mixed in such an alien way that I wasn’t sure where I was. Then I thought of you. You are always on my mind, even when I am thinking about something else. You are the backdrop of my thoughts. I thought of you during the dawn, like I spotted the planet Earth in space, like I found gravity. Does it rain on Mars? What’s it like when the raindrops thud into the red soil? Does the air smell fresh after the rain as if it’s the first morning of all mornings? I look hard into the curtain of rain, as if it is because of this curtain, I cannot see you.”

He stares at the words on the screen until his brain doesn’t process them anymore, until they are divorced from their meanings. He and she are separated by the eternal night in space. Even if he leaves now, she will be dead by the time he arrives.

He looks into the sky through the Dome. The atmosphere is thickening. It’s going to rain. No matter which planet you are on, when you look up into the threads of rain, it always seems that they are rootless. The rain is the aerial roots of the civilisation on Mars.

“Look at the Dome. It’s so beautiful,” she says.

“It’s a bubble. My wife used to say life is a bubble,” he says.

“I know I shouldn’t get jealous of a person you will never see again, but I do.”

“Soon we can grow things outside. Then it’s going to be sustainable.”

“Did you hear me?”

“Yes, I heard you. You shouldn’t be jealous. We are sustainable,” he says.

“Really? I thought you said we were bubbles.”

“Yes, we are. We breathe and consume each other.”

“We” = “he” and “she” = “you” and “I” = the reader and the writer. We breathe and consume each other, even though most relationships fail, like most civilisations. He is just a penumbra confined in the present tense, a pronoun confined in the relationship with the other pronoun. I won’t burden your working memory with names. The story is short, so is life. For him there is only this second.

“For us there is only this second,” he says. “I used to try to find comfort in theories like the block universe, the many worlds, but I failed. There’s only this meagre second.”

“I disagree. There is memory, and imagination,” she says.

“Those are just futile ways to escape this second, pretending our lives extend like the bloody desert outside. Only this second is real. We are as rootless as rain in the air.”

“What is the matter with you again?”

He stops talking. Every time he tries to talk to her like this, he gets frustrated. He thinks she is too attached to her life story, which is merely a dream, yet she thinks he is the “dreamy” one. At these moments he misses his dying wife on Earth.

I think if he still wants to maintain the relationship with the “she” on Mars, he should focus on practical matters. He should talk about dinner.

“What shall we have for dinner?” he says.

“Something hot and spicy. It’s so damp.”

“Yes. Who could have imagined this? Damp on Mars.”

“It’s so unpleasant. I like dry weather.”

“But there is something about the rain,” he says. “It triggers memory. I remember going to the cinema one night, with my mother. I was 10. It was summer. On the way to the cinema it started to rain. My mother held my hand and ran. She rarely touched me when I was a kid. We took shelter in a department store. We didn’t go to the cinema that night, but it was one of the few happy memories of my mother.”

“It is sweet.”

“Remember that line in Blade Runner? My mother has been dead for so many years. My wife is dying too. Everything is written already, in this deterministic universe. It is too late before it happens. It is always too late.”

Now he is making her uncomfortable again. He shouldn’t have digressed from dinner. I make similar mistakes with my ex-husband all the time. I moved to Mars with my ex five years ago. Then I met Kawabata. Let’s call him K. I fell in love with K. We were both the not-down-to-Mars type, and he encouraged me to write. Then divorce. Then I was going to marry K. The night before the wedding, K walked out of the Dome wearing only a T-shirt and jeans. He left a note saying: I can’t stay in the bubble anymore.

“I can’t stay in the bubble anymore,” he says to her. “I can’t keep talking about dinner, or politics, or real estate, and pretend I’m interested. I can’t hide myself to get along with my girlfriend.”

“Okay, we can talk about whatever you want to talk about.” 

“That’s the thing. I can’t talk to you. My throat feels locked when I’m with you. I feel locked.”

“Do you still love me?” she says.

“I don’t know. Do you?”

“I do. I love you.” 

I do. I love you. That’s what I said when K proposed. What had he meantdid he mean by I can’t stay in the bubble anymore? Did he find our relationship suffocating, fragile, or unreal? Or did he mean something else? After he died I almost killed myself, too.

Do you find me intrusive? After all you probably just want to read a story about “he” and “she”. You want to stay inside the bubble, but I drag you backstage. Why do I do this? Why did K?

“Once you are disillusioned, it’s hard to go back,” he says.

“Disillusioned? With me?” she says.

“No. Other things. Mars. Earth. Love.”

“Are you breaking up with me?”

“Yes. I’m sorry.”

“And I don’t quite understand why.”

“I guess that’s why,” he says.

His head is spinning. He closes his eyes and sees his wife, then his girlfriend, then his wife… She is standing outside the Dome. Her skin is burnt by radiation. She is being washed away by the rain, bit by bit, like clay.

When I am writing this, it is raining. The edges of darkness and light blur like ink and wet paint. Rain is the greatest impressionist. This is an interesting thought, I think. I should tell K, I think. Then I remember K is gone.

Rain is easily associated with tears. But tears from whose eyes? Our eyes can see starlight that is 2000 years old. Is the star still there? Is rain tears from eyes that are already dried? Maybe you think the eyes are mine, or his, or hers. It doesn’t matter. You matter because you are the only pronoun that is not a lie.

I look hard into the curtain of rain, as if it is because of this curtain, I cannot see K.

As if it is because of this curtain, I cannot see you.

Jie Wang, flash fiction / short story writer, born in China and living in the UK. She is interested in the interaction between literature and science. She received a BSc in Ecology from Peking University and a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Sheffield. Her work has been published in “TERSE. Journal”, “literally stories”, “Ligeia”, “Bewildering Stories”, “The Metaworker”, “Fleas on the Dog”, and “Writers Resist”. She can found on Twitter @JieWang65644813.