This is my two-hundredth post, so it deserves to be something special. I’m going to give you this instead.
She feels him take her hand. Her eyes are still on the stars as his fingers thread between hers, skin on skin, bone against bone. The space between their palms feels so hot it almost burns. He tugs her towards the earth.
“You can see them more easily if you lie down.”
They sit. The grass is dewy and cold as she lays her head down, feeling him do the same next to her. Their hands are still entwined.
She isn’t sure what to say, so she doesn’t say anything at all. They lie in silence, caught in their own thoughts, and then she feels her head empty. She can see nothing but the stars and the vast, black vacuum that encompasses them, and as it fills her she feels gravity unclench around her muscles. Slowly she becomes weightless. The air is cold and dry, her limbs limp, and the silence pierces her so deeply that she wonders whether she has been deafened by it.
A throb, subtle but insistent, pulls her back into existence. She blinks, twice, and without turning her head follows the sensation from her shoulder to her arm, to the inside of her hand. It is his pulse, beating inside his thumb, against her palm.
“Did you know that when you look at a star, you are looking back in time?”
She turns her head. “What?”
“It takes years for the light to travel from the star to the Earth,” he tells her, “What you are seeing is a star as it was back then. Some of them aren’t even there now.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’ve burnt themselves out. What you can see is their final explosion, reaching us years after it happened.”
He pauses, and then says, “Their final word. An epitaph of heat and light and flame.”
His attention has escaped gravity; his eyes are lost somewhere above them. She remembers him in the tree, and the urge to pull him back to her leaps up her throat.
“You told me you could prove that some myths are real ,” she says.
He chuckles, quietly, and then takes a breath. “Yeah.”
She waits while his eyes dart over the sky, and then he points. “Orpheus. He was torn limb from limb for worshipping Apollo, god of the Sun, instead of Dionysus. When he died, Apollo put him and his lyre in the constellations.”
He shows her the five stars, and then points to the right. “That’s Hercules, upside down with his club about to strike the dragon. And you know Prometheus?” He launches across her. “There’s Aquila, the constellation showing the eagle which fed on his liver every day, and just above that is Sagitta, the arrow Hercules shot it with.”
She can’t see them, so he points them out carefully and then lets his arm fall to his side.
“Are there more?” she asks, and he nods.
“Orion and Hydra and Pegasus and others. But some of them aren’t up there now. You have to wait for the world to turn before you can see them.”
They lie in silence some more. She finds the stars he’s shown her again and thinks about their stories. Prometheus gave men fire, even though Zeus told him not to. He was punished by being chained to a rock and an eagle was set to feed on his liver. Every night his liver would grow back, and in the morning the bird would return to eat it again.
To punish man, she remembers, Zeus gave them Pandora: the first woman. She scowls at the stars. When Pandora, curious, opened the box Zeus had tempted her with she let out all the evils of mankind. But Pandora wasn’t stupid. She closed the lid before Hope could escape. A weapon with which to fight all the others.
“One day all of this will burn up,” he says suddenly, and she turns her head. “The Sun will explode and take the Earth with it. But there will be stars, ones we can see now, that will still be burning when everything here is gone. They will outlive the human race by thousands of years.”
She doesn’t know how to answer him. In the silence that follows he turns his head to look at her, and there is fire in the white pricks of his eyes.
He smiles. “Don’t they, in precisely the same moment, make you feel at once entirely obsolete, and absolutely infinite?”
She thinks, if he fills her with any more of this feeling, her heart will become so hot that it will surely burn her up. It beats, scalding white against her ribs, as he holds her eyes in his with his pulse in her palm.
He says her name, and then stops.
“Yes?” It is a whisper.
“Do you remember, what I said to you when we met last? About what you have and what they can’t take away from you?”
He turns his head back to the sky and his features are lost in the shadows, so she turns back too.
“When a star dies, it doesn’t just disappear. The gas it explodes – the stardust – gets caught up in solar winds, and sometimes starts to form new stars.”
She is about to ask him how he knows so much, when he says, “Everything in the world comes from stars. Every element heavier than hydrogen was created in the heart of a star. The oxygen we’re breathing was created when a star exploded.”
She can feel it, not only in her lungs and at the back of her throat, but as it spins through her while she lies on the grass with his hand in hers. It sends sparks through her veins and threatens to ignite inside the cavity in her chest.
“Aida,” he murmurs, but she can’t pull herself away from the pinpricks under her eyelids. “You and I are made of stardust.”