Originally posted 2015-10-23 12:00:04.
Staring out the passenger window, I studied the sky, seeking out my old friends- Cygnus, Drago, Aquarius, Hercules… I tried to locate them but the streetlights got in the way and the moon was too bright to see them all. There was magic in driving at night. The darkness sparked my imagination, and brought out my stars.
As early as I could remember, I loved the night sky. My mother would call me her firefly for the way I’d run around the yard with my flashlight. Sometimes, my father would drive us into town and the lights would change. I recalled one night when I was too small to sit in the front seat, but my dad let me anyway. I peered out of my window along the highway and saw more lights below me than above. “Daddy, why did the stars fall down?” I had asked. I didn’t remember his response, but something about wishing on falling stars…I smiled to myself. Now I knew that if a star like Betelgeuse ‘fell’, it would consume our little solar system up to Saturn and consume our entire planet in fire. I remembered taking astronomy in high school, one of the few science options that was actually interesting, and watching a video of proportions of the universe. That got me hooked and I started following Nasa’s updates online and learning everything I could from documentaries. I learned that we had more to fear from the invisible asteroids and meteors than neighboring stars. Not to mention the troubling fact that our moon was slowly falling out of orbit.
I rested my forehead on the window of the pickup. I wouldn’t talk about stars with Jim, I think that was his name. He told me, but that was three or four beers ago. He was a working man from the huge warehouse that employed half of our town’s population. He wouldn’t be the type to talk about stars. A good Christian boy who strongly believed that God created the universe wouldn’t allow the science of the Big Bang Theory to get in the way. Dark matter holding the universe together would probably be construed as evil, and he wouldn’t get the significance of the red shifts of light in all visible stars. I didn’t even attempt to mention string theory. No one went home with a weird girl who talked nonsense all night, no matter the cleavage. He’d have been polite, but his clear blue eyes would glaze over. His white smile, perfected by childhood braces and maintained with the smell of mouthwash, at least before the alcohol, would be frozen on his face as he labeled me as ‘crazy’.
As it was, he was lonely and wanted to meet new people, bringing him to my side of town. Conversation in the bar had been about football, high school, memories, how you could learn whatever you wanted with the internet and netflix… but we never got to stars. We danced in the bar, kissed a bit, and that brought us to our current state. We were en route to his place, an apartment in one of the seedier complexes. I didn’t mind- I’d been to worse and it wasn’t a motel. I didn’t even feel the eyes of judgment from the bartender and regulars as I left with this large specimen of a man. One of the regulars once asked if I had started charging, but now it had become normal. “There goes Shelly, slutting it up again…” would probably be the talk tomorrow when I went to retrieve my car.
I turned back to the stars. They were easier than people. They didn’t change, and if they did, we wouldn’t know for another twenty to thirty years. A few weeks ago, I looked up my ‘birthday star’; Formalhaut from the Pisces constellation. If I looked at this star on my twenty-fifth birthday this January, I’d be seeing an image of how that star existed twenty five years ago when I was born. We keep thinking about time travel, but light already got it down- that star had been projecting its image across the spans and darkness of space for twenty five years, my entire life… thoughts like that made me feel small, insignificant, and made my troubles seem to evaporate.
Suddenly, I wanted to be alone, back on the road with my music and my lights. If the moon wasn’t so bright, the conditions would be near perfect to see the twinkles in the sky. I would stop in some field along the road, and lay on my back to stargaze. I still had a blanket, laser pointer, star map, and flashlight in the trunk of my car. At one time I had a telescope, but it fell victim to a rear-end fender bender. Telescopes weren’t cheap- not the good ones anyway. So I resigned myself to the naked eye. Heh. Naked.
A smile touched my lips. The few times I had brought a man with me to introduce them to my stars, they distracted me with their kisses and fingers. Making love in abandoned fields was exciting, but it was too cold for that now. The bite of frost was in the air.
Jim wouldn’t be into it anyway, he wasn’t a romantic type that would enjoy being under the canopy of starlight. I wondered if college boys would be more intellectual. Maybe if I went for a degree I’d find someone who would appreciate my stars. At least men still appreciated my body, which filled a different void. When a day came that they didn’t, maybe I’d wake up alone and full of regret with the loss of my years, but then maybe not. I was happier than the girls in town who got married right out of high school and then divorced two years later.
“Are you all right?” Jim… no I think his name was Mike, turned to me.
“Sure,” I smiled.
“You want to go home?” he asked. He seemed nervous. Maybe he wasn’t accustomed to one night stands. That would surprise me with his body and smile.
“Rather not. I like your company,” I gave him as real a smile I could. They always bought it. He smiled back, growing in confidence.
“All right, well, we’re almost there, I thought I’d give you an out if you wanted it.”
“I’m good,” I smiled. It would be better if REM was on the radio, but I wasn’t going to suggest it as some country song twanged in the night.
The pick-up pulled up to a parking lot and Mike.. or was it Jim after all?… got out and helped me down. “Moon’s bright tonight,” he commented, looking up into the marble disc in the sky.
“Blotting out my stars,” I answered.
“What was that?” He asked.
“Oh, nothing,” I grinned mischievously, taking his hand. “Let’s go.”
I followed the man into his apartment, the brightness of the stairway burning my eyes. Tomorrow morning, he would be like all the others. His teeth would be less straight, his eyes would be a little less enchanting, and I’d wish I could find someone who cared about the stars and believed in the magic of darkness.