Star Prophet lay in the dirt. Underneath the drain pipe by the abandoned Bojangles he lay in mud and water, the blue jacket he always wore, a black cord wrapped around each wrist. After school I would bring the lunch I had saved and sit with him on the broken concrete and talk and watch him eat — pushing each wrapper into his mouth and chewing the plastic. Not a crumb escaped and he would talk about planets.
“Jupiter now, that’s a giant musical note — a hum in the cosmos, a perfect counterpoint to the static
coming off Mercury during the winter months.” a clean slide of plastic pulled from his mouth
He always wore the hood of his blue coat up, even in June-heat. Somewhere in his orbit of town he had found some white tape, and carefully lined out a star on the front peak of his hood.
“People gotta know. People gotta know.” Star Prophet said, right hand clutching the zipper tab of his coat.
“Yeah?” I said. “They gotta?”
He stank, sweat and plastic and wet earth. His hands were brown like mine.
“The chance, the promise — the song that the rings of Saturn sing. It belongs –we belong!” he yelled, a stray fleck of yellow bread falling from his lips.
They chased him away from everywhere. The stores, the streets, the fronts of churches. Star Prophet would run and point, sliding down railings and stairs. His long brown finger to the heavens, spraying spit and star charts into empty faces. Late nights he would grab rich drunk white boys by the lapels and shake them into his words about Orion and Sagittarius and the shapes of memory in the stars.
They beat him and broke him and chased him into the wilderness like a dog.
So we sat and talked, and the house waited.
“It’s in us -It’s in us the stars and the sky and the light of the sun and the dance of the moons, and I can feel it — I can feel it in my heart, lifting me up while I sleep, and I can’t sleep only dream –the stars in my water, and in my earth the moon.”
Sometimes Star Prophet would cry. Sometimes Star Prophet would hold my hand, and that was okay.
“Tell ‘em. You gotta tell ‘em when I can’t. Won’t you?” he whispered.
“I will. I promise.” The stars were out and I was late.
“And Cheetos — maybe, tomorrow?” his star-marked hood bobbled.
I walked home in the stars, to the dark house where my uncle waited.
Cold walk, warm house. My uncle’s third knuckle on the right, potato-sack lumpy and his red voice and the fall of the Roman Empire. The stars were out, but I was in.
Humans do these things. They do these things to each other every day.
My face was bent. I rolled next to the couch and waited, while meteors impacted on the surface of Mars.
The press of headphones, the music and the moon – I lay with the sheet over my head and lost myself. The rhymes, the words – the quick symmetry of the drum and the strange keen of the electronic flute.
I think about Star Prophet’s planets — about the songs he hears. The whirling slide of space and time, the spaces, empty – now full. Jupiter turns his face, and Saturn hula-hoops across the dance floor. The blood on my pillow is red. The rains of Mercury and Venus, the broken canyons hidden beneath the cotton-wool cloud.
Maybe I’m dreaming.
Star Prophet and I stand on a beach at sunset. The sun is too big, half the sky is red fire. Solar flares curl and destabilize the ionosphere and the sand is too large, like grains of rice between my toes. I slip my fingers into the band of my shorts, it’s cold. There is no sound, the waves do not crash.
The blue star-hood turns and I see that his right eye is bleeding.
“Who did that to you?”
“You did.” he said.
I touch his face, then I touch my face. My fingers feel strange in the empty cavity where my left eye used to be. There is no pain, just an odd sticky feeling of pressure.
“Want to go for a walk?”
I get up and go to the bathroom, and brush my teeth. Ultra-Brite is red already, so my toothbrush doesn’t look strange. The pads of my fingers are yellow-white as I press them against the mirror. Hand bone, and wrist bone, and arm bone all connected. Broken-glass joints. The rice-sand titters away from my feet.
“It pushes, it pushes, it pushes us..us! It pushes us, child, child, sweet child of mine.” Star Prophet said. “Humans are so blessed, so special in the cosmos. The line of our bones running all the way back to the Tigris, throwing ourselves out there — up there! More to see, and more to know and more to go. Heh-heh.”
“To stand on a street corner, and feel the heat of the pavement through your shoes and the wind of a car and feel it all stretching out, backwards and forwards — the wolves howling at the tent flap and the burst of nebulae off the port bow.”
The carpet, the thick carpet — the steep walls of the hall, my uncle snoring. I slammed the flat of my fist against the wall, but he didn’t wake up. I was still holding my toothbrush.
Star Prophet sits cross-legged, and levitates above a green hill. I’m doing jumping jacks and thinking about what that boy said in class. About my hair, and how it smelled good. He was half asleep behind me, arm catty-corner on the desk. His fingers brushed the bottom edge of my hair, and it was a ripple down my spine. Index, middle finger, thumb – he held the tip of my hair. A LaGrange point. Straight ahead, no ripples of gravity, my eyes were moons. He said it, then let go.
Star Prophet quirks an eyebrow, and detonates a small plateau with his mind. He is displeased that I am distracted from my training.
I kick off into the air, and lightning crackles in my fist.
My fist that holds the toothbrush.
And I’m in the dark with my uncle. He slobbers and moans his way through the night, a rip red of pain in the air, dying with each bellows-breath.
I hate him like gravity. I hate him like the sun.
I stand over him, and my fist comes down.
Bite and tear,tears and bytes and the constellation Sagittarius. Will I ever be okay, like the fat children tumbling down the Sunday School Steps? The funeral limo smelled of peanuts, and I was empty as a comet — ice and light and empty black hurled tennis-ball across the net. The edge of a floppy disk in my bag, I stole it from Enrichment even though my uncle’s house has no computer. Just to hold it, just to slide it between my hands and think about the little packets of numbers, the glowing green lines of longitude — the way they formed lego-stout another planet.
Everything’s all mixed up. Everything happens at the same time.
Star Prophet flopped down on a dune, and skimmed a coke can across a few waves. He was pretty good. My uncle’s fist slams into my face again and again, and I’m full of waves, salt water in a ziplock bag full, fuller — then burst. I hate him, I hate him, I hate him. The boy, and his fingers and the moons, and the rocket ships burning , solid state fuel of pain. My uncle’s hand on my chest, and I’m glad I’m still flat but it won’t be long. Star Prophet’s red goggles are fogged up , and he pushes them up his face and leans in close and plants a graveside kiss on my brow.
“It’s all still out there. Waiting for you. For all of us. It was promised.” There’s snot on his nose, it’s November, white star peeling on his head like a crown of lilies. “Don’t forget.”
“Don’t forget the Cheetos.”