The Stars Return to the Skies

Sometimes just a line of dialogue or a single image comes to me, and when I explore it, it turns into a story.

 

The Stars Return to the Skies

“Never leave me.”, she says. Her breath is warm on my neck, her words as soft as a feather. She sways in my arms. I hold her tighter to me. We drink in the night air beneath a sky of black velvet. Some foolish jeweler has spilled his diamonds across the cloth. I tell her this. She laughs in the way I love, low and deep and meant just for me.

The heavens are streaked with burning trails of light, fallen stars grown dissatisfied with the earth and now climbing their way back home. She hands me a slice of apple, and I bite into the soft flesh. Tart and sweet and tasting of spring. When I kiss her lips the juice sheens them and in the starlight they glow. I return the favor, holding a ripe strawberry to her mouth. She smiles, a slow unveiling of her teeth that sends warmth coiling through me.

The moment is magic, glorious. She leans back in my arms, her skin so smooth beneath my fingers. We sit in silence, watching the stars burn. The trees lean toward us as if jealous of what we have. Now it is her hands that tighten on me, beneath the waving branches. Her head falls back and her hair, as black as the sky, pools on the ground. “You won’t leave me, will you.” It’s more a statement than a question, but I answer it anyway, planting a kiss on her cool forehead. “No, I’ll never leave you.” I whisper.

She reaches for her glass and drains the wine, as golden as the moon used to be. The bits of our repast lie forgotten on the blanket, strawberries nibbled to their caps and apples eaten to the core. I reach into the wicker basket and pull out a square of foil. It is fool’s silver under the stars and arcing lights that continue to flee upward to the sky. The paper opens like a night-blooming flower. She gasps in surprise and pleasure, and opens her mouth for the piece of dark chocolate. It’s all meant for her but she bites down on the small square and half of it falls back into my hand.

The taste is rich and bitter and sweet on my tongue. “How?” she starts to ask. “How did you afford it and how did you find it?” are the questions, I know, that crouch behind her lips. Her throat moves and she swallows both the chocolate and the questions. Right now, it doesn’t matter. Her hand rises to her mouth, one slender finger running over her lips to sweep up any last bit of bitter-sweetness. A fallen star shines on the finger.

A year ago I had dropped to one knee in the kitchen of our apartment, holding a small box out before me, a box in which I had trapped that star. “Will you marry me?” I had asked, and if there were tears in my throat and my eyes they were matched by hers. She nodded her head and joined me on the faded linoleum that needed to be replaced, one of the projects we would never get to now. Her tears soaked my shoulder. We cried together but our sobs were quiet, and in the background the TV filled the air with noise. The government’s scientists stood in front of a blue curtain and talked about the asteroid that would impact Earth in twelve months. As many people would be saved, off-lifted in the new generation spaceships. But not everyone could be saved. There were costs to the building of the ships, costs to the preparation for a journey that would take the lucky survivors many, many years away from our solar system. Costs that could not be carried by the government alone.

I had held her in our run-down house and looked at the overdue bills tacked to the corkboard by the door, the old TV, the shabby furniture from the charity stores. The ring that I had stolen from a flea market on my way home from work lay forgotten on the floor. We would not be the ones saved.

Now she reaches into the picnic basket and pulls out a small plastic bottle. As she twists the cap off I look to the sky. One last spark arcs across the black velvet, climbing a pillar of fire and following its brothers into the cold depths of space. At the far end of the midnight cloth a fire is kindling, all sunrise colors hours before the sun will rise. The fire is growing fast and the diamonds in the sky melt away before its terrible light.

Her hand traces along my chin. “Never leave me.” she says.

I look down into her eyes that reflect the fire burning overhead. “I won’t.”

In the cup of her other hand is the pill bottle. Already her gaze is vague, her breaths slowing. I raise the bottle to my lips and swallow the pills with the last of the golden wine. I lay back in the soft grass, my arms tight around her limp body, and watch the sky burn.