The Secret Death of Falling Stars (A short story by Tyler Scott Hess)

She must be freezing out here, but that’s not my fault. I told her to wear a jacket. She never listens to me when it comes to common sense. I offer her mine, but she’s stubborn and won’t accept it. She does take a blanket from the bed of the pickup, however, and wraps it around herself like a shawl. I contend with her that it won’t be enough, but she brushes me off like a spec of dirt. She doesn’t see any reason to be constrained by a coat on a night such as this.

This place is special to us. When she sits down on the grass it has to be in the same spot as the first time we were here. I sit on her left, where there once was grass of the same kind, but now there’s only dirt and pebbles and little indication of there ever having been any sort of comfort offered in this location. Someone ruined my spot years ago. But it’s still my spot.

Crystal tugs her blanket a bit tighter as the last drip of sunlight pours out of the sky and into the mountains before us. I remind her there was a time when she would have gladly accepted my offer, but she still refuses my jacket. She says she’s fine with the blanket, but the bumps running up and down her arms tell a different story.

I don’t know how many we’ll see tonight, and the sky is clear with no signs of clouds to come, though this wouldn’t be the first time an east wind came to ruin a perfectly laid out plan. I offer her my hand. She has never rebuffed me in this matter. She’s stubborn, but she loves me, and always has.

She reaches for a piece of jerky from the bag I brought. It seems she’ll take anything from me but my jacket. I smell it to make sure I didn’t forget to wash it after our last trip out here. It’s not that. Seems fresh enough to me, though I’ve been wrong before.

Crystal lies on her back and recites the constellations to me from memory. She’s done this every time since that first date so many years ago. She used to quiz me, but gave up long ago when it was clear I could not retain the answer to more than the obvious ones. Straight lines I understand, but some of these take too much imagination for me to conceive how they ever could have derived them naturally. But she has always been fascinated with the stars.

They all look the same from here, but she’s always telling me about how they look in the telescope. Not the cheap plastic ones they sell in the mall. I’m talking about the ones the size of a house they have at the observatory. I’m not allowed to use them, though I don’t know what the harm could possibly be. It’s not like I could break it with my eyeball.

But it’s different out here. It’s one thing to look at them through a lens and see them as if they were up close, colorful and majestic as they are, but it’s another thing entirely to view them the way it was intended from the beginning. The universe is vast and glorious. We are tiny and brittle. It’s important to think about these things on busy days when our world is crashing down around us. Even stars fall sometimes.

Of course, Crystal is always quick to point out that shooting stars aren’t really stars at all. They’re just big chunks of rock and ice shooting through our atmosphere. Most of them burn up into practically nothing by the time they hit the earth. The big ones can be destructive, but they’re not common enough to worry about. But tonight we’re not worried about anything. We’re just here to enjoy the view one last time.

We’re moving tomorrow. It’s not a long move, and our children are helping us, but it will most likely be the last one we make. We’ve agreed to settle into a nice little home in the city, close to our youngest daughter, who will be taking care of us as our health has begun to decline.

“There’s one!” she shouts, clapping as if it were the first falling star she’d ever seen. I’ve seen a few thousand myself, which is nothing compared to my wife. She’s dedicated her life’s work to the study of the stars. But all she ever tells me about them is how beautiful they are up close. She never mentions their chemical components or physical properties because she knows I don’t care. I’m not the scientist. But I appreciate the beauty from here more deeply because I experience them in a way no one else can say they do. I see them with her in the open wind with the night birds flying around us and the crickets chirping incessantly.

There’s life and death all around us. Every Saturday night in summertime we come out here. It’s been like this since we were eighteen year olds and every time we see the same thing: falling stars shooting through the atmosphere, their strength glowing with beauty, then fading away with no one to see them disappear but us. And we remember that one day our time will come and we will scatter upon the earth as dust. Our strength has had its glow and we will fade, but we have lived our lives, and we look to the day the creator of this expanse will look upon us, knowing he loves us enough to show his power in the night sky.

The End

The photo for this cover is a derivative of “Perseus trails” by Flickr user jpstanley, used under CC BY.