A Billion Dead Stars

A Billion Dead Stars

I jump in the car, start the engine and take the first exit to the highway. My mind flashes back to a Friday afternoon when I was twelve. The summer vacation was drawing closer and I’d met my friends on the neighborhood’s basketball court, right after school. The June heat was tolerable and as a skinny kid, I never sweat too much. I would often find myself playing against chubbier guys whose shirts were soaked, and it would gross me out. Which is probably why I never went too far with my basketball career. There’s one thing I owe to the sport though, to that neighborhood court in particular: it was where I met her for the first time. A game had just ended and we were all dead thirsty. My friends raced to the water pipe and glued their lips to the faucet, feeling alive again one after the other. I didn’t follow them because I had a fresh water bottle in a backpack that I’d left in a tiny corner in the shade, up on the top bleachers. I stooped next to my bag and quaffed the bottle all at once, leaped back to the court and sat down on the floor. A much needed break in the sun. I leaned backwards and rested my forearms on the ground, stretched my neck and looked up at the clear sky as the blinding light forced me to squint. I dozed there for a few minutes, thinking about homework and Michael Jordan. About a pair of boots that one of my classmates was wearing. About a way to forge my parents’ signature on a school letter of reprimand. Then the sunshine died out. In a split second. I opened my eyes and saw a lean figure over me and the contre-jour kept me from discerning any features. ‘Do you want to steal a dog?’

I stood up and turned my back to the sun to get a better look. The most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. More beautiful than the girls in my celebrity magazines, in my favorite movies, in music videos on MTV. Unbelievable. Her short hair heightened her androgyny. I remember thinking that she was a beautiful girl that could’ve also been a beautiful boy. My height. A slim and toned upper body sitting on never-ending skinny legs. Athletic shoulders overshadowing a sleeveless white top. Striking green eyes beaming out of a ravishing tanned face. High cheekbones. Small lips. The whole perfect thing. And I just stood there mouth agape. She sighed, impatient. I pulled myself together and asked:

‘Steal a dog? What do you mean?’
‘Over there,’ she said, pointing at the basketball court’s entrance. ‘That little dog, let’s steal it.’
‘But that’s the janitor’s dog. It’s a mutt. And it’s dirty.’
‘I don’t want to steal it. I already have a dog. A Rottweiler! Purebred.’ I said, proud.
‘I don’t care. I want to steal that dog,’ she answered, unimpressed.
‘Yeah well good luck.’
‘Are you scared?’
‘I’m not scared!’ I snapped, falling into her trap.
‘Yes you are.’
‘I’m not.’
‘Prove it.’
‘I will.’

The flashback fades as fast as it had appeared and I catch myself smiling behind the wheel. I check my watch and realize that I’ve been driving for over an hour, and as I take an outlying mountain road, my vision gets blurry and I’m thinking it’s because of my tears. But maybe not. Maybe it’s the fog looming around the windshield. Probably. Definitely. I slow down to avoid any silly accidents. This is the one moment in my life when nothing is worth the risk. The scenery is bland, Mediterranean. Vegetation strewn all around. Arid greens and sullen browns. A flock of sheep raids the road and alarms me. I brake instantly. I’m about to curse out the window but then I spot the shepherd and contain myself. Old and miserable, struggling to make his way out of the roadside foliage. The shepherd looks at me, panting, and raises a rueful hand. I force a smile and nod. The man turns toward the sheep and rushes them to cross. I tilt my head out of the car. ‘It’s alright, sir, don’t worry about it. Take your time.’ His doleful eyes meet mine and he smiles back. I pull over to the side, lay back on the headrest and close my eyes. I think about how that particular moment – that dog theft dare – had defined our whole relationship over the past twenty years. A roller coaster. As I watched her grow into the most magnificent woman in the world.

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5 thoughts on “A Billion Dead Stars”

    1. I’m happy you enjoyed the read Anne, a new story is out in Contributor Magazone, check it out on this website – I hope you like it!

      R x

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