Mission to Mars

by Linda Willing

1st Place – Flash 405, April 2017: Trinie Dalton’s “Shangri-La”



Are you okay with never coming back? That’s the first thing they ask at the interview. You’re sitting there in front of the committee and they come right out and say it. The first people who go to Mars are never coming back. If you think you’ll just be visiting or exploring, then walk away now.

Of course everyone says they would be okay with it. But simply saying it isn’t enough. You have to convince them.

So I tell them about my grandparents, who came to the United States from Greece in 1920. They spoke no English. An immigration official changed their name at Ellis Island. My grandfather worked in a factory; later he opened a restaurant and all of his seven sons worked there most of their lives. My grandparents came from the mountains, they herded sheep, but once they crossed the ocean to America, they made a life in a country as unfamiliar to them as another planet.

And they never returned. Not even when the sons offered to send them back to Greece for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. My grandfather told them to save their money. There was no other place but here.

I see the committee members nodding to one another. There is nothing like an immigrant story to inspire those who have no knowledge of what it is really like.

I don’t tell them that my grandfather’s family lost their land when he was a teenager. That he was running from certain conscription into the army to go fight the Turks in another pointless war. That my grandmother was pregnant before she married, and that she was shamed and shunned by her parents.

My grandparents always said America was Paradise. Shangri-La. But in sixty years, neither of them learned to read or write English. My grandmother never saw her two sisters again. Still she wrote letters in crumbling Greek to them every week for nearly fifty years. Searching for words. Trying to explain. Wanting to be forgiven.

I say nothing of loss, of betrayal, of anger and anguish. Instead I speak of adventure and opportunity and challenge. New beginnings.

The committee chairman stands up as I leave. It looks good, very good, he says, smiling.

I shake his hand. I don’t tell him that what I really seek is a place where there is no language.


Judge’s Comments:
Going to “a place where there is no language” sounds good to me too. I’m with you, Linda. One comes from a place, wants to shuttle someplace else, who hasn’t been up in that? Might take a lifetime but we try and try to pull maneuverability off, it’s the dream of immigration, it’s the American Dream currently threatened and insulted by you-know-who, it’s so elegantly expressed in this narrative. I admire how this piece roots itself in science but tendrils out into conversational subjectivity, uniting the two under humanity’s rubric. Not to mention, thematically channels telling the truth while lying, something that’s on our minds these days what with all the propaganda floating around. Who can you trust? Cutting edge story about doubt and hope.

Linda Willing is a retired firefighter and has been writing most of her life in one form or another. She has been exploring the possibilities of flash fiction for a couple years now. She currently divides her time between the mountains of Colorado and the Alabama Gulf Coast.

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