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I know with some precision when I read this story: while I was a student in the US, between September 75 and June 79. I read it in a collection, but there were so many in that library I cannot remember which. I think it was already quite old at that time.

This short story is about two women about to leave Earth for some colony. Where, I forgot: the Moon? Mars? Venus or Mercury? (Well, you and I know this is impossible, but it is fiction isn't it?) an asteroid? a space station? They are not going too far. There does not seem to be FTL in that story. I'll come back to that later.

One woman is married but I don't remember the marital status of the other one being mentioned.

The husband of the first one has been gone for some time already, but she did not follow him immediately. She was afraid, she did not want to leave Earth. He kept asking her to join him. At long last, she decided to go, and on her last evening on Earth she discusses with her friend, who is also coming, about their regrets and their hopes, the latter finally having won on the former.

One detail I remember: she showed her friend a picture, that her husband had sent her, of the house he wants her to join him living in. The friend says "But it is your house here!" She answers "The house is identical, yes, but look at the background! This is not Earth."

I don't remember precisely, but maybe the landscape was going "up", if it were an annular space station rotating round its axis for centrifugal force simulating gravity, or maybe just a very "non-terrestrial" landscape.

On that last evening she sends a vocal radio message to her husband to tell him she is coming. The answer, the same way, comes after a reasonable time. (The colony is certainly within the solar system, and not even too far in it. The asteroid belt at the very farthest, I would estimate, as I mentioned above.)

The answer message is mostly garbled, but just enough of it reaches her for her to understand her husband is eagerly waiting for her, and the story end on a note of hope which, IIRC, dissipates her last regrets.

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    @user14111 Well, I read it over 45 years ago ! I know it was SF. The only short stories collections I read then were SF/Fantasy. I did read "mainstream" novels, but no "mainstream" collections. You should ask the author why he chose to tell this story as SF instead of about changing continents. But I am positive it was a move away from Earth. The phone call was not immediate answer. Not a long wait, not many hours, but definitely time it took for light to cross vast distances. And it was a short story. Room for regrets and hopes, not for conflicts.
    – Alfred
    Commented Apr 19 at 5:09
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    @user14111 In a sense, it was all about resolution of an internal conflict within both these women's minds, conflict between their fears and their hopes. It is true that by the time they were discussing they had essentially already made up their mind, but as long as the spaceship had not left, they still had the option to opt out. The positive (however garbled) answer to the phone call of the married one decided of the final commitment, but till it arrived, there was the potential suspense of one or both staying on Earth. They were not prisoners !
    – Alfred
    Commented Apr 19 at 5:19
  • @user14111 To tell the truth, I don't remember anything that would have prevented the author to write it in a "mainstream" context. The final phone call, (well, "voice call", rather, it took time before the answer) which came garbled because it had to cross such a vast distance could have been written differently. But I am sure that with some effort I could name dozens of SF short stories that could be told in a "mainstream" context, exploring wild territories on Earth.
    – Alfred
    Commented Apr 19 at 5:26
  • @user14111 Leaving Earth, per se, need not be totally definite. Spaceships did return from the colony : the photo of the house was a physical object brought back from the colony. But in a sense leaving Earth carries a stronger "feeling" of "definiteness" than changing continents would, though the spaceship trip need not have been longer than, say, a Europe to Japan trip at the time when ships had only sails, and no engines. But then there would not have been the option of an oral message with a delay much, much shorter than the trip.
    – Alfred
    Commented Apr 19 at 5:39
  • Got it! I'm vaguely ashamed it took me so long to ID a Ray Bradbury Martian Chronicles story. I feel like I should hand back my official SF fan badge :-) Commented May 1 at 8:14

1 Answer 1

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The Wilderness by Ray Bradbury.

The planet is Mars and the women are Janice and Leonora. The story is set on the eve of their departure for Mars.

Sixty million miles.” She moved at last to the window as if it were a deep well. “I can’t believe that men on Mars, tonight, are building towns, waiting for us.”

“The only thing to believe is catching our Rocket tomorrow.”

Janice raised a white gown like a ghost in the room.

“Strange, strange. To marry—on another world.”

“Let’s get to bed.”

“No! The call comes at midnight. I couldn’t sleep, thinking how to tell Will I’ve decided to take the Mars Rocket. Oh, Leonora, think of it, my voice traveling sixty million miles on the lightphone to him. I changed my mind so quick—I’m scared!”

“Our last night on Earth.”

The scene with the house is:

Leonora shook the note out of the envelope and read it aloud:

“ ‘Dear Janice: This is our house if you decide to come to Mars. Will.’ ”

Leonora tapped the envelope again, and a color photograph dropped out, glistening, on the counter. It was a picture of a house, a dark, mossy, ancient, caramel-brown, comfortable house with red flowers and green cool ferns bordering it, and a disreputably hair ivy on the porch.

“But, Janice!”

“What?”

“This is a picture of your house, here on Earth, here on Elm Street!”

“No. Look close.”

And they looked again, together, and on both sides of the comfortable dark house and behind it was scenery that was not Earth scenery. The soil was a strange color of violet, and the grass was the faintest bit red, and the sky glowed like a gray diamond, and a strange crooked tree grew to one side, looking like an old woman with crystals in her white hair.

“That’s the house Will’s built for me,” said Janice, “on Mars. It helps to look at it. All yesterday, when I had the chance, alone, and was most afraid and panicky, I took out this picture and looked at it.”

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  • Yes, this is it ! I just accepted it and upvoted it in addition. The system won't let me give the bonus for another 12 hours, but of course I'll give it to you in due time !
    – Alfred
    Commented May 1 at 10:22

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