Somewhere, long after dark, he pores over an encyclopedia under his sheets. This is a private ritual. He lifts each cover as if to ventilate his own lungs, hungering for words but needing something like grace. He makes no mystery of his appetite. He could pluck any distant constellation you wanted from the sky and place it in your open palm, but he could never call me by my name. Outside, there is dry earth, and beyond that an empty mailbox, and beyond that a low thrum as the city expands. And there are stars. You don’t need to see them to know.
Boxes of pastel chocolate candies in pastel boxes glisten in a downtown window. Inside the pastry case, rows of polka-dotted truffles in delicate chevron paper. In the cooler, crested gelato, slices of orange, dollops of cream, rolled wafers curled around hazelnut. Many dozens of busy people file in on their lunch break, talking into cell phones and leafing through daily papers and not having enough time. A child enters with a handful of coins. As she nears the counter, she drops one, and it rolls beneath the cooler. She kneels, fishes clumsily for it. Then she stands, resigning herself to the loss. She counts what remains, then a crowning moment—and she exits into the grey. She makes a game of rolling the remaining coins across the sidewalk.
I always see the same figure on the bus from the corner of my eye. To its credit, it is almost human. Many others board the bus, but they do not see it. Once, defying the space between us—bobbing heads, pulsating arteries of fluorescents, singing metal and groaning rubber and lines of taught pull-cords—I looked directly at it. I do not look directly at it anymore. The city expands. Every day, more stars.
“What will you do when school ends?”
“What do you mean?”
“After exams. After school. What will you do this summer?”
“When have I had trouble keeping busy?” I sneer.
“What will you do without me?”
Your hands were on my back when the sky fell in. I felt the skin break like a prayer. I felt the hot wet air when you sighed the breath you were holding into the crook of my neck. “We have to go.” Your hands were on my back when the sky fell in. Your hair was in your face, but I saw your mouth curl with meaning. You didn’t call me by my name then. I didn’t need you to.