How far can love travel? How long can love last?
Proxima (Short Story)
by Regan Wolfrom
I’ve been writing this same letter to you for eighty-nine years.
We’re pushing out now past the rings of Saturn, the beautiful orange light glowing through the starboard window. I expected to find signs of life out here, the teeming and expanding humanity that surrounds it, but all I see besides the planet are the stars; even the moons are too small for my eyes to see.
I wonder if you saw this, or if this planet was on the other side of the sun as you came by. I wonder if you’ve seen anything more startling out here and if I’ll see it, too.
I wonder how long it will be before I see you again.
We’re passing not too far away, but I can only find Uranus by using my lenses; I zoomed in far enough to see a couple of gray specks against the icy blue-green clouds, float vessels or tankers, I’m not sure which.
It’s likely the last planet I’ll see for a long time, between twenty years and forever, and the notion makes me feel even more alone.
I carry you in my heart just as I carry the letter I’m writing to you, but against this window the rest of me is only twelve centimeters from the cold and nothingness. I don’t regret this journey but sometimes I wish I wasn’t travelling alone.
We’re gaining speed now. We’ve been accelerating since we left Earth orbit, but now I understand just how this tiny aluminum egg can travel from one star to another. When I was young and my body still aged, I remember wishing there’d be a reason to go out and travel to other stars. But there is no reason, not with robot eyes and hands around to take the trip.
I’ve wondered since you left what it was that made you go. I’ve wondered if I had something to do with it.
There’s nothing but black and white in front of me now. I have the time to try and figure you out.
I miss the Earth. I miss my home. I miss the smell of new growth in June and the sound of the wind as it whips the branches of aspen trees. I miss my children, and their children and children and children, and I miss their mother, too, though I doubt she misses me.
She knows now that I have several kinds of love in me.
She knows now that I kept the best of it for you.
I imagine your ship is just like a miniature planet, only inside out and moving farther away from everything we’ve known. I’m sure when you stand in the fields on your little world it feels like home, and your eyes grow itchy, and your cheeks are warmed by an artificial sun.
When I close my eyes I can see you there, wearing your black and white striped sundress with the bouncy red fringe. Sometimes you’re holding wildflowers and sometimes you’re fidgeting with those frizzy tips on your brown and copper hair, and always you smile at me, that pursed-lips smile you carry when you’re thinking of the right words to say.
I never know what should come next when I imagine, so I just leave the scene as it is, you wearing your smile forever and me staring into your blue-green eyes until I fall asleep.
I’ve been writing this same letter to you for ninety-two years.
Sometimes it grows longer and sometimes I cut it down until it’s “I love you” and nothing more. Today I’m going to write about the moments that were good, the day you and I went for a ride in the park and the sky opened up, and for a moment it looked as though there’d be enough rain to wash us into the lake. The day I baked cookies and left a handful on your doorstep, and you called me pretending you were worried they might be poisoned. The day not long before you were married when I first saw you in your wedding dress, and you were so completely beautiful, and for the first time I knew that you were happy with him even if I could never believe he was good enough for you.
I wrote these moments down but I’m not sure they’ll stay in; I like to think you remember those days, too.
I still see nothing but the stars. I know that there are a million icelets out here and that someday there will be life in this expanse, people falling in love and people drifting apart and all of it so far from our sun that it feels like treading water in the middle of the ocean.
We’re so distant now that the computer can’t decide which system we’re in. I guess it has no need to measure the pull from Sol and Proxima and the other Centauris; its only job is to bring me to you as quickly as it can. That’s why it was built, why I traded everything for it, to be with you even though you never asked for me. The computer is scanning for you now, seeing if you’re still here where comets are born, or if you’ve kept pushing on towards the little red star.
I don’t think you’ve stopped since there’s nothing to see out here.
Out here there are no colors at all.
We passed a dwarf planet today, a cratered reddish-gray triangle larger than anything else I’ve seen in many years. I expected to find you there, the resource tugs collecting minerals and fuel, but the computer has not found you. I wonder if you are out here at all.
On days like this it feels like I’m a monk trapped in a silvery cell, floating alone on one edge of nothing. It’s meditation and it’s penance, staring out my windows at the expanding universe, watching forever until the stars go out.
I should never have kissed you, but you didn’t stop me. You let us happen for a little while. Long enough for me to know what I’ll always want most.
But it all changed again, and you said you couldn’t see me, and with time I knew you meant it. And even when your husband died, one of the last before we all would live forever, I knew enough to stay away. And when you climbed aboard the colony ship, knowing that you were leaving for good, I knew that you would not want to see me.
So I began to write you this letter. I never sent it because I’ve never finished what I’ve wanted to say.
It’s been ninety-nine years.
If I see you again I’ll be ready.
I’ve written this letter with the words I wish I had said, before you lost your husband, before you were married, before we had ever met. I wish I’d said these words before I’d learned to speak.
I love you. I’ve loved you far longer than anyone else could make the claim. I have been in love with you completely, and it has never dampened and it has certainly never died, and I now believe in my heart that I will be in love with you for as long as I live, even if you can’t love me in the same way. I will love you no matter what comes next.
I will love you if you love me too.
I will love you if you ask me to go.
I will love you, not as my mission or even as my choice, but as what I am.
For always I am yours.
We’re arrived here at the only planet that owes its path to Proxima, a gray and yellow bowling ball of eternal ice and rock. The computer told me I’d find you here, but seeing the two glass and metal cylinders in orbit, watching them slowly rotate to keep your feet on the ceiling of your new little world… it still comes as a shock to me.
Everyone seems surprised to find me out here; they all knew that faster ships would be built, but I guess they didn’t expect anyone to catch up so soon. We’ve docked with your ship and I’ve said a few hellos, but I haven’t seen you yet. But I’ve found my way to the farms and I can see that it’s just as I had imagined, the metal and glass sun and the bluish haze of the inner sky. And stalks of wheat as tall as they grow in Kansas, and in the distance there are cows, like you rarely see anymore on Earth.
And coming towards me is a beautiful woman as young as I remember, her copper and brown hair waving in what feels just like the wind. You can see me now, and I can see your smile, your light red lips pursed and held in dreamlike perfection.
I don’t know what you’ll say to me; we’ve been apart for more than a century, but in a way it doesn’t matter what words come out of your mouth.
That’s not why I’m here.
I’m here to give you this letter.