I wasted Monday watching Alfred Hitchcock movies on DVD (Saboteur and Jamaica Inn — a black-and-white experience for me), between dentist and haircutting appointments. I guess I was celebrating my returned freedom from work. By evening, as Janet was at her own hair appointment, once I had made her lunch for today, I didnʼt really feel as though I had much to say (a poor defensive position), so Iʼll simply take the easy road more traveled and put up some more from the science fiction novel I started previewing on Sunday.
from Stars in Heaven
He was sick of squatting here in the sun, and hungry — in a way. If he really thought about it, he was so hot maybe he didn’t really feel like eating anything anyway… He tried hard to keep thinking that way even though it made him feel bad inside, kind of, because there was no way he’d get anything to eat until they went home. But the bad feeling coiled and knotted in him and made his head feel strange, like he was floating…
Ghorf was mumbling to himself. “Don’t know why I break my back coming here every year. Don’t know why I do anything. Kill yourself in the fields for two hundred fifteen days. Spend another miserable fortnight on the goddamn harvest and more time processing the shit. For what? Six stupid weeks on the goddamn road to sit in a sweatbox in this kraissforsaking square for a week a’ hell, waiting for the big ships to come. Never here when they’re supposed to be. Sometimes I think they know about me, and screw their schedules deliberate. Just to get my goat.”
“What’s that, Ghorfie?”
“Nothing, Rim. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Let him be, Rim. He enjoys talking to himself. Only one who gives a good goddam what he’s got to say.”
“Better’n you, Jiz. You don’t even listen to your gimping self.”
“Double it in yellow, p’ssant.”
“Like I said, boys. Leave it be.”
Daniel shook his head. “Listen to that. It’s worse than last year.”
The whole trip was worse than last year—to hear Daniel talk. The road was dustier, the caravan people sneakier, the animals surlier, the weather hotter, the trip longer, the city duller. The whole thing was worse. And this was the year they took him along. Naturally.
Last year he’d been too little. Last year he had wanted to go. Last year was the first time he had helped with the harvest, and he had wanted to see what happened to the stars at market, sell the little bags he had filled himself, visit the city. Last year had been great, the year to go, what it was all about — to hear Daniel tell it.
This year was crap. This year was the worst year ever. This year was the year nothing went right.
The boy had known that before they even started. This year he didn’t really care if he went along or not. Not like last year. Last year, he could still remember, he had stood at the hilltop staring at them going: a little caravan of three horses, four mules, two wagons, Ghorf, Jism, Daniel, dwindling into tiny doll people and play animals, becoming nothing but a mist of dust scuffling slowly along the faint gray line that was the road stretching out further than he had ever gone, into the southwest. He stood, alone, staring into the brightness they disappeared amidst long after he could make out nothing of their expedition, and even the road itself blurred and resolved rhythmically.
And the suns had set gradually around their passage—blueblack cavern languorously in pursuit, lapping a cold and hungry maw all around the boy, extending itself after the purplegolden redbright glowing fingertips of day beckoning beyond their destination — until the light was all extinguished, except for the phantasmagoria of stars lacing and turning overhead. He felt himself to be entirely alone in a starsplattered emptiness of night, aloof even from the hilltop, and cut off completely from everything he had ever wanted, tasted, needed or desired. Alone and left behind. Again.
Until Aunt Sarai had finally come trudging up the dusty way behind him and put her loose arm around his shoulder, pulling him down from that cold heaven and all into her yeasty wet warmth, and begged him breathlessly not to cry any more. “No more, punkun, no more… The big old city’s just not worth all them tears, boy. …Noth’in that ole city anybody’d ever want anyway…”
She was a big woman, Aunt Sarai, and he had felt almost buried in her bosom and armpit as she cooed and murmured above and all around him. He had sobbed breathless wholehearted uninterrupted tears of passionate heartbroken joy into her and let her halfcarry him home.
He wished he were home now. Or even back at Uncle Rim’s house. Wherever it was in the concrete mess of this city. At least it was — compared with this — almost quiet there.
But not like home. Real home… Nothing was quiet here. Not really. Not if you knew, as he did, as he treasured himself knowing, what real quiet, true silence, was. Lying beside the starfield in the darkest of the night, alone, everyone else asleep inside or maybe up on the roof for the coolness, even the animals motionless, you the only thing awake in the whole world, gazing over the dark stalks at the true stars themselves, writhing and pulsing in uncounted colors for which you weren’t sure you even had names, far off and silent in the hugeness of the night. Looking for the ghosts of heaven reflected in the stalks, if you stared long enough.
That was the real quiet, the best quiet, dreaming those stars until the stars did become dream and then you were awake in the morning with the sunshine making the starstalks livid with light.
Not here. Here the star flowers were hidden in bags, crushed. From the roof of Uncle Rim’s house, after you’d sneaked through the rooms of the people who lived upstairs from him — and he lived up more stairs than the boy had ever seen — and upstairs from them and upstairs from them even, and out on the rooftop, you couldn’t, even in the parts of the sky not hidden by buildings taller than Uncle Rim’s house — and there were hundreds of those — not see any stars there, just greenish blackness, a glare over heaven.
This city stunk. Why anybody’d want to come here he’d never know. Never ever never ever never in the world never know…