submit or we will empty your mama's lot and lock it up, y'dig?

My wife owed me. That is a fact. She wanted to just say sorry and maybe speak to our pastor, but I said no. She owed me and what I wanted was to name the babies myself. At first she resisted, but I kept reminding her of the facts, so I got to name them. There were two. Girls. Twins twisting in her stomach--she didn't seem large enough to have them both fit. 

My wife wanted to know at least what the names were going to be, but I wouldn't tell her. I didn't want her to know until she saw them and loved them and thought of them with their names. If she knew ahead of time she could build up a head of distaste for the names that might spill over onto our beautiful new daughters. 

It wasn't until the first screaming face roared so incredibly slowly out from my wife into the hospital room that I told her their names were Spirit and Opportunity. She clutched my hand hard, still breathing and squeezing and began to cry. The girls were beautiful--like beets from a jar. 

I named the girls after the Mars Exploration Rovers because this is the furthest our hands have ever reached into the void in which we float. Those two machines are our fingers. It seemed like a beautiful idea to me. To some in my wife's family--even those who knew how much she owed me--the names were repellant. We gave the babies hippie names, they said. What right did I have to do that to the poor girls? What else were we going to do to ruin them? Dress them as boys and take them to Episcopalian church? 

People who don't even know me began yelling "Hippie" or "Coward" or "Sweet Hot Dog" at me from their car windows as they pass the hot dog cart where I work: Chubb's Extra "Beef" Dogs and Blintzes. My wife's family has a lot of connections. But they don't understand. What is more exciting than living at a place in time when our humble hands are first running blind over the face of new alien terrain.

Just as Adam named all of the animals and plants thereby giving them their character--the process of naming the girls was their true creation. Spirit shuffled on all fat fours across the bedroom floor, knocking over the end-table and lamp, shattering the pink ceramic pig bride and groom my wife keeps on the shelf. 

My wife loved that bride and groom. It was the one gift I let her keep.

Opportunity was the one to first discover water. She got stuck underneath the sink in the kitchen where rotting pipes dripped cool drops of water on her bare head. Her drowsy weeping was muffled by the moldy cabinet doors and the sound of college basketball on the television in the den.

The girls saw our pink sun rise--strange, unlike any that had been seen before--in the yellow-blue sky as they battled colic and croup, night terrors and SIDS--an aweful sight.

One day I found Opportunity standing on the back porch watching two black boys walking a sea-foam green bicycle down the ally behind the garage. Her wide brown eyes tracked their thin brown bodies as they passed--unaware they were being studied and catalogued. She stomped her feet up and down. I could still see the marks on her arms. I thought: who were the Mars rovers encountering now? Who were their many eyes tracking? I ran to the computer and checked the news and the Rover page, waiting for the announcement--but it never came. 

That night as my wife and I lay in bed, the pale green of the street lamp streaming in across the comforter through the uneven slits in the blinds, I thought about the two Spirits and the two Opportunities and all that they will see that the rest of the world will never know.

Just as the machines imbued my daughters with an exploratory bent, my daughters lent some of their selves to their metal brothers so many million miles away. The machines lasted much longer than NASA expected--their solar panels keeping dust free, their batteries keeping charged. The machines seemed happy and hearty and rarely ran into significant problems for a time. I know the feeling of excitement and love that the scientists at the Jet Propulsion Labs must have felt watching their twin sons grow and learn more than they ever thought they would. 

And I know the pain fathers feel too. I was watching the evening news at the little bar near where I keep my stand. They said NASA had lost contact with Spirit. I leapt up and darted home, calling her name as I dashed from den to kitchen. 

No response. 

Upstairs in her bedroom I found her, sitting on her bed, headphones on--her face sick with mascara and blush. I asked how her day was, what she had for lunch. She just looked at me and shrugged. Her lips were a wanton gash. I told her that she needed to learn some respect, to come when she is called. She said, "You're not my real dad." 

NASA tried for days to get the bugs worked out and the communication problems fixed but the word came that the problem was on the rover itself and couldn't be fixed from Earth. That night at dinner, I looked into Spirit's brown eyes and realized there was nothing I could do and let her go from my life.

But I still had Opportunity. I nurtured her, I cared for her, I kept her clean. I bought her all the clothes she wanted. All the books. All the gummi bears and worms and sharks. Spirit resented this, I imagine. I don't know. But Opportunity would hug me when I got home--me, smelling of sauerkraut and toasted buns, her like Becton and grapefruit. She never wanted to let go. I kept her picture in my wallet and printouts from NASA's website--tormented patterns in the dust, pale dawns with Earth, just another blue-greens star, rising--in my cart.

Then the day came: my wife had taken the girls to the pool for their first swimming lesson. 

I was watching the news, eating a sandwich. "In science news: A mixed day for NASA today. The space agency reported the Opportunity rover discovered a pool of liquid water underneath a sheet of ice on the Meridiani Planum. But as the rover moved to take a sample, the ice gave way and the rover fell in to the water: sinking, sinking forever into the unknown blackness of the Martian sea, a sea none of us shall ever gaze upon, a sea none of us shall ever know."

Stunned, itching, I heard myself begin to siren and the phone began to ring.

[Forever after at

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