art by Agata Maciagowska
by Sadie Mattox
I've learned a few things since my first race with the Martian. I learned clothes are nothing but extra weight. I strip off my shirt and kick off my skirt until I'm standing, shivering, in my skivvies. They used to be pink, but being passed down through three sisters has turned them grey, and my Nana says that's what happens when stuff gets old whether it's panties or people.
Lan Delson skipped out to watch the race. I spy my kid sister thinking she's smart, hiding behind a tree, leaving her shadow stretched in plain sight. The other kids would just have to hear about it later, I guess.
My legs won't tolerate school and Ms. Wilson won't tolerate my fidgeting. Fine with me, I figure the only things worth knowing are how to stretch the fence, or plant seeds, or have babies, or whatever else thing our parents do that their parents did that will lead to terraforming Mars. They don't teach that stuff in school. We're five generations in and so far we've got a small village, a hard farm, and the nano-wires separating us from the Martians. The suspended dome over my head keeps our atmosphere breathable, and the Martians don't want to be crossing over. If I get too close to the Martian's side, I start choking on the rough air seeping through the gaps. The fence is there to protect us. Still, it unnerves me to know the fine wires could cut us to ribbons.
I can't talk to the Martian cause he's too stupid to figure out words. Sometimes I think he's trying to tell me something, but it doesn't make sense. Maybe I'm the stupid one. Ms. Wilson says, "Shelby, all your wits combined could rattle round a thimble." Maybe she's right. Me and the Martian, we communicate in races.
His arms hang too long for his body. The first time I saw them I laughed, until he dropped down onto his fingers, pushed with his legs and sprinted faster than anything. I stopped laughing and started racing and now I can't stop, even when my air is short.
I stretch my leg, letting the muscle pull and get warm. Far away, down the slope, I can see my daddy's crew inspecting the fence, crawling along the towers connecting the nano-wires, shouting curse words. The nano-wires are flexible and can be stretched without much effort. Seems my daddy is always stretching wires, making more space for us. Yesterday the water crew was out hosing the hill down to get this patch ready for planting, and the whole row along the fence ended bogged, on both sides.
Today I'm running barefoot like the Martian does, and mud slurries squish between my toes. The Martian is ready. I can tell by the way dark slivers dart across his eyes or whatever the gray orbs are. We nod across the fence. I crouch low, in a runner's start, and he stretches out, his fingertoes buried in the mud.
Lan Delson cheers. My sister creeps closer.
"Don't tell mama," I call.
I take a big breath, hold it in, taste the smoke from the machinery, and when Lan yells, "Go", I'm off like a shot.