Exiled to Gravity
This week, Marissa Lingen’s “Exiled to Gravity,” reveals how a life can be changed by the narratives of others, and how it cannot. ~ Julian and Fran, February 12, 2023
Exiled to Gravity
by Marissa Lingen
My mother is dead, and I am going to space.
Liese Hak-O’Connell, she often said her name was, never actually told anyone that we were Martian princesses. Jovian heiresses in exile. Oortian royalty. (Only one of those things actually existed, but Earth people don’t pay any attention to how space is organized.) She had her lies down to an art where she didn’t have to say them outright—even to me, at first. No, she just looked terribly, terribly sad, and frowned beautifully and stroked my hair, and talked about how things might have been so very different for us, if I hadn’t had my—she would sigh a delicate sigh—medical condition.
“Alma had such a terrible reaction to the artificial gravity,” she would murmur. “She was so sick. And—things would have been different for us if we could have stayed, but she’s my baby, so . . .”
At that point she would gaze off into the sky, and my job was to do anything at all except snort derisively. Gazing with her would work. Putting my hand on hers. Even getting up and stalking away moodily was fine, once I was a teenager and getting sick of the entire thing.
I was to be the pretend-daughter. A rich man’s holiday dream of a child. I was the tiny princess they would rescue, my mother the queen in exile, so grateful, so genteel. They would take me on Jet Skis, ponies, hydrofoils, and watch me laugh with my beautiful mother. I didn’t do anything so gauche as exhibiting the same symptoms now, of course. No vomiting, no fainting, no fevers. All of that was safely away in space. At first I thought I remembered it, but later I realized that what I remembered was her telling the story. My earliest real memories were of Earth, and of my mother’s hand on my head, gentle, relentless.
Earth men loved this. Loved her. Loved me, too, the adorable moppet for whom all must be sacrificed. My mother had a knack for finding rich men who loved a hard-luck story when it came with her pretty face.
Earth children were a great deal more skeptical—or maybe it was just that it was my face, not hers, delivering the tale. I had to get scoffed at in school by other seven-year-olds before I had the epiphany that it was all a lie.
“There’s no such thing as an artificial-grav allergy,” said my now-former best friend, Davis.
The bottom dropped out of my tiny stomach. “There is! That’s why we live here and not in the Belt with my cousins!”
Davis’s tiny face screwed up in scorn. “You’re a liar and your mama’s a liar.”
I punched her and burst into tears, but I refused to tell the teacher why, and when my mother tried to interrogate me, I went silent and wooden-faced. Neither threats nor coaxing got any more out of me. I wondered later whether she’d guessed. Whether she’d seen it coming.