Second Thoughts

By Rosemary Jones

                                   

After the accident, the astronomer’s wife tended to him, but forbade him to sit upstairs under the skylight or to climb the ladder that jutted out of it in case he might be tempted to try once more to kiss, if not the North Star, which had frizzled his face and was clearly not interested in pursuing any kind of connection scientific or otherwise, then a lesser ball of silver. Star kissing, she had read once, was only for the very fit and quick. Youth, in other words. Not for recapturing youth.

For months he could not read, and listened to the radio and the pines whistling to each other and the crackle of things in the woods, like hidden remnants of his past life coming to life, startling him, then subsiding.

It was a good thing she had finished making the wizard gown because it was easier than other clothing to slip over his head, and then she carefully dressed the burns on his chin, and his eyes, though they would never quite be the same again. She tried to interest him in going away on a vacation. This was meant to be a vacation, he said.

She did not think of revenge as such. After all, she was the one who encouraged him to star gaze in the first place; at the time it seemed romantic, especially when the two of them did it together in the back of their first garden, squashed up against the garden shed; sometimes this led to other things and the stars showered silvery beams that shot like fireworks through their acrobatic limbs. But as she got older, her interest in inside activities took over, and besides she wasn’t nearly as lithe or slim-bellied or adventurous as she’d been then. Her cook books beckoned, cleaning the cupboards beckoned, books of faraway constellations beckoned, but not the act of star gazing itself. It seemed too much like naval gazing.  And the sewing machine beckoned. A need for thrift, a need to make things out of patches and scraps. Like his wizard outfit, for instance, completed the night of the terrible event: the star kiss.

So now he sat in the back room with a view to the woods and the river. Outside the door a bed of spring lupins flourished and their scent wafted in, and he could feel, or would eventually, more grounded.

For old time’s sake she lingered by the book-shelves and opened his astronomy books. Some of their spines had cracked, and occasionally a dusty page fell and fluttered to the floor – pages about universes and galaxies and doorways in and out of them. There were new books too: Holiday Shacks on the Moon, Space and Spaciousness: the Extra-Solar Dimension. She flipped through them after dinner, as the astronomer sat in his rocking chair, trying she could see, to control the itch in his fingers, his knuckles yearning for the heft of his favorite worn brass telescope. She had confiscated it and hidden it in her largest sewing basket. When the moon rose over the water, and the birds had fallen silent for the night, she took it out and placed the telescope to her eye, creeping up the stairs while he dozed, to look for herself. Once when she spotted the North Star veering rapidly into view she thought she and it might have a heart to heart. Really, she’d say, you shouldn’t have done it. But I don’t blame you, truly, I don’t. And the North Star seemed to wave at her, rocking on its haunches a little cheekily, as if to say, you can’t catch me.

That was before she found the new space age fashion magazine. Now that, that was really tempting. It gave her second thoughts about the world of star gazing. She liked white. Always had. The sheer force of it. The color looked like the sound planets made when they laughed. Or sang, and they did sing, she had heard them out here in the woods at night when her husband was sound asleep dreaming, she supposed, of stars.

She began a new project. The space suit project. In town she picked up assorted zips and buttons and of course, the right cloth, ordered through an esoteric magazine called Other Earths. White, like parachute material. She unfolded it, smelled it, pressed her rosy cheek against it. Gorgeous. She could see a whole line of space fashions unfolding before her. She saw them swimming over someone’s outline on a catwalk. But the place they most vividly came to life in her imagination was on her own homely figure. She’d look dynamite. She’d look like a floating moon. She ordered needles, industrial strength.

***

While he whistled and wheezed his way through a dream, she called out to the littlest star in the night skies. Its pale twinkle edged closer. I hope I haven’t lost my acrobatic skills, she said, as she swung from the top rung of the ladder jutting out of the skylight into an arch of blue-black nicked with silver, and hauled herself over to the star’s tip. For several minutes she dangled, happy and buoyant in her new suit, star gazing.

You should have called photographers, the little star said. You look so planetary. Like one of us.

Thank you, she said.

Down below, she watched her husband open the lid of the sewing basket, pull out his telescope and snap it to his good remaining eye.

Higher now, she said to the star. She pulled one hand off the star-tip. In a last gesture, she touched her fingers to her lips and sent a kiss to the earth below. She loosened the other hand, and finally, like a cream silk blimp released from its strings, she floated up and away.

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Rosemary Jones is an Australian who lives and works in Connecticut. Among others, her work has been published in Australian literary journals, Cezanne’s Carrot, Mad Hatters’ Review, Bent Pin Quarterly, Denver Quarterly, Sonora Review, and is forthcoming in Gargoyle.

Published on June 27, 2009 at 10:45 am  Leave a Comment  

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