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Michigan Seems Like a Dream to Me Now

Marissa Lingen lives in Minnesota atop some of the oldest bedrock in North America. She writes science fiction, fantasy, essays, and poetry.

In Michigan the gravitational pull is nearly ten meters per second squared, and they have water no one filtered--just water, lying around outside with animals in it no one has checked over for genetic defects, which many of them have. In Michigan, your neighbors ate spaghetti that was different from your spaghetti, almost the same, but different, maybe a millimeter off in diameter, maybe a tiny bit more wheat in the recipe, or a tiny bit less, because it came in a different box. Maybe from a different building, but maybe from the same building, just in a different box, so it was different.
I tell my daughter these things, because she asks: what was it like where you are from. What was it like on Earth, in Mshign? She doesn't pronounce it carefully like her classmates, Mi-chi-gan, because she has heard me pronounce it, she knows that the schwas are supposed to blur together. But she doesn't know about sitting on the back deck smelling the neighbors smoking cigarettes and grilling bratwurst, she doesn't know about wincing at their overheard jokes when you can't avoid them, because you picked a good neighborhood but you can't pick every neighbor.
Someone chose every one of her neighbors, every single one. Maria and Bob and Oskar, they were all chosen. And she will never see Michigan herself in person, only in pictures.
In Michigan there were people you'd never seen before, I tell her, but the gravity was always the same, always. You could walk and walk and see another person and another, as many other people as you wanted, and there were lots of bumps in the land that you would go over, not big bumps like in some Earth places, just small ones, but never any different gravity.
Her mouth makes an o. She gets different gravity in different parts of the ship as regularly as going from home to school to the rec park.
Water fell from the--
I know about the water, you said, she interrupts. You always say about water, we talk about it all the time.
Water was the most important thing.
But she rolls her eyes, because water is always the most important thing, and she wants to know what was different in Michigan. And you can't explain to her that they didn't know that water was the most important thing, because that's silly. Everyone knows that. Even people in Michigan. Obviously.
All right, all right. So in Michigan, things grow that no one planted, they are called weeds, they might grow anywhere really. No, not in your hair. Yes, definitely in the rec park. Probably not in the cafeteria, except that you could eat in the rec park, and there would be weeds there. No, not in your school room. But yes, under the wheels of the track car. It wouldn't have tracks, though. Very few track cars in Michigan have tracks.
That's funny, how would a track car go without tracks? What if it went the wrong place?
I look at my daughter and think: when people like us went the wrong place, they let us know. Baby, they always let us know. And this ship was one of those places. When we got chosen, when we got ready to board, plenty of people were very sure we were on the wrong track. People like us did not belong in the big fancy spaceship.
Roads are like hallways for cars, I tell her. And sometimes there was a little building filled with donuts. Nothing but donuts and coffee. Every day, not just holidays. All flavors of donut, glazes on them, because in Michigan people would stop off just to buy a donut on their way to doing other things. I feel like a donut, they would say, and they would just have one.
I take a deep breath and admit: No. No, baby. There's no one doing that now. There's just a few of them down by the big lakes now. Nobody's making the donuts. Or maybe like us, just for holidays.
I get her back into bed, strapped back in against gravity changes, with the promise that in the morning we can look up how many day-shifts it is until the next holiday and ask our room computer to set up a count. I could do it now. But it's better to have something to look forward to. Better, even though we've been looking back.
Mommy, says her sleepy little voice. It's okay if you tell me about that very big water though. The silly big water. And then sleep. I promise.
There was water to either side of you, I tell her, on a bridge like the bridge between the parts of the ship. Water stretching out farther than you could see. Farther than you could walk to all day. As much water as stars, sparkling just like them.
Yes. Mommy's stories are very silly. Yes, we can say goodnight to the blue crescent going away on the viewscreen. No, you can't see Michigan. It's not in the bit you can see right now. But it's there.
In my heart it's there. Even if it feels like a story I've made up for you to go to sleep.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 20th, 2022

Author Comments

Some of you may recognize the title of this story as a quote from Simon and Garfunkel's "America." Several of the people I love most in the world are in Michigan, and I have to say, that part of the song hits differently when you're in a pandemic and can't get there than when you're hippies roaming the country by bus. So I started thinking about describing Michigan to someone who had never seen anything like a Michigan, and this story was born.

- Marissa Lingen
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