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Starry Night by Matthew Robinson | Word Riot
Creative Nonfiction

July 15, 2012      

Starry Night by Matthew Robinson

I say light-years. You blink.
     I say the word: light-years. You look at me, and blink.
     What I mean when I say light-years is the distance a photon travels in the time it takes the Earth to orbit its burning, dying cinder of a star. You look at me, and because this means nothing within the four-foot space between us, you blink.
     I say, “It feels like we are light-years apart.” I’m standing in the doorway. You’re lying on the bed, facing me. Your knees are pulled up to your chin, hugged into you. In the dark, I see you blink.
     I say, “It feels like you are light-years away.” Behind you, past the bed, the night shines through the window. The light coming in is ancient, pre-ancient, exploded out from other burning, dying things, sent before humans were humans, some of it when we were still one-celled slime, all goo and tenacity. It has traversed a void that I can’t comprehend, and now that it’s here, as it blasts into us and our world, from where I’m standing in the doorway, it falls gently against the side of your face, casting you in a wash of soft gray. Just enough light that I can see you blink.
     I say, “You came to this room quietly, without a word—like an escape.”
     You don’t say anything. I back out, closing the door as I leave.

     What happens is, in the middle of a nothing-special evening, you disappear. Or maybe it’s a special-for-no-reason evening. You are here, and so it matters. But you still disappear. I pick up the remnants of the evening, dishes and glasses, and lock up. Because I can’t sleep without looking in every room, without checking every door, I make my rounds and find you.
     I’m standing in the doorway. You’re lying on the bed, hugging your knees into your chest. I start to speak, but stop. Your eyes are wet. Not in a crying way, but in a not sleeping way. Soft, ancient light shines in from the night sky, it lands on the side of your face and you are gray and shadow and goddamn beauty.
     I move to the bed, expecting you to disappear with every step. When you don’t, I lie down. Not creepily, just the way people lie down. I leave space between us and watch you breathe. It doesn’t look like much. On your side, almost nothing rises and falls—I’m looking at your back. I think I hear you blink, and then I don’t. You’ve closed your eyes. Mine close too.
     There is space between us, a void that only photons have traversed, but we are close. I think about saying something again. Instead I reach for you. One hand, palm-out, slowly finds the space on your back, between your shoulder blades. I leave it there. I feel you breathing. I feel you push into me and my breath catches. Under my palm I can feel the bones of you. I have traveled light-years to be here.
     We sleep.

     You say black hole. I move closer.
     You say the words: black hole. I am pulled closer.
     What you mean when you say black hole, is what’s left when something massive, and furious and burning finally extinguishes. But it extinguishes so hard, so intently, that it can’t stop extinguishing. Even after it kills every particle of itself, it keeps pulling: into itself. Collecting density. And keeping it.
     We are lying on the bed. My hand is on your back.
     You say, “It’s like we’re in a black hole.”
     You say, “You’re like a black hole. I can’t fucking breathe.” Through my hand I can feel the shallow rise and fall of you, I know you’re breathing. You’re speaking figuratively—I don’t mean to suffocate, so I get up and leave.
     You say, “I’m like a black hole. I can’t fucking breathe.” Through my hand I can feel the push and pull of you. Mostly the pull. I know you are breathing. I synchronize my breathing, matching your pace and depth, but yours is faster than mine wants to be.

     What happens is, we are lying on the bed, your back is to me and my hand is touching you. The room is dark, but you are light. We are close, only my hand and fragile whispers can fit between our bodies. We are breathing together. You start to say something, I can hear your mouth open, but nothing happens. But your breath stops, so I know you were going to speak.
     Your knees are pulled up towards your chin, your arms hugging your legs into you. With my fingers, I isolate each vertebrae running between your shoulder blades. I can’t imagine how you can be made of any lesser substance than your whole.
     I see your lashes close. I feel you take a breath. You start to say something again, then stop, and I know exactly what you mean. What you mean is, we are both black holes. Inside us, things have been extinguished. Not in a catastrophic way, although probably that too, but in the way that you can’t live long without something small dying somewhere inside. And our black holes consume our matter and seek out our light.
     You reach back and pull my hand out from the last space between us and we are together. You pull me around and my hand cups the underside of your ribs. You leave your hand on mine. We are denser than we were before. I hear you blink. There is no light between us. No space. You are the light. We breathe together and I go light-headed again. We fall asleep; the tiny black holes inside us hold us together in the dark.

     I wake. You’re gone.
     I wake up in the middle of the night, you are gone.
     What I mean when I say that I wake, is that my consciousness returns to me with a severity that leaves my body shaking.
     Maybe I should have said this earlier, but that density that is collected by a black hole, the matter and light it consumes, it doesn’t keep it forever. Long after the universe has given up on it, after it has no further use in existence, the black hole starts to let it go, little by little. The seeping out of what was, eons later, unwanted particles into the void.
     I’m lying on the bed, facing where you were. I don’t need to, but I feel the bed anyway, your heat long dissipated. I feel my chest, where you pressed into me as we slept. It’s colder too. You’ve taken my heat with you. This is what alone feels like.

     What happens is, when you wake, I’m still here—because sometimes people stay. And when I wake, you are gone—because sometimes people don’t stay. Because sometimes light-years are too far to traverse and black holes take too much from us.
     What I mean is, this is what happens—things burn, things extinguish.

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