Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stars


STARS

A short-short story

Ben Davis was alone and had no home. On good days, he walked the streets in town and asked for money. The gifts of strangers sometimes gave him just enough to buy food. He did odd jobs for the small storekeepers, usually washing storefront windows or helping them with their landscaping. With the extra money he earned, he could afford both food and a cheap bottle of wine. Wine was his pain reliever; the medication he needed to get through a day. On his bad days, the black moods enveloped him and he would seek out shelters run by kind pastors and filled with lost, broken souls. There, he would find a cot in a corner and try to sleep his sorrow away.

His main thoughts each day were of the woman he'd loved for 20 years. Cassie, whose violet eyes saw the world like no person he'd ever met. Her eyes were always filled with a heartfelt joy about her life balanced with an honest discernment of the world around her. Ben remembered the first time he saw Cassie in college and overheard her arguing with a professor over his analysis of her work. He admired her tenacity and couldn't wait to talk to her. On the day he was brave enough to introduce himself, she was kind to him but reserved. He wondered if he was ever going to get through to her. He kept trying and took the small steps needed to build a friendship.

One day, while they were eating lunch on the campus lawn, he knew she finally felt something for him. He did not know what he said that finally sparked the change, but when she looked at him on that day; her eyes were soft and caring. Months later, he asked her to marry him. She laughed and said she didn't know if she was really wife material. He thought of her laugh often as he walked the streets in the worn boots he took from the shelter's donation bin.

Cassie's favorite hobby was astronomy. She had a telescope perched on their balcony and would spend hours looking at charts and star patterns. When she found something truly exciting, she would drag him out of their apartment in the middle of the night to see it. She knew which constellations and planets made appearances each season and when they could see Mars or Venus. The phases of the moon guided her gardening and the length of Ben's hair. When the moon was waxing, she would give him a haircut. “Ben, you will always have a full head of hair, if you do it my way.” She was right. He hated admitting that to her even though she never said, “I told you.”

They were seldom apart. Their friends called them the activist couple as they were always involved in a cause. Ben would have been content to sit on the sidelines and donate money, but not Cassie. She was convinced that personal attention was needed to effect change. And so, they attended rallies and fundraisers regularly. Ben wrote his share of newsletters and called representatives and senators. While they were working on a campaign for Earth Day, he noticed a change in his wife. Cassie was tired and irritable. Her sharp memory seemed to fade and she lost interest in their projects.

Cassie hated going to doctors but he insisted. He stayed with her through visits to specialists, blood tests, and scans. He was with her when the doctor diagnosed an inoperable brain tumor. Cancer, a cruel master, eventually took the joy from her eyes and replaced it with fear. Ben was afraid to leave her and spent as much time as he could with her. He neglected his work and their bills mounted.

On the evening that Cassie died, the sky was filled with clouds. He held her hand until she sighed and let go. Ben never recovered. He sank into an abyss filled with memories of the past. He simply walked away from the present and no longer cared about the future.

When the weather was warm, Ben slept in the woods so that he could see the stars and feel close to her. He talked to her softly as he drank his wine, “What's in the sky tonight, Cassie? I see Orion.” He talked to her until he fell asleep. The winter nights were hard on him. He would spend the night at one of the shelters if they were not already full. When he could not find a place to stay, he slept in the empty cars in car lots. A few of the used car dealers knew him and felt his sorrow. When they saw him they would get him a hot meal and give him a thermos of coffee to help him get through the night.

The month of February was unusually cold. Spring would arrive soon, but Ben knew he would not survive until March. He was weary. His universe was becoming increasingly small and dark. Sweet wine no longer relieved the throbbing at the pit of his stomach.

On the last bitter cold day of February, Ben walked the highway to a small used car dealership, hunched over from the cold. He hoped his old boots might make it to this last stop. In the back of the lot, he found his favorite old Ford pickup truck. His hands and feet were so cold that he could barely climb to the back of the open cab. He slowly lowered himself on his back and put his overcoat on top of him like a blanket. When the end came, he was looking at the stars.


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Nina Roselle:
Nina works full-time as a paralegal, part-time as a fledgling writer and has found her happily-ever-after in a little town in North Carolina.

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