by Mary Rosenblum
Water leaped in the center of each basin, giving off the tinkle of glass chimes as it splashed back down, overflowing the rim and trickling across the plaza in snaking streams. The two Martians stood in front of him. He smiled at them, recognizing them. He’d names them Rose and Shane because he lied the names. He wasn’t sure that “name” was something that they understood. It wasn’t like they talked in words.
Tall and skinny as the winter trees he’d seen vids of from Earth, they pirouetted, bathing him in their smiles. Well, it felt like a smile. He pirouetted with them, laughing without his mouth because they heard. Their faces had looked weird at first, with a ridge pushing out down the middle from forehead to chin, so that their elongated, cloudy eyes were set back on either side of the ridge. Their mouths were perfectly round, mostly closed with pale lips, although now and again they opened wide to show darkness and nothing like teeth that he could see. He had no idea what they ate, had never seen a Martian eating.
They fluttered their long, six-fingered hands, and he followed them toward the canal along a long, curving street paved with azure tiles edged with silver so that it flashed in the sunshine, a ghostly image overlaid on red dust and rock. Tall, twisted spires of buildings rose on either side and the tall, slender Martians strolled in and out, crossing the spaces between the buildings on narrow, arching ribbons of crystal, like graceful tightrope walkers he’d seen in vids of old-days circuses. Only, you could see in the circus videos that the tightrope walkers were afraid of falling.
Nobody here was afraid.
Five more Martians had joined them, fluttering their hands as they strolled along the azure path in a ghostly shimmer, their half-length robes fluttering in the breeze, a shifting rainbow of color, like an oil slick on the air. Small thorny plants covered with pink blossoms lined the path here, barely visible in the noonday sun, and the spires were less crowded. Maartin stopped, fascinated, as one of the plants began to rock back and forth. It slowly worked thick rootlets free of the soil. The rootlets, pink and fleshy, flexed like fingers, stretching and elongating, reaching away from the path to bury themselves in the reddish soil. Slowly, the rootlets contracted, pulling the plant away from the neat row along the path.
A Martian hurried up, long fingers of one hand fluttering furiously. The other hand held a slender black wand. The Martian poked the tip of the wand into the soil where the plant had anchored its rootlets. The rootlets whipped out of the soil, coiling tightly under the plant’s thorny branches. It shook its dull green leaves with a threatening rustle and all its thorns slowly aligned to point at the Martian with the wand. The Martian shook its fingers at the plant and poked the wand tip into the soil again. Slowly, the rootlets extended on the far side, and the plant began to drag itself back to the path and the space it had left between its neighbors. Just like the school av’. Maartin covered a smile because moving his mouth made his Martian friends finger-laugh at him. The plant looked defeated, its leaves dropping slightly, its thorns no longer erect.
A finger of urgency prodded him and he looked up. The group of Martians had stopped and were looking back at him. Rose stepped forward. It was her urgency he’d felt. Her. He shrugged as he hurried to catch up. She felt like a her, and he wasn’t sure why, but she did. She looked the same as Shane and he felt like a he.
The canal lay ahead, Towers soared gracefully along its rippling expanse. Barges floated on the water, moving slowly along. When he sneaked out at dusk, the water looked almost solid, but in the sunshine, you could see the empty bed through the barges and the water. Colorful awning flapped in the breeze, and, in their shade, Martians reclined on footed cushions, their fingers flickering in conversation. A trio stood at the bow of one barge, blowing into polished and twisted horns that branched into multiple mouths. He couldn’t hear anything, but the gave out a soft blue smoke and suddenly he was filled with gentle feelings, sort of like the way he felt at night, when Mom used to tuck in the covers and say good night. He swallowed, and Rose drifted back to walk close to him, floating along, on her long toes, as if she was nearly weightless. She waved her fingers in front of him and her head dipped, mouth opening briefly.
Sharing his sorrow. He blinked. They had never paid this much attention to him before. Sometimes they walked with him, but there was no … communication. He felt them some, but they usually didn’t really feel him.
Maybe that was changing.
They Came from the Past. Illustration : Megan Jorgensen