.....more great Fiction!
By Tyler Clark
James used to take me out to see the stars.
I remember, crystal-clearly, a night where I woke up and saw him sitting on the edge of the windowsill. He was wearing only his blue pajamas.
What are you doing, James? I asked. Aren’t you freezing? Shut the window.
No, no, no, he whispered. Come here. Come watch.
The words made me drowsy; what was the use of refusing? My head still swam with dreams, all drifting behind my eyes—wandering about my skull. I sat up in bed, chilled from the open window, and rubbed the crust from my eyelids. James wouldn’t come back to bed, but he held his hand out to me, waiting for me to come along. He could wait for me forever, I thought; he would never put his unfolded fingers away. I tossed the covers aside, and placed my feet on the floor, feeling the cold hardwood run up my back like icicles.
Hurry! He urged, the night won’t last forever.
The night never lasted forever. I stood up, clasped my fingers in his hand, and allowed him to pull me towards the window. He held me close, so close that his chest pressed against my back as he breathed. Soft and steady. Warm. He breathed warm words into my ear. Look out there, he said. Do you see the stars?
He pointed at them, reaching out into the black canvas in front of us. I could feel his beard scratch against my neck.
But the stars were hard to see. The city lights blocked them, outshining those blazing creatures so far away. It seemed a shame; the stars glowed for light years, only to be lost in the shadow of a skyscraper. But at least the city is beautiful, I said. At least the city has a light of its own.
But it’s nothing like the stars, James countered. Do you want me to show you?
Show me? How can you show me?
He held my hand against his chest, conscious of not letting go. It all seemed so easy to him; I don’t know how. He stood up on the ledge, lifting me up with him—and then, we left. The cold metal of the sill glided away from our feet, and we collapsed with the nightfall.
Flying felt different than I had expected. The world, the city, the lights, the people—they all ebbed away from us, a tide receding back into the depths. Or, rather, the stars came to us as we hovered in the air. They were altered up close; they grew less white, less pale. Their dyes bursting out as James and I floated past. Some were crimson; some were violet; many were magenta. One star—the tiniest one, no bigger than James’s palm—that star was sapphire. It twinkled above us, with rays of blue light that stroked my cheek.
This is my favorite star, James said. It was my favorite as well.
There were larger stars the farther we went. Some were bigger than our apartment. One was the shape of a tennis racket, and burned the color of mold. If I squinted my eyes, blurring the shades and the shimmers together, the streams of light slithered together like water. All the colors turned white; all the shapes melted into puddles.
When I looked down, I could see the faint glisten of the city streets. All of those lights were yellow, and shone like gold beneath our dangling legs.
Are you getting cold? He asked me.
Was I? Yes, I was getting cold. It seeped through my skin as sun did on concrete. I had forgotten about my body—that I was made of flesh and blood. In that moment, what could have existed beyond my eyes? Or my mouth in awe? Or my one palm entangled in James’s palm? But it all existed; every hair, every blood vessel, every bone, every finger, every toe. My whole body was there, suspended in the cloudless night.
We descended, sliding backwards into our windowsill. How long had it been? Only a moment, James responded. But I was so tired. It felt like hours. Good hours. Long hours spent soaking in the day at the beach—those kind of hours. And now, world-weary, we wrapped ourselves back up in blankets and fell asleep.
We tried to visit the stars every night.
Sometimes I would wait, unable to sleep—just like a child waiting for Santa to come on Christmas Eve—my eyes cracked open, peeking out into the sterile darkness. Is it time yet? Is it time yet? I already have my socks on; I remembered how cold my feet would get.
No, it’s not time yet. Go to sleep.
But when? How much longer?
Soon. Go to sleep.
At some point, eventually, always, sleep would come. I’d melt away into the blankets, into the sheets—the cotton and wool that wrapped around me and James. The mattress, the pillow, the nightstand, the lamp: I became them all. Sleep always came on so gradually, or did it happen all at once? One moment, awake—the next moment, asleep. Or was it like those color gradients? The top of the page coated in yellow, the bottom in red. At what point in the middle was orange created? Was that sleep? Which moment, which second, which blink of an eye, did sleep overtake me each night?
Waking up was always the same. An initial shock—a buzzing in the ears. Eyes rolling back out to the front. The dip in the mattress next to me; where is James? He isn’t in bed. The windowsill, that’s right. I have found him, though he was never lost. He looked, pensively, out into the streetlights. The stars are waiting. Come, grab my hand. The night doesn’t last forever. Our little sapphire star will miss us if we don’t come.
There was the occasional night that we didn’t go. I hated those nights; he probably did too. It was always decided before we went to bed—when Earth’s own star still blazed along the horizon. A look was all it took—tonight? No. No, I will not take you to the stars. I wouldn’t go anyway. Go screw yourself. Go fuck off.
Night would creep in. Guilt would wrench at my rib. I’m sorry. Me too. Can you hold me for a minute? Of course. Yes, keep stroking my hair. No, I’m not cold. Is it too late to go to the stars? Yes, I’m sorry. It’s ok—maybe tomorrow night. It’s a date.
Other nights we were too tired. Too sad. Too weary. He more than I. I thought my ribs would break, those nights—it’s always too surreal to see him like this. Want to talk about it? He never did. I love you; he loved me too. I’m here for you; he never doubted. Let me just lie down with you, James. Scoot over, the bed is too small for both of us. I’ll just lie on top of you—slide my hands under your back—stick my face in your sweater. See? We are okay. We will be okay. We don’t need the stars to be okay.
The last time we went to the stars wasn’t easy. It hurt him. He was so tired. No, James, please don’t. Let’s just stay here—let’s just sit with each other.
No, no, no, he whispered. One more time. One last time. We can say goodbye to our little blue star. Come, take my hand. The night doesn’t last forever.
The sky was so brilliant. The world was so far. The city, its music, its people—all so far away.
We almost fell coming back in through our window. We almost missed the glass pane. Would that have been so bad? Would I have minded if we fell forever? James clutched his chest when he landed on our carpet—tumbled to the floor, stuck on his knees, head turned away from me. His arms wrapped around his body a little too tightly. Are you okay? James, what’s wrong? He’s hurting. He’s in pain. Tired and world-weary. Shall I call someone? Shall I just hug you here on our carpet, waiting?
No, no, no, he said softly.
He reached out, stroking my cheek. His other hand still clutched his heart, forming a fist against his sweater.
Don’t be silly. I’m fine. Come closer. The sun’s coming up soon. Shhh, you have to be quiet. I have to show you something. Look! Come see, you’ll miss it.
He pulled his cupped hand away. Light poured out from his fingertips, dripping to the floor. Curling, twisting, swaying, dancing—it all trickled onto the carpet, onto our knees, coating us in shades of cobalt.
It’s our star. Our little sapphire star.
It’s melting—just like an ice cube.
Just for us. Come here, come close. Can you hear it sing? Stars sing when they die—but it won’t die alone.
It glowed and smoldered and glimmered. It bathed us in blue light and ebbed away, retreating like the tide. Our star, nothing but faded dust in James’s hand.
I remember James when the night gazes back at me. I count the stars. One there. Two here. The orange ones. The magenta ones. I remember James when my eyes drift across the gap in the galaxy—where a small sapphire star once glowed for all. I wonder if one day there’ll be no more stars. If every lover stole one from the heavens, holding it, gifting it, would there be any left to shine for the world?
Would it be worth it, to gaze into a black void each night, with only the moon for guidance? Perhaps someone would steal the moon as well.
But, with a star of my own, it would be worth it. I can still feel it on my hands, across my knees, in my chest. A pulsing blue light, twinkling in my skin, through my blood. It must have dyed my heart blue. It must breathe through every beat. Yes, the star lives on through me. Through James. The stars would live. Lovers would steal them from the sky and grow them on Earth—would plant them in soil and harvest their radiance—would shape bouquets and offer them by the dozen. The stars would live on. I must learn to fly and steal the stars. We must all learn to fly.
Just as James did for me.
Tyler Clark is a student at Northern Arizona University where he studies English Literature and German. He has recently moved back from Dortmund, Germany, where he studied abroad for a year.
For those who can't make it to the mecca that is Kelly Writers House, we gather once per month, in a traveling show sort of migration around South Florida to enjoy the companionship, the intellectual stimulation and the pure exhaustion of the mental challenge of a live close read!
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