Venus

The scented air above Seven Rivers carried hints of pine, jasmine, honey, and lemongrass, along with a heady potpourri from the chemical aphrodisiacs pumped out by vents along the stone pathways. People streamed up and down the riverwalks, and along the bridges spread between them. Lovers, friends, groups of couples. Crowds of shouting college kids on spring break, their eyes fairly bulging out of their heads from the whippets of nitrous oxide that Venusian children sold on the riverwalks for pennies.

Adario watched his little friend, Miga, as she hustled her own stock of gigga-sacks. They floated like balloons from a clutch of ribbons in her hand. Adario wondered how they made the sacks do that. He leaned against the outer wall of an old barbecue shop called Afrodite’s, where beef imported from the planet’s finest cloud ranches were roasted over pools of lava pumped from beneath the surface.

Adario tuned his guitar. He was due at Flyrunner’s in half an hour, where every Tuesday and Thursday he played and sang songs of ancient Mexico while the crowds drank gold-leaf margaritas and ate tortillas cooked on bricks of cooled magma. Adario put his fingers to the guitar strings and chorded a C minor. He listened to the cool, sad, radiant tone — and he thought of Leah, the woman he’d met on the train going to the Toronto Continental Spaceport.

Leah’s hair was long and blonde, and glinted with streaks of dirty blue that Adario liked. She was headed for Pluto. She was small and soft and had a slight tummy that Adario could see through the bottom of her wispy-white blouse. When she saw Adario’s guitar case, she insisted that he play. “Only if you sing along,” Adario said. Leah wasn’t a very good singer, but Adario didn’t mind. He played what she wanted to hear. She wanted to hear “Violins” (that year’s biggest pop smash). Then she wanted to hear hymns and rock and roll songs and folk tunes. She wanted to hear the oldest song Adario knew — so Adario played “Sweet Home Chicago,” and Leah screamed with delight and clapped her hands. They played and played, and the time passed, too fast, and suddenly the landscape changed into the grids of road and traintrack that converged toward the enormous silver thistle of the Toronto Spaceport. Leah looked into Adario’s eyes with the sudden knowledge that they would likely never see each other ever again — and if they did, it could only be years, decades from now.

The last song that came into Adario’s mind, as the bells began to ring and the people began to bustle and the conductor came over the speakers and told everyone to prepare for arrival — the last song that came into his head, as he looked into Leah’s eyes and felt that sharp pang — this last song: it started with a C minor . . .

The lonnng and wind-ing roooad, tha-at leeeads, to yooour doooor . . .”

He kicked himself off the wall of Afrodite’s and stepped out across the stone riverwalk, headed toward the bridge that ran over Second River and across the side of Mount Colette. He sang as loudly as he could, and more than a few people joined in.