I went down to the sea each evening. It was
shockingly visible and looked like a storybook
version of itself – a red swirl, volatile and ancient.
Night after night I lay on the sand like a true
believer waiting for something to happen and,
while nothing changed or moved, the scale of
things was different. Space opened up. I felt small
and was glad to.
I’d been on the island for several weeks before my
husband was able to visit. I relished the quiet and
the simplicity as well as the good fortune of being
under clear skies at such a time. I thought I hadn’t
missed him. The night he arrived, I led him to the
beach and hurried ahead calling ‘Look! Look!
There it is!’ I realised then that I’d missed him
He took my arm as we skittered down the dunes
and allowed me to feel as if I’d arranged the whole
thing – the warm night, the soft sea, the red
planet. We lay on the sand as couples do who’ve
spent hundreds of nights together – close but
unentwined. I made myself say nothing about
what we were looking at. I let him decide.
‘It looks beautiful,’ he said, ‘and it looks like a
We’d been married for two years. The
acceleration towards a life together and the settling
down were over. What next? We went home and
a month later I started my new job at the museum.
It bothered him that my days were not easy to
explain. In the evenings he always had something
to say about the closing of loopholes, the tracking
of payments, the new ways drug money was being
moved around. His work was of such immediate
and obvious importance compared to mine. Even
so, I had thought that he was proud of me.
‘I deal with this world,’ he liked to tell people,
‘and my wife deals with the others.’
Then one day he said this instead: ‘She could be
out there discovering new stars and mapping the
universe but she spends her time in a basement
with a cupboardful of rocks. I just don’t get it, do
When he asked me what I did all day that made
me so silent when I came home, this is what I told
him. The boxes that come to me contain parts of
other worlds. I hold a meteorite in my hands and
have the same feeling I had lying on the beach and
measuring everything I felt against the distance
between two planets. It makes me think about
what really matters.
‘What do you mean, what really matters?’
‘What matters is what lies beyond us.’ I knew
how hollow it sounded and chose not to
understand the way he smiled.
I had to go to France to collect some samples from
a recently discovered crater in the Egyptian desert.
It had been spotted by someone scanning satellite
images for evidence of ancient settlements. What
he found was a 5,000-year-old crater that was
completely undisturbed. Because of the dry desert
air, it was pristine. You could trace the direction
from which the meteorite fell in the fanning of the
The scientists got there first. They wrote their
names on a piece of paper, put it in a bottle and
left. When they came back the bottle was gone.
‘So?’ my husband said. ‘They left their names. It
doesn’t mean they own what’s there.’
The acquisition of meteorite samples is not
straightforward. As soon as the scene of an impact
has been located, the debris is being collected. The
locals arrive first, then the dealers and the
scientists, all as businesslike and intent as those
who work their way through a battlefield taking
boots and wedding rings. Most of the rocks
disappear into private collections.
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