Hyperstars

I was walking in the AM air

With all the street lights off.

These friends I know declined a walk,

So I left behind their scoffs.

 

On a bench, still wet with dew,

I gazed into the ink,

Dripping black and endlessly,

Were two stars along the brink.

 

They danced around each other,

Never losing sight.

All the other stars had vanished,

Overshadowed by their light.

 

Vivid white, they had burned–

The hottest flame of all.

They came in closer until they touched–

Fire now enthralled.

 

Their energy had mounted

To such great extremes,

That from here on Earth I heard

Echoed songs like fading dreams.

 

But it only was a moment

That the night lit up like day,

And a second later it was gone–

Dimmer stars were redisplayed.

 

I looked to buildings far and near

To see who else had seen.

The scene, however glorious,

Seemed to have trusted only me.

 

Had I chosen bravery

To share with those I knew,

The wonders of that strange night

Would’ve been lost on those few.

 

By accident I found a man,

Someone who I could trust,

And we danced around each other,

Until we finally touched.

 

He too saw those stars collide–

I know this for a fact.

When he told me, it was silence

That brought that moment back.

 

We only had one day to burn,

To mourn those stars that died.

But with him, those stars reminded me

What it meant to be alive.

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Hyperstars

The Perfect Couple

People would often ask the Von Brenner’s how they found each other.  It was, after all, unusual for people to meet couples with first names as similar as theirs were.  Most were satisfied when the Missus would wave her hand, flashing her well manicured nails, and say “How often does an Erin meet an Aaron?”  She’d wait three beats, look up with doating eyes at her husband, and add  sweetly “it was fate.”  With a small laugh, their audience would agree and drive the conversation down a different path.

Mr. Von Brenner’s coworkers, however, kept asking.  It had seemed to Erin and Aaron that their story didn’t satisfy their peer’s curiosity anymore.  “Tell us more,” said one particularly round man at the office’s holiday party.  His wine glass looked tiny between his large, inflated fingers.  The Von Brenner’s had become skilled deflectors.  Mr. Von Brenner mentioned something briefly about the election, which caught the attention of a thin woman nearby, who started to rant about immigration.  The round man gripped his wine glass tightly and interrupted her monologue.  As they argued, the Von Brenners slid past them and stood quietly by the window, smiling to each other.  Mr. Von Brenner’s eyes danced around his wife’s face, landing just to the sides of her bright blue eyes.  He requested that his wife get injections to hide the crows feet.  

“There are no crows feet,” she told him.  

“It’s preventative,” he responded.  

And so she set a reminder to make an appointment.

Their friends, or rather Mr. Von Brenner’s work associates, peered curiously at the Missus while she spoke of her hobbies.  “I enjoy cleaning,” she said with a smile.  “Cleaning up a mess is satisfying.  I just can’t explain it.  All my stress trickles away.”  She had lost herself in the thought.  Her eyes stared at nothing in particular beyond her audience, but she quickly reminded herself where she was.  “And when I’m not stressed, Aaron is not stressed.”  Opinions split.  Some of the women nodded and touched her arm while laughing “Yes, I know exactly what you mean–and some people just don’t get that cleaning can be relaxing!” Everyone else, however, rolled their eyes and sipped at their wine to avoid commenting altogether.

“I don’t even know what she has to clean,” they whispered to each other when they were sure the Missus wasn’t around.  “It’s not like they even have kids to clean up after.”  

“I bet she is having an affair,” one woman with expensive pearl earrings spat.  “Not that I would, but if you had that much free time… ”

“Or maybe she’s volunteering,” the woman’s husband interjected.  There was a pause, and then laughter.  There was always laughter.  The Missus, well aware she needed to remain composed to promote her husband’s image, kept her chin parallel with the ground and continued her own conversation around the corner.

The party had ended, and the couple had said nothing to each other until they walked through their front door and up the spiral staircase to their bedroom.  “One of your strengths is that you never let them see you sweat,”  said Mr. Von Brenner.  Like her, he had a sharp awareness about what other people thought.

“I have nothing to sweat about,” she said coolly, removing her jewelry and placing it on the vanity.

“You don’t have to act that way with me, Erin.  I don’t aim an arrow at you like those people do.”

“I’m not acting any way.”  The Missus crossed the room and unbuckled the straps on her high heeled shoes.  She removed the nylons from her legs very carefully, certain not to let them rip.  “I wish you would stop acting as if you know me better than I know myself,” she added, keeping her voice steady.

“I know you better than anyone else,” Mr. Von Brenner announced, removing his tie.  “I know you hate these parties, but you do them for me.  I know you hate high heeled shoes and makeup and moisturizers and shaving your legs, but I know you do them for me.”  He approached her and rubbed each of her arms with his smooth hands.  He looked down to meet her eyes.  He gave a soft smile and kissed her forehead.  “Now come to bed.”

More rapidly than she had imagined, her angers rose.  She closed her eyes and tried to breathe in deeply.  She counted to 10, then 20, then backwards, but the noise around her faded, and her heart pounded at her chest.  “I need to go to the kitchen,” she said.

“Now?  But we just got home.”  Mr. Von Brenner’s tone had changed.  No longer did it boom with authority, nor did was it deep and steady.  Though subtle, Erin could hear the softness in his voice.  It did not beg for her to calm down, but simply not to leave.  This was not their first conversation on the matter.

“I need to clean.”

There was silence.

“I will come back.”

Though he wanted to, he knew better than to offer his ear.  She never took it, neither to scream, nor yell, nor plea, nor cry.  He sat on the bed and struggled to untie his shoes with his arthritis-ridden hands.  His eyes darted up to see her walk out the door, barefoot and in only her slip.

The Missus reached the kitchen, her kingdom.  It smelled heavily of bleach.  The appliances glistened as she slid the dimmer switch up, illuminating the room.  She glided to a cupboard off to the side by the cellar stairs, almost completely lost in the shadows.  Inside laid an array of products: window cleaner, bleach, extra dish soap, boxes of detergent.  She reached past them and pulled out a cage, small with black rungs that shined like new, although it had been used many times before.

Inside lay a rat, once plump and full of fight but now very weak and cold.  Shaking, it only had the energy to spit at the Missus’ hand as she unlatched the trap and reached for it’s neck.  Soft hush sounds escaped her mouth.  Her hushes calmed the crying infants dragged into office parties as it did to the animals Mr. Von Brenner dragged back from the park.

The rat had stopped shaking.  Its body grew limp as the Missus held the scruff of his neck between her fingers.  She gently laid him against her table, and grabbed a small paring knife from a drawer.

With the first slice against his throat, her breathing slowed.  Sound came back to her, and the crispness of skin breaking came with it.  She swayed on her feet as the veins popped and drops of blood dotted her cheek and gown.  She imagined this is how other people felt swaying in the ocean’s waves as the mist splashed against their bodies.

Aaron listened for his wifes’ humming to stop before he came downstairs.  “Will you come to bed now?” he whispered in her ear, standing behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist.

“I can come to bed now,” she said, and turned her head to rub her nose against his cheek.  Aaron had grown accustomed to the distinct smell of rodent blood, but he had never gotten used to the thick, sticky feel of it against his skin.

In bed, Aaron spooned his wife who had washed her hands and face, but kept on her slip splattered lightly with red.  He breathed deeply into her hair and closed his eyes, imagining what it would be like to hold someone who, occasionally, held him back.

Erin laid awake, hyper aware of her husband’s flesh against hers and his breath against her neck.  Her skin crawled.  But as her stomach churned, she remembered to count her blessings– at least in her marriage, there were no facades.  

We are transparent, though quiet;  we have trust, not desire; we have an agreement, not love.

Both of them laid there, cold.

The Perfect Couple

Then, Now, Later, but Always

Elias then had blonde hair, not white, on his head and in his stubble.  Elias then rode horses in the midwest and traveled to South America to save the brown children from their own poverty, their own country, and their own people.  Elias now remembers Elias then as heroic and beautifully, tragically, romantically depressed.

Elias now closed the last cardboard box and wrapped it completely with packing tape so that nothing could fall out, nothing could climb in, and none of the movers could steal the things inside of it (though he knew they would try anyway).  The boxes were stacked, according to their weight — not size — along the hallway.  His watch ticked for Sergio and his crew to arrive and load the truck to Vermont, which was as far away from his niece that Elias could get while staying in the country (although Canada was starting to sound pretty good).  Elias looked at his gold watch tangled in the thick, white hair of his arms and calculated.  There was, indeed, enough time to go to the backyard before the movers came.

He stepped onto his dead lawn, took a small trowel from the bench, and walked to a tree that hadn’t born fruit nor flowers nor leaves in years.  His gardener, Xavier, had tried to remove the tree several times when he first noticed its trunk hallow and the dirt around it was dead and dry.  Each time, Elias had run out screaming at the boy.  “Get the fuck away from my tree!”  he shouted when the chainsaw started to rumble.

“But Mr. Walters, the tree is dead.  With a strong enough wind it could blow down and hit your house.  It’s a hazard, sir.”  Elias did not listen then, nor the other times he ran across Xavier with an ax trying to chop it down quietly, with subtlety, piece by piece.

“Do you really expect me to believe that it’ll fall?”  Elias shouted.  “It’s a fucking tree, for god’s sake.  It only has one job, and that’s to stay in place!”  Elias fired Xavier, and no other gardener had been hired to replace him.  The tree sat in his backyard with ax wounds, and his grass and flowers soon faded from vibrant greens to piss yellows, and finally into the the flat brown of the earth.  The plants laid still, just as they were, flattened by footsteps, without the bother of being ripped up and carried away to the city compost bin.

Elias now stood at the base of the wounded tree facing his house with his feet together.  He counted as he walked toward his screen door.  “One…two…three…four…”  on his fifth step he turned sharply and counted five more steps towards the shadowbox fence.  He stopped, knelt down, and dug.

Underneath the dead soil, the rocks, and a box that held the bones of his third cat — Draper — were clumps of tinfoil.  He pulled each one out and stacked them between his legs as he refilled the hole, tossing Draper in unceremoniously along with the rocks and dirt.  With care, he stuffed the tinfoil into a fanny pack that he kept hidden under his shirt.

Elias now kept his money in pockets of land in his backyard, wrapped in foil to keep it clean.  Elias later will hide it in the freezer, in the same foil that was tucked safely under Draper.

Elias now looked at his boxes, knowing without a doubt that he is missing rings and paintings and rare sculptures from South America, and knowing without a doubt that it was his niece Adaline who had stolen them.

Elias later would wonder what his missing art would have looked like in his Vermont townhouse.  Elias always had believed that the only way to be safe was to hide the most precious things away, like deep into the earth.  Elias now forgot what exactly he had buried and where, and artifacts remained scattered underground.

Adaline now had painted a tribute, a portrait of her estranged relative — her last relative —  in loving light, with blonde hair in the South American city he saved so heroically.  Adaline now had sent it to her uncle’s new place in Vermont, and it rested at his doorstep, waiting for him.  Elias later would scream when he unwrapped the package, and Elias always would watch his security cameras.

Then, Now, Later, but Always

Turners to See

Turners were mostly yellow.  The sky, the sea, the reflection of the boat in the water and its image through the mist, were yellow.  I walked through halls and halls of yellow paintings, all of boats, all using minimal lines to create the cliffs and the birds and the water and the horizon.  They merged together, a collective blur.  I glanced slightly to the left, slightly to the right, as I passed.

Through large arches hung a Turner like no other in the museum.  It was black.  The oils swirled in grays and bulged from the canvas, crawling to me.  A ship — the same ship from the yellow paradises? — was engulfed in a storm.  The paint was a vortex, consuming us whole.  The sails whipped in the wind and to its mercy.  The vessel dipped into the sea, which rushed into every crevice, but I was the one swelled and weighted with salt water. Hours passed, and I walked out off the hall, still alone and waterlogged; and there were no more Turners to see.

Turners to See

Pointing Fingers

Tyler and his sister Tara ran around downtown counting pigeons in the allies.  They did it with their BB gun and a packet of pellets Uncle Aaron bought for their 16th birthday.  “One!” Tara shouted, pointing up at the pigeons, as Tyler practiced his quick draw and the reflexes of his trigger finger.  “Two!  Three!  You keep missing!”  she shouted over the echoes of airplane engines and car horns.  She turned to the carnage of broken pigeons she had left behind them in the alley, the ones she shot with success.   Some of them were merely stunned and sat there panting on the asphalt.  Some of them lay flat and lifeless on the ground with the pellet still lodged in their skulls.

Without asking, or warning, Tara wrenched the gun from her twin’s hands and ignored his yelp when the trigger caught his index finger.

“Tara, you stupid–!”  Tyler wheezed, holding his finger tightly in his left hand.

“Let’s see,” she commanded, but Tyler wouldn’t release the grasp on his finger, too afraid that if he loosened his grip the entire finger would fall into the dirt of the street and become covered with loose pigeon feathers that still quivered from the breeze.  “We gotta know if you need to go to the hospital,” she snapped, getting her fingers between his hands and prying them apart.

He was strong and in pain, but she was vicious.  Her fingernails were jagged pieces of glass, so thick and sharp that girls in her homeroom sometimes asked Tara to use her nails to pick the locks of the teacher’s desk so that they could steal the candy and test questions inside.  Tyler’s fingers started to peel back from each other.   Just as he feared, the flesh had ripped open.  The bone twisted around until he was pointing to himself, though his palm faced the ground.  His insides, the torn tissues, felt the air for the first time.  He was exposed.

“WHY?”  Tyler cried, so loudly that it snapped some of the wounded pigeons out of their daze.  So loud that it echoed off the sides of the buildings, ping-ponging until all the space between them was completely filled with “why”.

You, his finger spit at him, you know exactly why.

Tyler stood paralyzed, his rapid breathing instantly became shallow, as if his chest expanding and caving too greatly would agitate the finger further.

You knew this was coming, his finger hissed to him.

“I don’t know what you mean”  he whispered, no longer registering the pain that came with a broken finger, nor noticing the blood splashing onto the concrete below him (and spraying the pigeons that still laid there).

“What’s going on?”  Tara asked.  Her raspy voice high enough, her face pale enough, her backward steps shallow enough to let Tyler know that she could hear everything too.  Tyler’s face matched his twin’s– their once dark complexion was now pasty and sick, becoming the color of the milky flesh around his finger, still losing blood.

Gracie was never shy about telling you…

“Shut up.”  Tyler’s eyes darted quickly between Tara and his finger, which continued to twist so that it pointed at him no matter how he rotated his hand.

…that you were the only thing worth living for…

“Stop it–” he shouted, grasping his good hand over his mutilated digit, squeezing more blood out.  It flowed over his fist, ran down his hand, and dripped into the ever growing pool that raced towards the grounded birds.

“What is it talking about, Tyler?  Who the hell is Gracie?”

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” He said quickly, looking up with big, pleading eyes.

She shook her head.  That was never the right way to start a sentence.  She had heard this time and time again from their father, but never from Tyler.  She was surprised how much he sounded like their dad in that moment.  Tyler didn’t speak to him most days, so she never expected him to pick up on father’s bad habits.

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” said Papa, when he drove them 2 hours late to school.

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” when only her clothes were used to soak up the water from the overflowing toilet.

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” when the money was missing out of her sock drawer, pillow case, and jewelry box.

“It’s not my fault, Tara–” when her father twisted words and sentences into elaborate labyrinthes, hoping she would get lost trying to follow the path.  She was lost for years, but found the key to getting out:  only listen to the last sentence.  There she’d know if it was really his fault.  So far, it always was.

Her mind wandered through these thoughts as she recognized all the features of Papa on Tyler, features she had never noticed that they shared before.  Growing up, Tyler’s face was only his.  Perhaps it was because of their starkly differing personalities that she had never seen the family resemblance.  But now she looked on, running her father’s famous words in her head; they faded into the background and synched with Tyler’s voice.

She noticed the heaviness of his lids, exactly like dad’s:  thick and weighed down with too much skin and long eyelashes.  The pores on his nose were inherited too: large and planted with thick black hairs, too far north to make contribute to his sparse mustache.  Small patches of bald skin freckled his beard, in the exact same pattern as father’s.

What was strange to her was the water in his eyes.  She had never seen that before.  Perhaps it was new.  She found herself transfixed, and searched in her databased mind what the tears could mean.  As her own voice took up the space in her head, she wished she was listening to what Tyler was saying, or understood him through his gasps for air and clumsy words.

She would have heard all about Gracie Tran from Lincoln High.

And how Tyler had dated her briefly.

She would have known about how Gracie watched her mother kill herself, how she convinced Tyler no one could love him as much as she did, or how she called him the n-word when she got angry.

Tara would have heard how her brother stayed for months after he had stopped loving her, afraid Gracie would overdose on sleeping pills if he left, and how it was the hardest thing he ever had to do.

Instead she heard this, the last sentence crawling painfully from his throat:

“She’s dead because of me.”

The BB gun fell loosely from her hands.  The blood below her brother still running rivers down the street, streaming around their pricey sneakers, split between the bodies of pigeons laying still in the street.

“But I am not a killer,” he said.  The sound of airplane engines and car horns echoed between them.  Lost in the city sounds, minds strangely blank, both their eyes now noticed the lines of red against on the pavement.  The color vivid against the gray of the street, the darkness of the alley, the overcast in the air.  “I am not a killer,” he repeated, fainter, softer, before his head hit the ground, his hand still clutched tightly around his pointing finger.  It rested on his heart.

Tara chose just to stand there.

Pointing Fingers

What You Cannot Replace

“The spider is our pet now, children, but one we can’t touch.  We leave him in the corner above the lamp. And we don’t hurt his webs.

“Charlie, you do not blow on the spider.  Do you see how he jumps and wiggles about?  He think’s there’s a storm and he panics.  Do you want to make your pet panic?”  Mary looked down at her son.  Charlie huffed and crossed his arms.  His sister, Emma, kept her eyes trained on their new pet.

“Yes, Emma, we can name him.  No, we cannot name him Mommy, because that’s my name.  No, we cannot name him Daddy either.

“Charlie, let your sister decide the name.  You named the dog and the fish, and now we have two pets named ‘Charlie.’”

Emma thought for a while.  Though only a year younger than her brother, she was never quite as creative as Charlie was.  And here she was, with the important task of naming a new pet.  Charlie looked up at his mother.

“No, we cannot ‘just kill it’, Charlie.  Can you make a new spider?  No, I didn’t think so.  Don’t destroy what you cannot replace.”  Charlie’s eyes shot down to the floor.  He stomped his foot.  He could not name the spider, he could not touch the spider, he could not kill the spider.  The spider might as well have never bothered to exit.

Charlie turned his body and marched over to the couch where he sat, sulking and breathing heavily.  He stared at Charlie, swimming between rocks in the fish bowl.  Another pet he wasn’t allowed to touch.

“It’s okay, Emma.  Your brother is being a poor sport.  We’ll let him mope until he is ready to join us again.”  Emma moved closer to her mom, holding the fingertips of her hand and humming.  She stared endlessly at the spider, studying its thin, brown, branch-like legs, and trying to think of names outside of her family.

Emma’s mom was also thinking about names, or rather, one in particular: Roland.  If Emma choose any name but that, it would be okay.  It already belonged to a loved one.  Mary kept her head high, and was glad that her son was pouting on the couch and her daughter started so intensely at the spider that she did not blink.  It meant no eyes were on her, and unwatched, she could reflect.  Her memory worked in faded colors, like the old home movies she sometimes watched when she couldn’t fall asleep.

Though staring at the spider, she could see the room she grew up in, white, and its hardwood floor, glossy.  She felt the rug she was rolling up, stiff, and the metal from Roland’s cage under her bed, cold.  She enjoyed the pitter patter that his toes made wandering across the hardwood flooring.  He was smart, and she had taught him to grab ahold of her hand when he was hungry.  He’d grip her finger firmly, and she’d feed him a piece of bread tightly coiled into a ball.

Roland had come from her 4th grade teacher, who did not want to keep the pet rat in the class after school had ended.  Mary was very skilled at forging both of her parent’s signatures.

Though only 10, Mary had learned a lot that year with Roland.  It was true that her father normally knocked on doors, and it was true that she could quickly sweep Roland back into his cage and under the bed when he came to visit her.  But these truths were not absolute, she found out.

Without hearing the light switch flick on, without hearing footsteps in the hall, and without hearing the door knob turn, Mary was caught by surprise.  And so was her father, who stood at the doorway with a bowl of popcorn.  The bowl slammed to the floor, scattering kernels and warm popcorn .  Both of her father’s hands gripped the door frame at the sight of Roland running across the wooden floor, his feet slipping.

There was yelling, mostly from fear, and mostly from her dad trying to protect his daughter from such a dirty creature.

There was so much yelling that he could not separate his voice from hers.

So he did not hear her say that his name was Roland.

And that she was his friend.

Or that his favorite snack was bread.

And she did not hear the bones break.

But she saw the neck twist.

And she saw his kicking legs drop loosely beside him.

And learned that blood can sometimes seep from the mouth.

Emma finally took her eyes off the spider.  She gazed, instead, at her mom.  “‘Leggy’ is a fine name, Emma.  From now on, he is Leggy.”

What You Cannot Replace

Broken Pen

The president signed an order to stop digging individual graves for the astronomers who were committing suicide.  Your sister turned off the TV in disgust and slammed the door on her way out of your apartment.  That night, your bartender refused to discuss the matter, gesturing to the full tip jar.  “Opinionated bartenders don’t get paid,” she whispered.  Your cat was willing to listen to you, but he fell asleep as you talked.

“Why is it only the astronomers, Paddy?”  you asked.  “What do they see that we don’t?  And do you think we’ll get to visit the mass graves when all this blows over?”

When the night skies cleared in November, no longer fussed with overcast keeping the ground warm, the president signed another order.  Curfew was at sunset.

Your sister made signs out of cardboard and glitter and wore them around her body.

“Government can’t tell me what to do!”  She shouted, gently shaking the excess glitter back into it’s bottle.  She invited you along in her after-hours protest.  You refused to go with her so you could bail her out of jail the next day, which you did.

Your bartender became looser with her lips, now not so concerned about losing tips.  “No one drinks well in the sunlight hours.”  She invited you to drink more, buy a bottle or two to take home.  And some shot glasses.  And don’t you need a couple of kegs, just in case of a surprise party?  Though you hated to see her disappointed, you said no because you needed an excuse to come and see her the next day, which you did.

The sun started to set.  The sky grew red.  Even when the last string of sunlight licked the edges of the clouds, it was only with different shades of scarlet.   It missed the gold it once held.  Seeing the reds turn to gray made you realized how much you missed the colors in between.

You passed by the shops on the way home.  All were closed.  Some of the smaller businesses tried to stay open, but the cop cars mosied by.  The owners saw them and flipped their signs:

“we’re fucking closed”

Handwritten with a sharpie.

Made for no one to read except the cops who patrolled at night.

The police roamed in partners, each watching the other carefully to make sure they didn’t look up by accident.  Just in case.

They didn’t look up.

No one looked up.

No one was allowed to look up.

Ever.

Above your head, a light bulb flashed on.  No one could see it–they couldn’t look up.  But that was the point, after all.

At home you sat on the couch in your boxers–the ones with no useable elastic left in it and a hole ripped across the entire seat.  Your sister asked you why you even owned them when you complained.  “There’s no point in new underwear when there’s only the cat at home.”

The couch had lumps.  Lumps you never noticed protruding out so much before.  They were harder than you remembered too, and you wondered if it was really old filler, or if this was where the remotes went–eaten by the cushion.  Digested, but never passed.  Paddy liked to rest his chin on them, so you never bought another couch.  What if the rigid chin-rests were what kept him there next to you?

In the morning, as soon as the dawn broke, you woke up.  So did everybody else.  Everyone was desperate to find hours now that they had lost the ones at night.  They needed alarms, but your eyes shot open as soon as the sun crept in through the window.  It was as if you’d been awake the whole time, but kept your eyes shut to keep out the darkness.  Did time even pass?  The hair in your beard, longer and grayer, said yes.

Paddy jumped off your lap as you stood straight up from the couch.

You visited your sister.  Her curlers were still in, peeking out from underneath a tinfoil hat.  She offered to make you one, but you refused because your thoughts weren’t as interesting as hers–at least that’s what you told her.  She shrugged and nodded her head, agreeing with you completely.  She didn’t catch the smirk on your face.  If she did, she’d know how you appreciated her innocence and her authenticity.  Since you were children, you relied on her honesty, and she had never let you down before.

You visited the bar–or rather, you visited the bartender.  She drank with you now.  Anything to make it look like sales didn’t drop as much as they really did.  She told you her boss was a dick.  “Who’s ever heard of a quota at a bar?”  She didn’t look into your eyes, where you were certain affection lingered just behind the surface.  If she did, she’d know you just like to talk to her–to hear the rhythm of her words, soft and subtle.

You bought two bottles of chardonnay and a keg to take home.  There was an opening for a hug as you say goodbye.  You don’t know why you didn’t take it.  The eye contact, prolonged and steady, was begging for a break in body movement.  Instead, she  shouted that she’d see you tomorrow as the door swung shut behind you.

All the shops were open still.  Sunset wasn’t for hours.  The hobby store was the opposite way from your house, but you walked there anyways.  It was the only place you had seen telescopes before.

A very tired man stood underneath a sign written in large, black words:

“Telescopes–90% off”

He slumped over the counter, resting his eyes in the palms of his hands and letting tuffs of stringy brown hair weave through his fingers.  To the right, you saw boxes and boxes of telescopes, all lined up and thick with dust.  He didn’t say anything when you brought one up, the original color of the box visible only where your fingers laid on it.

He just laughed.  Loudly.

This on its own would have been alarming, but the film of salt water glossing his eyes humanized him.  Every tear that escaped him whispered “If only I had your balls, man.”  You knew he wouldn’t tell anyone.

You used the rest of the daylight to set it up.  The instructions weren’t clear, nor were the pictures.  But you could do this.  At one time in your life, you had assembled furniture, computers, and drones.  Hell, you constructed an entire shed–with shelving!–for your ex-girlfriend’s parents.  Ignore that the wind blew it down and crushed the dog a week later.  You still did it.

Everything was ready by nightfall.  You snuck onto the roof of your apartment building, telescope in tote, when the sky had completely faded to black.

What could all those astronomers have seen to make them want to die?

Your notebook sat beside you, the corner of the pages lifting lightly in the breeze.  A pen sat on top to jot down any quick notes, anything that could help everyone know–just in case you ended like the astronomers.

The city didn’t bother funding electricity to street lamps anymore.  The horizon was lost between the ground and the sky, and slowly, windows in apartment buildings vanished as their lights went out.  Above you were all the stars, the missing gold from the sunsets.  It was here, thick like wet beach sand spread across a stone.  Your eyes watered and bounced from star to star, all at once and hardly moving.

The cops didn’t look up, didn’t see you standing on the roof that night.  With all your discipline, you pulled your eyes from the beauty above to the rubber ring of the telescope eyepiece.

You focused on the moon, on stars, on planets.  The rings of Saturn distinct and crisp.  The craters of the moon deep and rough.

You studied them for hours, your mind laying amongst the celestial bodies.

You didn’t have to wait for your sister to see your smile to tell her she was important.

You didn’t have to design excuses to visit the bartender.

You didn’t have to quit engineering after the dog died.

Or follow all the rules in school.

Or go to college–or graduate.

Or sit on a lumpy couch for the cat.

You knew it all now.  The texture of the moon, scarred, like your heart.  Your entire life as still as Saturn’s rings looked.

They found your body in the morning.

You left your notebook on the roof.

Only one line, scratched with a broken pen.

But no one could read your writing.

Broken Pen