Remember the afternoon we spent
It was after the accident.
(Are you, like me, measuring time now
before and after the accident?)
We didn’t know what would
become of us,
but they were still investigating,
and for the moment we were both free.
You came to my quarters,
armed with a picnic basket of all things,
and asked if I wanted to go
have some lunch in the desert.
I had been lying in bed all day,
trying to read a book
but getting stuck on the same paragraph
at the top of page 48.
I guess I was trying to practice
for extended confinement.
Every time I closed my eyes,
I smelled the acrid smoke
and heard the echoes of screams.
“Isn’t there supposed to be
an acid storm?” I asked.
“Does it matter?” you shrugged.
“No, not really,” I replied.
If we had wanted to have
a nice picnic,
under a blue “sky,”
sitting on soft green turf,
watching the kids fly their aerokites
and chasing the Teslan spotted geese,
we would have gone to the park
in the center of the biodome,
but we would have been vulnerable
to staring, angry eyes,
insults muttered under our neighbors’ breath,
perhaps hurled at us at top volume,
perhaps even garbage thrown at us,
or other types of violence…
we had experienced it all before.
The yellow desert, with its acid rain
and iron vipers and venomous spitting hawks,
was silent and peaceful
and oddly forgiving.
We took your cruiser,
turned the radio off
and hovered in silence.
You stared straight ahead,
and I stared out the window to my right.
The farther we got out of the city,
the easier it was to breathe.
It was easy to forget how heavy
was the guilt sitting on my chest
every waking moment.
“It was an accident,” you’d remind me.
I’d remember to exhale.
That day, you rested your hand
lightly on my knee,
and we ate standard ration sandwiches—
I think egg salad and chicken were our choices—
and we watched the lightning dance on the horizon.
The raindrops fell on us,
a sizzling sound on our desert exploration suits.
“We’d better get back into the cruiser,” I said.
And you agreed.
Suddenly, you grabbed my arm and held me back.
“Wait!” you cried.
I realized that I had been just about to step
right on the back of a spiny shrieker,
which was fleeing the storm.
The spines on its back would have gone
right through my boot,
piercing the sole of my foot
and releasing its deadly venom.
And I would have been dead in minutes,
if not for you.
And it was not the first time you had saved me.
So if you ever wondered,
that was the moment I made up my mind.
A few days later, when I was interrogated,
I took all the blame and told them of your bravery,
told them that you were too humble
to take credit for anything positive
that came out of the accident.
You were too good a leader
and wanted to take responsibility.
So in the end, you were promoted,
which you deserved.
I was administratively reassigned
after a brief confinement.
I guess I deserved that too.
Now I’m on a planet
with endless diamond rain,
so I don’t get much fresh air these days,
but when I close my eyes,
I see the yellow cliffs in the distance,
one sun setting as the other rises,
your hand resting gently on my knee.
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