After the film they went shopping down the silent streets. She broke a window and put on the brightest dress she could find. Dumping a perfume bottle on her hair, she resembled a drowned sheep dog. “How old are you?” he inquired. “Guess.” Dripping, she led him down the street. “Oh, thirty,” he said. “Well,” she announced stiffly, “I’m only twenty-seven, so there!
“Here’s another candy store!” she said. “Honest, I’ve led the life of Reilly since everything exploded. I never liked my folks, they were fools. They left for Earth two months ago. I was supposed to follow on the last rocket, but I stayed on; you know why?”
“Because everyone picked on me. So I stayed where I could throw perfume on myself all day and drink ten thousand malts and eat candy without people saying, ‘Oh, that’s full of calories!’ So here I am!”
“Here you are.” Walter shut his eyes.
“It’s getting late,” she said, looking at him.
“I’m tired,” she said.
“Funny. I’m wide awake.”
“Oh,” she said.
“I feel like staying up all night,” he said. “Say, there’s a good record at Mike’s. Come on, I’ll play it for you.”
“I’m tired.” She glanced up at him with sly, bright eyes.
“I’m very alert,” he said. “Strange.”
“Come back to the beauty shop,” she said. “I want to show you something.”
She took him in through the glass door and walked him over to a large white box. “When I drove from Texas City,” she said, “I brought this with me.” She untied the pink ribbon. “I thought: Well, here I am, the only lady on Mars, and here is the only man, and, well … ” She lifted the lid and folded back crisp layers of whispery pink tissue paper. She gave it a pat. “There.”
Walter Gripp stared.
“What is it?” he asked, beginning to tremble.
“Don’t you know, silly? It’s all lace and all white and all fine and everything.”
“No, I don’t know what it is.”
“It’s a wedding dress, silly!”
“Is it?” His voice cracked.
He shut his eyes. Her voice was still soft and cool and sweet, as it had been on the phone. But when he opened his eyes and looked at her …
He backed up. “How nice,” he said.
“Genevieve.” He glanced at the door.
“Genevieve, I’ve something to tell you.”
“Yes?” She drifted toward him, the perfume smell thick about her round white face.
“The thing I have to say to you is … ” he said.
And he was out the door and into his car before she could scream.
She ran and stood on the curb as he swung the car about.
“Walter Griff, come back here!” she wailed, flinging up her arms.
“Gripp,” he corrected her.
“Gripp!” she shouted.
The car whirled away down the silent street, regardless of her stompings and shriekings. The exhaust from it fluttered the white dress she crumpled in her plump hands, and the stars shone bright, and the car vanished out onto the desert and away into blackness.
He drove all night and all day for three nights and days. Once he thought he saw a car following, and he broke into a shivering sweat and took another highway, cutting off across the lonely Martian world, past little dead cities, and he drove and drove for a week and a day, until he had put ten thousand miles between himself and Marlin Village. Then he pulled into a small town named Holtville Springs, where there were some tiny stores he could light up at night and restaurants to sit in, ordering meals. And he’s lived there ever since, with two deep freezes packed with food to last him one hundred years, and enough cigars to last ten thousand days, and a good bed with a soft mattress.
And when once in a while over the long years the phone rings—he doesn’t answer.
April 2026: THE LONG YEARS
Whenever the wind came through the sky, he and his small family would sit in the stone hut and warm their hands over a wood fire. The wind would stir the canal waters and almost blow the stars out of the sky, but Mr. Hathaway would sit contented and talk to his wife, and his wife would reply, and he would speak to his two daughters and his son about the old days on Earth, and they would all answer neatly.