Thirty-First

Photo by Josh Felise

Photo by Josh Felise

Her father complained incessantly about light pollution, about how the city ruined everything when it came to stargazing. Mother asked him, just as incessantly, why he hadn’t accepted a job at the college out in Iowa if the city really bothered him that much. She asked, but he never answered. He’d roll his eyes, shrug his shoulders, and sigh a heavy sigh. Then he’d take his newspaper and a brandy out onto the terrace to complete his life as a cliché.

When she was a teenager on her first camping trip with friends, her best friend’s single mother the chaperone, she led an exploration committee up the highest hill on the grounds. It was night, an almost indecent hour, and before they made out with the boys who’d snuck away from their own chaperones, the girl told her friends her theory on what the lights of the city were really trying to do.

“They’re not there to pollute,” she told her friends. “They’re there to call back to the stars, all of them together, to say, ‘We’re here!’ in case someone is out there listening.

“That’s why we build fires,” she told them. “That’s why we build anything at all.”

Then she took out her flashlight and pointed it toward the heavens.

Her friends giggled for a moment, but then saw she wasn’t budging, that she wasn’t even looking at them, probably couldn’t even hear them with the way her gaze zoned in so intently on the blanket of stars draped above them.

They stopped giggling, took out their own flashlights, and joined her. And when the boys came out of the woods, calling out to them with whistles and words, the girls stood there with their flashlights in the air for almost too long.

Or not long enough, I guess, depending on your point of view.

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