'Wisconsin, 2121' by Linda McMullen

I’m old enough to remember the razor-sharp cold of blue-white winters, blizzard gales, and frost-webbed windowpanes – but my grandchildren play through the Wisconsin December in windbreakers. I watch them skating down ice-less streets, peering over the aseasonal geraniums in the window box. The flowers’ delicate perfume nearly crushes me.

Though it’s mid-morning, my son David and his wife Anna lurk in their bedroom, hunched over his laptop and talking in low voices. As if I don’t know what they’re saying – what they’ve been discussing for years now.

It’s not the worst anyone’s faced, I think. I remember seeing the final evacuation of Dhaka on the news, the sea creeping up, the sun beating down. I read about the night ransomware took over Abu Dhabi’s air conditioning infrastructure and tens of thousands died before nightfall. I heard my sister’s tale of leaving sun-baked Yuma for the last time…

But it’s my catastrophe now.

Robert, God rest him, would have understood.

The kids have abandoned their skates for bubbles. They float peacefully for a few precious moments, then disappear.

Can I avoid it? Is there a way…?

“Mom,” says David. I turn away. His golden glow is the result of a spectacular November tan. “Anna and I have talked it over –”

“You’re going,” I say. No sense in dragging it out. The cool, flourishing Mars colony opened its gates to all comers last week. For an “appropriate” fee.

“You’re coming with us.”

Once established in their bloody chambers, the soft and doughy bureaucrats at the helm of the Martian Administration developed age- and health-based pricing models. Given the likelihood that the elderly will consume significantly more resources than they will produce, my ticket would have ensured that we would arrive on the rust-colored planet already in the red.

I’ve done the math. Again. And again. And again –

“My generation had its chance.”

The kids outside shed their coats as they screech Christmas carols. All is not calm. All is too bright. The scientists have said we’ve got another twenty years, tops.

My daughter-in-law joins us at the window, relief and remorse warring on her heart-shaped face. “David and I – want you to join us –”

I shake my head.

We spend as jolly a holiday as we can manage. The children pour Arctic Circle® maple syrup – slightly congealed and thick as honey – over their pancakes. I watch them burrow into the thrice-reused gift bags and open their compact gifts (Martian transportation companies charge for luggage by weight and volume). I take photos. I hug them until they wriggle to get away.

Their tickets come through for the day after New Year’s. I wish them happiness. I wish them luck. I wish them cool breezes in their new biosphere.

When they have gone, all is silent and still.

And very, very hot.


Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in over one hundred literary magazines. She received Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations in 2020. She may be found on Twitter: @LindaCMcMullen.

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