The Distance Between Family

She scoffed. “This sort of thing doesn’t happen here!”

“But it did! It did happen! There!”

Mary glanced at the screen displaying the face of her son as she poured tea into her cup. Andy was always panicking about something. It was just another Sunday.

“It’s fine! You worry too much. Anyway, I was talking to your Aunt Barbara, and-”

“No, Mom, you can’t just change the subject. Not this time.”

Mary rolled her eyes to herself, hidden behind the fridge door as she put the milk away.

“Andrew, seriously. It’s fine. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“Well, I do.”

“Well, I don’t, and I’m your mother, so-”


Mary started, almost sloshing tea right onto the floor. Mary and Richard hadn’t seen eye to eye with their son since he was a pre-teen. Mary didn’t know what happened, but she suspected it was that damn computer. One minute he was a dutiful son, going to church and listening to everything his parents had to say on any subject with rapt attention, and the next his hair was long, he wouldn’t leave the house on Sundays except to find his friends, and everything had to be an argument. Everything.

At least those had stopped. Sometime when Andrew was in college. There wasn’t a last straw, a big final blow-out that left everyone hurt and needing time to cool off. No, Andrew simply…drifted. He stopped arguing about needless things like politics with them and they were all better for it. Now if he would only do something about his anxiety.

Any time things got too deep for Mary all she had to do was change the subject and Andrew would go along with it. That’s how things were supposed to work. He wasn’t supposed to fight her on it. He wasn’t supposed to raise his voice at her.

“Don’t talk to me with that tone,” she snapped at him, approaching where the tablet was fixed on the counter.

“I have to because you’re not listening to me! You never listen to me-”

“I always listen to you! I’m listening right now!”

“-and that’s okay, I’ve accepted that,” he continued, like she hadn’t just tried to shut the conversation down again. “I’ve accepted that this is the best our relationship is ever going to be. But you have to listen to me this time, Mom. This isn’t theoretical. This isn’t happening somewhere else, or so slow you don’t notice. It’s happening there, and now, and fast. You are being poisoned right now.

Mary shifted her weight and forced herself to keep her eyes on the tablet. They wanted to dart to the kitchen window, but there wasn’t actually anything to see out there, no, definitely not, so she didn’t.

“I think being in Hollywood has made you something of a drama queen,” she said.

Thousands of miles and inches away on the screen Andrew hung his head in much the same way his father did. He’d asked about Richard. Mary had said he was watching television, which was mostly true.

“Mom, please. The recycler, it never should have gone like that. That wasn’t normal. Didn’t you say you could see the explosion from the kitchen?”

Now Mary did look out the window. Not that there was much to see. Despite the new colonization the moon was still rather lifeless. She missed her begonias. No flowers at all. Just moon rock and the harsh of space and the place near to the horizon where the air scrubber station used to be.

“Well, yes, but the government said it’s fine. Everything is fine up here. We have air up here. I’m talking to you, aren’t I?”

“Sure, right. How’s your asthma?”

She glanced at her inhaler sitting on the kitchen table before she could stop herself.

“It’s spring, Andy. I’ve got allergies.”

“Allergies? On the moon? Wasn’t that one of the reasons you and dad wanted to move up there?”

“Well, there’s still dust! Honestly, Andrew, this is getting ridiculous! Everything is fine up here! If something were wrong the news would have said so. The mayor would have said so!”

Andy ran his hand over his face, a gesture he hadn’t picked up from either of them. “I want you and dad to come down to California.”


“For at least a few weeks. Until this whole thing is sorted.”

“It is sorted.”

“We’ve got the mother-in-law suite above the garage, it’s basically its own little apartment. Please, mom, just until they actually give an all-clear. A real one.”

Mary drew herself up to her full height. “I’m telling you, Andrew, they have. They wouldn’t just lie to everyone. They wouldn’t just let everyone up here get sick and die, and for what, exactly?”

“Profits, Mom.”

Mary tutted. “There you go again with your…your…commie bullshit!”

The silence hung between them, between the planet and it’s moon, between a mother and her son.

“Fine,” Andrew said, his voice hollow. “Stay up there. Do what you want. The suite is here if you want it. Just…please keep an eye on yourself? And Dad?”

Mary said she would and cut the connection. She loved her son, but she hated him at the same time. How dare he talk to her like he knew better than her? Like he was clued into something and she was some passive idiot wandering around without a clue what was going on around her? Mary knew a thing or two he didn’t. Like the people in charge wouldn’t let an entire moon colony slowly die just to make a quick buck. Of course she knew people were mostly motivated by greed. But how could this sort of greed work out for these rich fatcats in the long run? No, no, they were surely okay because if they all died up here they’d lose the whole colony and their profits would dry up and that was the truth.

Mary took a hit off her inhaler and rubbed her chest as she went up to the bedroom.

Rich was dozing in bed but opened his eyes when he heard Mary come in.

“I heard you yelling,” he said, half-shouting to be heard over the oxygen mask pressed against his nose and mouth.

“Just your son again, thinking he knows better than his mother.”

Rich opened his mouth to say something, but all that came out was a hacking, wheezing cough that went and went and went until finally Mary walked off to get ready for bed.

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