JULY 31, 2016

WHAT IS THE STARS?

 

So anyway the recent heat "dome" we have endured gave way to the usual fogs and evening sea to shore breezes, leading to clear spangled skies scored by the scratch of falling stars. The days proceded in a lively march of teenagers and pickup trucks rattling down Snoffish Valley Road, en route to pick up girls for hanging out, for swimming, for all kinds of things only teenagers can remember.

Down on the Strand, the Almeida family enjoyed a rare holiday together in a birthday party for Santiago as Pedro took a small break before pushing to the end of crab season in August. And Santiago, well, of course was an entire year older and this was an important thing. This year the crab season started late when the Fisheries people closed the opener in November due to toxic algae. He was hearing that razor clams were also on the short list due to high domoic acid content around Humboldt and Del Norte.

What was the world coming to. Poison crabs and poison clams of all things and a man has gotta work to live and they won't let him work.

Little Santiago started yelling; he had let loose his birthday balloon and the thing now soared aloft past the trees over the inlet.

O well. Let it go Santiago. Only grief comes from too much attachment to things that fly away. The crab shall return next year. And the clams. And the corn shall again pierce the intense blue sky of Minnesotta, ignorant of everything we consider important for ourselves. He tilted his hat and let the sun caress his weather-beaten, sea-battered body.

Denby stood outside, thinking of somebody and the heavy sky was a blanket with bullet holes punched in it.

He looked up at the sky, recalling the news release that Jack White's 3rd Man Records had just sent a turntable into space, playing Carl Sagan's "A Glorious Dawn" sextet the entire time until the balloon lifting this cargo burst at an altitude over 98,000 above the earth.

In a few thousand, or perhaps a few thousand years, long after the extinction of the human race, radio waves from that transmission will reach strange creatures living in a distant galaxy and they will wonder even as the battered, space-riddled Voyager drifts into their solar system, bearing a disk on which is recorded, among other things in other languages, Dark was the Night by Blind Willie Johnson.

He paused, breathing in the night air, cool after the long heat in the Valley where he had spent the day. Somewhere a garage band practiced in fits and starts. Crickets rubbed their hindlegs and somewhere else somebody practiced the horn. Music filled the night and made everything worthwhile the way music always does. Soon, it would be time to go to bed, but not after doing a bit of reading by lamplight. Perhaps some Paul Bowles.

At the Household of Marlene and Andre, Little Adam was put to bed and those members who did not work graveyard shifts or weekends had all tucked into their bunks and sleeping bags. Snuffles Johnson snored in his hole and Occasional Quentin stretched out beneath the coffee table. The bunks in the hallway were all filled up with silent, dark bodies. Marlene sat up late with the light of the lamp and the old Singer machine humming as she darned socks, fixed shirts, tried to keep the tack and raft of this household presentable and afloat for just a little while longer during the desperate times of the Rental Crisis.

Below the decks, around the decrepit heater unit, the rats began to scurry this way and that, getting ready for the night of foraging. One rat paused to sniff at the dessicated carcass of his brother who had been electrocuted by the bad wiring job going to the central heating control unit. Beneath the carcass there was a little glow and the delectible odor of fried rat. But this time, the rat moved on and left his brother. Time to investigate that later. And the little glow grew ever so slowly and inexorably beneath the rat that was beneath the house owned by the landlord Mr. Howitzer, who refused to pay for a properly wired and renovated central control unit.

To Mr. Howitzer, the tenants were just so many lab rats, useful only as a subsidy for the property maintenance.

Denby tucked into his book, lit by an Upstart Crow reading lamp he had filched many years ago while doing construction. Now Upstart Crow no longer existed, but he still owned the book lamp. The book was about a Western world traveler remembering Tangier and the Arabic world.

"I relish the idea that in the night, all around me in my sleep, sorcery is burrowing its invisible tunnels in every direction, from thousands of senders to thousands of unsuspecting recipients. Spells are being cast, poison is running its course; souls are being dispossessed of parasitic pseudo-consciousnesses that lurk in the unguarded recesses of the mind. There is drumming out there most nights. It never awakens me; I hear the drums and incorporate them into my dream like the nightly cries of the muezzins. Even if in the dream I am in New York, the first Allah, akbar! effaces the backdrop and carries whatever comes next to North Africa, and the dream goes on."

Out on her Gold Coast veranda, Ms. Morales stood looking at Orion tumbling over the Mastic Senior Center. The Summer Session had taken a break and now there was nothing to do save for preparing for what started in September; an endless, unpaid cycle. What was the future. In the future, the world would implode and creatures like Ronald Rump would ramp about with their shouting mouths and all the stars would fall and be overwhelmed.

A bright streak lit the heavens and startled her into exclaiming, "O!"

Soon the Perseids would begin to astonish the August sky.

Mr. Sanchez emerged from the shadows behind her.

"Un problema?" Mr. Sanchez asked.

"Only a shooting star," she said. "Una estrella fugaz."

"O! Did you make a wish?"

"Tal vez. Maybe."

"Somos como las estrellas, misterioso y brillante y se han ido rápidamente," he said. "We shine for a while and then are gone."

"I did not know I had married a poet," she said.

"Of course you did," he said. "That is why you married me." And then he clasped her in his arms as all the stars fell.

The long howl of the throughpassing train ululated from far across the water where the gantries of the Port of Oaktown stood glowing with their multi-kilowatt sentry lights; it quavered across the waves of the estuary, the riprap embankments, the moonlit grasses of the Buena Vista flats and the open spaces of the former Beltline railway; it moaned through the cracked brick of the old abandoned Cannery with its ghosts and weedy railbed and chainlink fences as the locomotive glided past the shuttered doors of the Jack London Waterfront, headed off on its starlit journey to parts unknown.

 

BACK TO STORY INDEX