Last Wednesday I shared with you the first excercise I did for Mary Robinette Kowal’s course Writing on the Fast Track. The second in the series is the same story, this time written from the point of view of the second character in the scene, in my case Sara’s wife Anika.
Anika woke up to see the silhouette of her wife against the image of their home set up on the dawn wall. The cobwebs of sleep still tugged at her and even though the room was already bathed in artificial sunlight she wasn’t quite ready to get up yet.
Sara leaned onto her elbow and for one glorious moment Anika thought she’d actually hit the snooze-button and curl back down next to her like she used to, before the war. But instead Sara slammed a fist down on the dawn wall control so hard that Anika had to wonder if she was trying to break it.
She tried to stifle a yawn. “Are you all right?”
They both knew she wasn’t fine but Anika didn’t want to have that same argument again. Not so early in the morning at least. She suppressed a sigh, got up and walked to the bathroom while Sara wrestled noisily with her wheel-chair.
As she started to brush her teeth, Anika remembered the cold winters, coming in to the cattle-shed and being greeted by the warm and musky scent of cows and goats, content in their shelters. And the scent of the fresh-baked bread Sara used to make on many mornings. She could almost taste it now, if she just got rid of the toothpaste.
Sara rolled in just as Anika was almost done. She squeezed herself in the corner to give Sara’s wheelchair more room to pass and then gingerly stepped behind her.
Sara seemed to struggle with her stool much more than usual so Anika rushed in to help her with it. “Here.”
Sara threw her arm out to stop Anika. She had always been so very strong and Anika’s wind was knocked clean out of her. Surely she didn’t mean it.
“Let me help,” she said, trying not to sound winded.
“No! I have to learn to do this.”
Anika bit back an angry retort and counted all the things she wanted to say to Sara as if they were sheep, all the while catching her breath. She kept her mouth shut. Don’t push. Never push.
Anika was still counting when Sara said, “I’m sorry.”
She held her breath, nodded and left the bathroom, still counting. In the bedroom she let out her breath and her ears stopped pounding. She leaned on the wardrobes across the room from the dawn wall and stared at the darkened image inside.
The day before she had done something that might get her court-martialed if someone ever found out; while on a mission in the near vicinity, she had used her gatherbot to take pictures and check radiation levels of what used to be their farm. She hadn’t even dared look at the pictures yet for fear that someone would find out.
Anika looked around her just in case and – heart in her throat – she started the automated scrolling of the gatherbot data on her tablet.
The destruction was worse than she had ever imagined. Anika had seen some gatherbot data from the surrounding areas before but seeing the flattened buildings, the bleached bones of former neighbors and the scorched earth where her beloved home used to be somehow made it more real. Anika choked a breath but no tears would come. She covered her mouth and stared in horror, unable to look away.
When the gatherbot’s radiation forecast flashed onto the screen, her hands went limp and the tablet fell from her hands, followed closely by her body as her knees gave way. They could never go back.
She stared back at the dawn wall but the image in the dark had lost its appeal and seemed only to taunt her of what was lost and could never be again. She turned her head to look anywhere but at the dawn wall and for the first time she realized just how bare their hab was. Neither of them had taken the initiative to make it a home, even a temporary one.
Anika slumped against the nearly empty wardrobe and looked at their hab through the eyes of an outsider. Most of what was inside was standard military issue. Sara was even still clinging on to the grunt habit of living out of a stackable locker. They had put their lives on hold until their planet and by extension the military no longer needed them and Anika just forgot to unpause after the war ended.
A sound from her tablet indicated a call waiting, forcing Anika out of her reverie. Anika drew a sharp breath when she realized how late it was. The caller turned out to be Dr. Stroms, Sara’s therapist.
“Morning doctor,” Anika said with forced cheerfulness. “You don’t mind if I get dressed while we talk, do you? I’m running a little late.”
“You know, I was rather hoping to reach Sara.”
“Sara’s in the shower.” For the first time, Anika realized that Sara had been in the shower much longer than usual. “Can I take a message?”
“I just wanted to make sure that she was aware of our appointment today. She’s missed so many.”
“I’ll make sure she knows. Thank you, doctor.”
“How are you holding up?”
“That’s good. Now if you could try that again with a shade more truth.”
Anika stopped dressing in the middle of pulling her pants on and sat down on the bed.
“I just… It feels like she’s slipping away.”
“She’ll come back in her own time. Just don’t push.”
“I know, doc,” Anika sighed. She got up and finished putting her pants on. “Was there anything else?”
“No. You’ll give my message to her?”
“Yeah, doc. Bye, doc.”
She finished dressing, while listening to the sound of the shower. Sara really was taking a long time, but Anika could hear her movement in the way the water fell slightly differently from moment to moment.
When even her hair was done, Anika picked up the fallen tablet which reacted to the movement and fired up the blank screen. The last of the gatherbot images had stayed up when the automated scrolling had finished.
Anika stared down at the broken and burnt remains of the tree they had planted during their marriage ceremony. This time, the tears fell freely and silently down her cheeks. The tree was growing again. After all that had happened, all the destruction, their tree was growing again.
Without thinking of the possible consequences Anika ran to the dawn wall controls and swiped the image on to the dawn wall internal memory and set the alarm for 20 minutes before Sara’s appointment with Dr. Stroms. She refused to even think about whether what she was doing constituted as pushing.
Then, her heart thudding so loud she was sure Sara would hear it, she walked back into the bathroom just after the sounds of the shower had been cut off.
“Your therapist called.”
Sara kept drying herself. “So?”
“You’ll keep this appointment?”
Anika could barely contain herself from starting to make plans for a new life right then and there. She drew a breath, already starting to talk about anything. Everything.
Anika could see that Sara had been crying. Don’t push. So she shook her head, content to wait – at least for now – for Sara to decide to rejoin the world of the living.
She grabbed Sara’s face in both hands and gave her a kiss before walking out of the apartment to a new beginning, her head held high and a smile caressing her lips.