Sky Full of Stars

JONAH: When I was seventeen and the entire world was mine, the stars fell. Just for one night, they rained down on the flat, flat plains of Skye, Nebraska, and I understood how the town got its name.

When I was seventeen, I was like a new moon circling a young planet. My life had only been pocked by small miseries; my parents were still married, I had never been dumped, I had been to only one funeral for an aunt I didn’t remember. Skye didn’t have much to offer other than a three-hundred-and-sixty degree view of the universe, but I’d never been anywhere else, so I didn’t know any better.

When I was seventeen, I was in love with Nora Bridges. I’d pretty much been in love with her since fifth grade, so it wasn’t news to anyone. In eighth grade, we’d picked out the old, abandoned farmhouse we were going to buy when we officially became adults and could tell people we’d been kissing.

NORA: When I was seventeen and the entire world was mine, the stars fell. Just for one night, they rained down on the flat, flat plains of Skye, Nebraska, because that was all the longer they needed to come and get me.

Jonah came to get me that night in his faded brown pick-up truck his daddy had given him the day he got his license. We spent more time pushing that truck off the road than riding in it, but it didn’t matter, because it was his. Like the farmhouse. Nobody else thought it was worth much, but that was because they were just looking at what was in front of them.

“Hi, Peaches,” Jonah said, leaning out the window of the pick up toward where I stood on the front porch. The night was filled with the smell of his truck running rich, the pig farm a few miles down the road, and the hugeness of things unseen.

“You’re not going to come in for some tea?” I asked him. I didn’t really want him to; my parents would talk to him then, and even if they didn’t say anything, he’d know something was different.

Jonah grinned, his white teeth more visible than anything else in the deep blue twilight. “If I turn off the truck, it’s not gonna start again tonight.”

“Like that’s different than any other night?” I said, and grabbed my sweater from the railing. There was no way the night was going to get cool enough for me to wear it, but it made a good pillow for our heads when we were looking at the stars.

JONAH: All the roads in Skye run straight as a plumb-line, because there’s nothing for them to steer around. Above us, the stars glowed in the deep-blue, while around us, the flat fields stretched out for countless acres. On a night like this, you could see for years.

I knew something was up with Nora, because I put on my favorite radio station — classic ‘70s, which she hated like the devil — and she left it on without so much as a verbal sparring match. Maybe it was just because Queen was playing, and Queen is not really the ‘70s. Everyone loves Queen, because they are just so bad that they’re good.

When we got to the old farmhouse, I parked the truck around the back as usual and disconnected the wires from the back of the radio so it wouldn’t run down the battery too much while we were here.

Nora got her sweater-pillow and I hooked my fingers in the waistband of her jeans and followed her up onto the creaking old porch of the farmhouse. There was a weak board that we both knew to step over, and we eased onto the groaning porch swing with the practiced care of a couple that knew the seat could disappear out from under them at any time.

Then we sat and looked through the holes in the porch roof at the stars overhead, brilliant and turbulent as they spun in galaxies around us. I reached out and caught one for Nora as we sat there. Opening my hands, I showed it to her as it crawled over my palm, momentarily extinguished. Once it reached the tip of my fingertip, it floated back up into the air.

NORA: The fireflies were out tonight in the thousands. Jonah used to call them stars, back when we were younger. Now we didn’t need to call them anything. He caught a few for me and made them crawl on my arms, blinking and flashing, calling out for others of their kind, and then he leaned in and kissed me.

Jonah and I had been kissing for a long time, and we were good at it. My mouth knew the shape of Jonah’s mouth, and his hands had memorized the shape of my body, so they could go on journeys all their own while we tried on each other’s lips. Jonah’s tongue ran lightly along my lips, pressing inside my mouth, hesitating when he felt the jagged edge where the lump on my gum used to be.

There was a question then, as he leaned back, and I didn’t think I was ready to answer it when the stars began to fall.

JONAH: The first star fell to the earth, streaking and tumbling out of the blue, and landed running. It was a woman, elegant and massive, dripping with jewels and flowing with comet-studded silk. She held a silvery bow as tall as she was, and she strode through the fields and past the farmhouse with ten foot steps. Nora and I both craned our necks to watch her go, but before we could feel the loss of her disappearance, another star hissed down.

This one was a trio of children, holding hands and skipping around one another. It was impossible to tell if they were boys or girls or a combination; they all had silvery-blonde hair curling around their luminescent features and they were too young to be anything but smooth rolls of baby fat. Their laughter was like a kindergarten playground times ten as they streamed past, dancing in the fields for only a few minutes before they soared back up towards the sky.

I watched the next star fall down, a bird burning with silvery fire without warmth, and asked Nora, “What did the biopsy say?”

NORA: The entire night was brilliant now with the number of stars falling down around us, galloping and prancing and slinking through the fields, avoiding the farmhouse, and then streaming back up into the sky behind us.

“Malignant,” I said. Jonah reached over to me and pressed my lip down with his finger, touching the skin where the lump had been. The doctors had removed it and burned the hole, but it was like watching a star explode. By the time you saw the explosion, the pieces of the star had already been dispersed through the galaxy for hundreds of years.

“How long?” he asked, as an icy polar bear galloped past us; its glowing fur throwing odd shadows across the porch.

I didn’t answer. A firefly flew up against Jonah’s cheek and wend its way slowly down to his chin before it dripped onto the porch floor.

JONAH: Another star burst out of the sky, this one the most impressive yet. It was a massive horse, its grey coat dappled with universes that we hadn’t even thought of. Its mane and tail streamed behind it, dragging the milky way down with it, and when its hooves struck the field, I could, dizzily, hear the sound of the planets singing.

The rider was pearlescent, ephemeral. He had his crown beneath his arm, but when he approached the house, he swept the crown onto his head, pressing his twilight curls to his forehead. Everything shone and trembled and spun in a choking, unending pattern.

Unlike the other stars, the rider didn’t swerve to avoid the farmhouse. Instead, his massive starlit charger leapt up onto the porch, hooves landing squarely on the weak board without breaking it. Everything smelled of ozone and lilies, and I was breathing starlight and ice.

The rider held out his hand. Worlds nestled in his palm.

Nora looked at me and said, “Please?”

I didn’t realize what she wanted until I realized that I was holding her hand. I let go, all in a rush. The rider swept her up onto the saddle behind him. She was small and dark in comparison to his inscrutable brilliance; a sea on the moon.

And then they rushed past me, leaping into the sky with the rest of the stars, dazzling and unreachable.

The porch swing still rocked with me on it, sitting beside an old green sweater that used to belong to Nora Bridges. Through the holes in the porch roof, I could see a sky full of stars.

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Author’s Note: Because I wanted to try my hand at magic realism.

Gorgeous image of course is the common prompt for the week, by John Bauer.

26 thoughts on “Sky Full of Stars

  1. I like the superimposing of the stars falling in the background on the conversation, even if I hate the term “magic realism” for reasons I’ve never understood. The words just annoy me.

    Also, haha. “Everyone loves Queen, because they are just so bad that they’re good.” So true.

  2. Oh well done!

    Although with that ending, my mind extrapolates and I can’t help but think there’s more than a few chats with policemen in that poor boy’s future…

  3. I have that feeling about Queen every time I hear them.

    And I never really thought of magic realism as, like, a real genre, until I read some really good short story examples.

  4. LOL. It’s a METAPHOR. Policemen can’t arrest you for METAPHORS. Except, the metaphor police. ;p

  5. *g.r.i.n.*

    *grateful reaction I now* am . . . um . . having. Okay, so mine didn’t work as well.

  6. Well, my English teacher practically uses it as a synonym for urban fantasy, so that probably explains a lot. Mostly the way it just seems like a contradiction bothers me—are you implying other things with magic aren’t realism? I just don’t get it.

  7. It is definitely NOT urban fantasy. It’s like . . . have you see Pan’s Labyrinth? Where you’re not sure if the magical elements are actually happening or if they’re a metaphor? Or, say in Chocolat, where the mum and her daughter have to move every time the wind blows a certain way, and they just take it for granted that this is normal. That, I think, gets close to what magic realism is.

    I think it originally started out as defining only a class of Latin American fiction where magical elements were presented as real in the fiction, sort of surrealism in literature thing.

    Definitely not the same as straight urban fantasy.

    /rambling.

  8. When I was an undergrad and was taking a Latina Lit class, the prof defined it something like this, within the context of Latin American lit: a story where magical things happen, but the people they’re happening to don’t consider them magical.

    I think she’d agree that the Chocolat example is magical realism (except that it isn’t Latin) but Pan’s Labyrinth is fantasy, because even though the little girl believes them, she knows it isn’t “normal.” It’s magic to her.

    /nerd

  9. WAY better explanation than mine, and also pretty much what I was trying to say, incoherently.

    Basically I was trying to write a story about stars falling where the characters are like, yeah, okay.

  10. Oh, I really like this one, too. One aches for what they didn’t have, but for Nora, there was more than dreamt of in our philosophies, I suppose. Lovely.

  11. I was at Festival when you put this up, and only read back to it now. I almost wish I’d seen it Friday, though I was pretty happy where I was.

  12. I do indeed.

    One of the things I’ve always loved about festival is the number of people you meet there who have incredibly magical lives they consider perfectly serene and reasonable. You’ll hear people talk casually of a conversation with a goddess or an experience in ritual, and it’s less “Oh my god this thing HAPPENED to me!” and more, “This is the reality of the world I inhabit, that the trees dance and the gods walk and it just, well is.”

    I really like, in this story, how you’ve captured the sense of wonder that goes with fireflies (a sense I still, to this day, feel when I look out at a field full of them) and shifted back and forth between ‘the stars are falling from the sky and taking form’ and ‘he catches me fireflies and then lets them go…’ with each element assigned a roughly equivalent sense of wonder and amazement.

    I like well-done magical realism because it takes those little moments I *can* experience and aligns them with fantastic ones, so that I can hold the sense of the magical in a framework I can compass. I think you did that well here.

  13. What a great comment! It’s funny, because my reviews for LAMENT say that either their favorite or least favorite thing is how the characters handle the magical elements — taking it more or less in stride. I think there’s a certain fun to be had in fiction that doesn’t focus on the, as you said, “OMG THIS THING HAPPENED!” reaction and instead pans out for a wider view.

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