Evening walk on Mars

It was an end of another busy Wednesday for Andy and Eva Hubberbunch. Eva, working as the executive officer for VIRTA, a start-up focusing on the growing need of cleantech solutions in gardening, had had tight 12 hour workdays for most of the fall. All remote, naturally. Andy, in turn, was working as a freelance household software installer. He did mostly bathrooms. He had long thought that his job was far more person-centered and pratical compared to Eva’s, who didn’t even meet her actual customers, only the middlemen of retailers and information technology companies. Now Andy was sitting happily on the toilet, the apple of his eye and the flagship of his own career, equipped with the latest luxuries of Unko Ltd. including a back massage program and anti-stress aromatherapy. Having finished the news article on his tablet, he let the automated bidet wash his butt and then flushed the smart toilet.

Andy spent a good hour relaxing in his study listening to old jazz tunes and staring lazily at the window as gray snow kept on pouring. At 6 p.m. he walked to the kitchen and set the table for two as usually. Then he grabbed a bottle of Italian sparkling water and today’s ready-made meal from the fridge. Pasta carbonara. Andy put the cardboard meal box in the microwave and leaned against the wall waiting. They used the meal delivery service which would provide them with five lunches and five dinners each week. Junk with tons of additives and salt, for sure. But what else can you do when you’ve got a work schedule tight as hell and a €520 000 mortgage on top of that? On weekends they would sometimes cook for themselves or then just order Chinese or Mexican.

After heating up the pasta Andy carried it to the table. He sat down just in time to hear Eva’s smooth steps coming from the hallway. Pit-a-pat pit-a-pat. Like clockwork.

“Oh my gosh, what a day!” She sighed as they dug in to the food. “I tried to reach this guy from Chips & Eco the whole morning and when I finally got him on the line, he hadn’t even placed the orders! Can you believe that? And then I’ve got this angry procurement manager from Costco on the other line asking where on Earth are those five hundred smart hoses she ordered from us a good month ago. I mean, what are they even paying these guys for? Jeez!”

Andy nodded comfortingly and took a glance at his wife gulping down a glass of bubbly water. She still had the familiar executive officer expression on her face, visibly alert and weary.

“Anyway, enough about that. How was your day, love?” She asked and gave him a tired smile.

“You know, same old. Same old. I spent the day installing a hi-fi system in the bathroom for this older man living downtown. He’s got irritable bowel syndrome,” Andy answered.

Eva murmured agreeingly and they continued munching on the pasta in silence. After dinner Eva cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher. Then she turned on the stereo. Diana Krall was singing Fly Me To The Moon. Eva started to snap her fingers and swung her body across the floor.

“You know what? We should go for a nice little walk together. It would really help taking a weight off our shoulders,” she proposed.

Andy gave her a suspicious look.

“C’mon, it’ll be fun!” Eva said and took her husband’s hand.

The temperature outside was -18 °C and the weather forecast warned about strong wind and possible snow storms. Nothing unusual around here in December. Andy and Eva stood in the hallway changing into an identical set of white underwear. Then they put on their Icelandic sweaters and a pair of thick wool socks. After that it was time to slip into the hooded puffer jackets lined with faux fur, patrol pants and hiking boots. Finally they tried on the merino wool neck warmers and heavy beanies so that you could only see the hazel eyes peering through the multiple layers of clothing. The beanies actually had a thin metal coating protecting you from the ping-pong-ball-sized hailstones that would occasionally fall from the skies. Andy shrugged on a rucksack containing two sets of gas masks in case the nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide levels in the air got uncomfortably high. Smog would sometimes drift into town mainly from the nearby cities. The weather had turned weird in the recent years for sure.

Eva and Andy strolled down the cold desolate street. The ground was covered in snow banks half a meter high and each tree trunk had completely frozen over. There was not a single soul in sight. Anyone in their right mind would stay home safe and warm in a place like this. Andy took a look around him and saw yellow cozy rectangles of light lining the street on both sides. Beyond those tiny lights there was only the pitch-dark void of the arctic winter. Dead cold. They turned left at the end of the street and headed towards the district center.

“It’s really a matter of proper clothing and the right attitude, you know,” Eva grinned while Andy sighed and shook his head.

They walked through the graffiti-covered tunnel beneath the train station. Then up the stairs on the other side. They reached the long sand pathway and continued wandering along the railway. Suddenly a nasty gust of icy wind blew across the district. Eva and Andy both protected the narrow strips of bare skin around their eyes, shivering. Andy could already feel his feet going numb. Halfway down the path a lone locomotive drove by pushing loads of white powder aside and letting out a low whistle. A sad cry in the cold lifeless sea. Andy was peering at the sky and spotted the faint band of Milky Way despite the surrounding urban lights. His eyes lit up for a moment.

“You little dreamer,” Eva said looking at her husband.

“One day we’ll live in some place nice. It may still take twenty years or so, but that day will come. I promise,” Andy answered smiling with his eyes.

They were slowly approaching the mall. Inside the convenience store a gang of teenagers were playing slots while the clerk leaned bored against the counter and scrolled through the latest posts on her social media. Fake IDs, probably. And who else would she be serving there, anyway?

“Wanna stop by the convenience store?” Eva asked. “It’s nice and warm inside.”

“Not really, I’d rather not set foot in that place. I think we should turn back.”

Just then it started snowing heavily. The vicious wind had also returned pulling Andy’s hood behind his head. The blizzard pounded the mall and shook the whole district.

“Yeah, let’s hurry home before this weather gets us!” Eva shouted.

They started to jog back the same way that they came, hand in hand. Buildings, cars, lampposts, the sky and everything else in sight were soon covered in impenetrable, even white.

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