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Fiction and poetry




Without the Light Pollution We Can See the Stars

Alison Wells

Morrison was with Emily now. Mornings in the garden, stepping together from the far sides of a dazzling and billowing white sheet, losing each other among the wind-lifted fabric then finding each other again. These were ordinary, wonderful things in a new life that had been decided with hardly any words needed.

In the evenings – in this garden of the rundown cottage Emily had fled to – the thing that made Morrison happiest was the stars.

He did not know the names of stars like a poet should, he could not pick them out, even five or six from the billions. Narrowing it down to the brightest ones that were planets, Jupiter, Venus or Mars, he could make a stab at it with a one in three chance.

A one in three chance, of dying from cancer, like Emily’s mother, of Emily finding the right man from a trio of candidates, her husband (ex), the rebel Eddie, and the poet – him.

Without the light pollution he could see the stars. In the night, blazed awake by mind meteors he went down, quietly, to the garden. On the right nights, so serendipitously that he felt a pain in his chest, shooting stars streaked hotly through the sky.

And he stood there breathless in the moment after. Shooting stars so random and chaotic, so lovely and right, like the ideas and sensations that came at him from nowhere, from which he would then write.

The stars are senseless, he jotted down in his notebook, blind in the country dark, hoping the writing would be legible in the daytime.

He had a dreadful memory, hence the notebook and its recordings, sightings of Emily, fleeting wisps of phrases in the twilight, grasped like smoke and caught in a glass.

He could hear the trickle of the river and the great dark air was around him and the sigh let old emptiness out. Now his chest expanded again with the peace of the place and the reality of Emily lying upstairs in the cottage asleep and the girls who now called him Dad though he hadn’t asked for it.

He sat, his feet amid moss and ferns, his bare toes cool in the grass.

He felt so young and endless here, out in the night, balanced at a moment that was right. He had not aimed for the stars, so he’d not fallen short. He’d worked in normal jobs, still had a mum and dad. He’d not had Emily’s pain; losing her mother, extricating herself from a husband who fought with life. Though he found he could somehow understand her ex-husband, wary and blind to pleasure, to light.

The stars are senseless

He was always on the lookout for wonder, ever since he was young, always, long before he finally moved out here with Emily, Amy and Hannah. He’d always been beguiled by the romanticism of stars, their beautiful mystery, though they were so far away, or dead already. And yet the stars suggested some great white plain, beyond the dark. Some heavenly elsewhere.

Hinting, bright

At some great, blinding cloth

The opposite of night

Further back in time, there had been that day he saw Emily and her daughters on the long, unending beach of sparkling white sand. His future family.

White sands so soft and pulverised with time

And light, this aching light

 Even though it took much longer until they were together, he recognised the moment on the beach as coming home, a kind of ballast, a landing. Now he sat on an immovable stone, the dark clear air all around. He saw a satellite traverse the sky.

Those tiny stars; hope stabbing through the dark

Since being with Emily he’d begun to look at people, not just fern heads and patterns in the sand. In the summer, back at his childhood estate, all the people gathered on the green chatting and children running about in swimming costumes with hoses and ice-cream. The sky was so hazy and bright, the sun was so strong and white hot. He had shielded his eyes with his hands and sunspots danced on the inside of his eyes. Those beautiful faces around him, alive and delighted – the relief and flutter of conversation was like some exotic flower bud opening out.

Twinkle, the nursery rhyme said of the stars in the book of his new stepdaughter. He was not a parent but he could feel a new kind of love shine out of him for the child. He’d hugged the mother of the little boy on the estate who’d been run over and killed. Sometimes the black cloth of the sky was all you could see, nothing else.

But out here, outside of the city and its noise and threat on a clear night you could see the white of stars shining through as if from a bright expanse of white behind, like the sands on the beach on the day he’d seen his future family.

There was now a brightness in his life that he wasn’t used to. Although nothing was forever.

The stars are senseless

Hinting, bright

At some great blinding cloth

The opposite of night

White sheets flung on a summer washing line

White sands soft, pulverised with time

And light, this aching light …

Those tiny stars; hope stabbing through the dark

Morrison sat in the garden, the sky garlanded with those pinpricks of stars. He thought of how somewhere else the Earth shone for others, on this planet of random joy and tragedy. He thought of himself and Emily in daylight folding the sheets from the washing line together, walking towards each other at each fold, and then stepping away once more.

Alison Wells lives in Bray. She worked as a technical writer and is now a librarian. She has a postgraduate degree in Psychology and her Head-above-Water blog explores creativity and resilience. Her stories have been shortlisted for, among others, Hennessy New Irish Writing, Bridport, BBC Opening Lines and Bray Literary Festival. Her writing has appeared in The Stinging Fly, The Lonely Crowd, Crannóg, UK National Flash Fiction days anthologies and New Island/RTÉ Arenas New Planet Cabaret. In January 2019 her novel Eat! was highly commended in the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair. This year she was selected as a finalist with The Exhibit of Held Breaths.