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       The Statue, p.1

           Mari Wolf
 
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The Statue


  Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  Transcriber's Note:

  This etext was produced from IF Worlds of Science Fiction January 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

  _I put my arms around her shoulders but there was no way I could comfort her._]

  The STATUE

  By Mari Wolf

  Illustrated by BOB MARTIN

  _There is a time for doing and a time for going home. But where is home in an ever-changing universe?_

  * * * * *

  "Lewis," Martha said. "I want to go home."

  She didn't look at me. I followed her gaze to Earth, rising in theeast.

  It came up over the desert horizon, a clear, bright star at thisdistance. Right now it was the Morning Star. It wasn't long beforedawn.

  I looked back at Martha sitting quietly beside me with her shawl drawntightly about her knees. She had waited to see it also, of course. Ithad become almost a ritual with us these last few years, staying upnight after night to watch the earthrise.

  She didn't say anything more. Even the gentle squeak of her rockingchair had fallen silent. Only her hands moved. I could see themtrembling where they lay folded in her lap, trembling with emotion andtiredness and old age. I knew what she was thinking. After seventyyears there can be no secrets.

  We sat on the glassed-in veranda of our Martian home looking up at theMorning Star. To us it wasn't a point of light. It was the continentsand oceans of Earth, the mountains and meadows and laughing streams ofour childhood. We saw Earth still, though we had lived on Mars foralmost sixty-six years.

  "Lewis," Martha whispered softly. "It's very bright tonight, isn'tit?"

  "Yes," I said.

  "It seems so near."

  She sighed and drew the shawl higher about her waist.

  "Only three months by rocket ship," she said. "We could be back homein three months, Lewis, if we went out on this week's run."

  I nodded. For years we'd watched the rocket ships streak upwardthrough the thin Martian atmosphere, and we'd envied the men who socasually travelled from world to world. But it had been a uselessenvy, something of which we rarely spoke.

  Inside our veranda the air was cool and slightly moist. Earth air,perfumed with the scent of Earth roses. Yet we knew it was onlyillusion. Outside, just beyond the glass, the cold night air of Marslay thin and alien and smelling of alkali. It seemed to me tonightthat I could smell that ever-dry Martian dust, even here. I sighed,fumbling for my pipe.

  "Lewis," Martha said, very softly.

  "What is it?" I cupped my hands over the match flame.

  "Nothing. It's just that I wish--I wish we _could_ go home, rightaway. Home to Earth. I want to see it again, before we die."

  "We'll go back," I said. "Next year for sure. We'll have enough moneythen."

  She sighed. "Next year may be too late."

  I looked over at her, startled. She'd never talked like that before. Istarted to protest, but the words died away before I could even speakthem. She was right. Next year might indeed be too late.

  Her work-coarsened hands were thin, too thin, and they never stoppedshaking any more. Her body was a frail shadow of what it had oncebeen. Even her voice was frail now.

  She was old. We were both old. There wouldn't be many more Martiansummers for us, nor many years of missing Earth.

  "Why can't we go back this year, Lewis?"

  She smiled at me almost apologetically. She knew the reason as well asI did.

  "We can't," I said. "There's not enough money."

  "There's enough for our tickets."

  I'd explained all that to her before, too. Perhaps she'd forgotten.Lately I often had to explain things more than once.

  "You can't buy passage unless you have enough extra for insurance, andtravelers' checks, and passport tax. The company has to protectitself. Unless you're financially responsible, they won't take you onthe ships."

  She shook her head. "Sometimes I wonder if we'll ever have enough."

  * * * * *

  We'd saved our money for years, but it was a pitifully small savings.We weren't rich people who could go down to the spaceport and buypassage on the rocket ships, no questions asked, no bond required. Wewere only farmers, eking our livelihood from the unproductive Martiansoil, only two of the countless little people of the solar system. Inall our lifetime we'd never been able to save enough to go home toEarth.

  "One more year," I said. "If the crop prices stay up...."

  She smiled, a sad little smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Yes,Lewis," she said. "One more year."

  But I couldn't stop thinking of what she'd said earlier, nor stopseeing her thin, tired body. Neither of us was strong any more, but ofthe two I was far stronger than she.

  When we'd left Earth she'd been as eager and graceful as a child. Wehadn't been much past childhood then, either of us....

  "Sometimes I wonder why we ever came here," she said.

  "It's been a good life."

  She sighed. "I know. But now that it's nearly over, there's nothing tohold us here."

  "No," I said. "There's not."

  If we had had children it might have been different. As it was, welived surrounded by the children and grandchildren of our friends. Ourfriends themselves were dead. One by one they had died, all of thosewho came with us on the first colonizing ship to Mars. All of thosewho came later, on the second and third ships. Their children were ourneighbors now--and they were Martian born. It wasn't the same.

  She leaned over and pressed my hand. "We'd better go in, Lewis," shesaid. "We need our sleep."

  Her eyes were raised again to the green star that was Earth. Watchingher, I knew that I loved her now as much as when we had been youngtogether. More, really, for we had added years of shared memories. Iwanted so much to give her what she longed for, what we both longedfor. But I couldn't think of any way to do it. Not this year.

  Once, almost seventy years before, I had smiled at the girl who hadjust promised to become my wife, and I'd said: "I'll give you theworld, darling. All tied up in pink ribbons."

  I didn't want to think about that now.

  We got up and went into the house and shut the veranda door behind us.

  * * * * *

  I couldn't go to sleep. For hours I lay in bed staring up at theshadowed ceiling, trying to think of some way to raise the money. Butthere wasn't any way that I could see. It would be at least eightmonths before enough of the greenhouse crops were harvested.

  What would happen, I wondered, if I went to the spaceport and askedfor tickets? If I explained that we couldn't buy insurance, that wecouldn't put up the bond guaranteeing we wouldn't become publiccharges back on Earth.... But all the time I wondered I knew theanswer. Rules were rules. They wouldn't be broken especially not fortwo old farmers who had long outlived their usefulness and their time.

  Martha sighed in her sleep and turned over. It was light enough nowfor me to see her face clearly. She was smiling. But a minute ago shehad been crying, for the tears were still wet on her cheeks.

  Perhaps she was dreaming of Earth again.

  Suddenly, watching her, I didn't care if they laughed at me orlectured me on my responsibilities to the government as if I were asenile fool. I was going to the spaceport. I was going to find out if,somehow, we couldn't go back.

  I got up and dressed and went out, walking softly so as not to awakenher. But even so she heard me and called out to m
e.

  "Lewis...."

  I turned at the head of the stairs and looked back into the room.

  "Don't get up, Martha," I said. "I'm going into town."

  "All right, Lewis."

  She relaxed, and a minute later she was asleep again. I tiptoeddownstairs and out the front door to where the trike car was parked,and started for the village a mile to the west.

  It was desert all the way. Dry, fine red sand that swirled upward inchoking clouds, if you stepped off the pavement into it. The narrowroad cut straight through it, linking the outlying district farms tothe town. The farms themselves were planted in the desert. Small,glassed-in houses and barns, and large greenhouses roofed with evenmore
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