She can’t see the stars in the city. It’s a fact that now strikes her as grossly unjust — that the city’s lights obscure even the barest hint of radiance, replacing the night sky with their uniform orange glow. How is she supposed to find her way to the person she was meant to be without the stars’ gently guiding light?
The shape of her life used to seem so clear: she studied the stars in school because the universe sang to her at night when she closed her eyes and slipped at last toward sleep. The stars seduced her, re-directed her course of study, and left her their disciple — a newly minted astronomer, one of the last of a quietly dying breed. The path forward seemed obvious — a job, an apartment, a partner, a life.
After she graduated from college she moved to a job in the city and she thought this is it. This is the moment the magic starts.
She’d been promised magic as far back as she can remember — back to when she first learned to wish upon a twinkling little star.
And oh, how she’d wished upon those stars on moonlit drives and lonely nights when she lay awake in the dark. She’d wished a little girl’s wishes for fairy circles and moonlit magic and unicorns like shining stars.
But now she’s 25 and all grown up. She’s a scientist who hasn’t any thought to spare for magic and who rarely sees the stars except as glowing pixels on a computer screen.
She’s never felt so lost, so sure that this isn’t what she signed up for. So sure that just this once she’s desperately in need of a wish.
It’s dark in the city and she can hardly find a star at all — let alone a twinkling one, begging to be wished.
She’d had a friend in college once who had a laser light machine that made glowing green points dance across the ceiling like a hundred thousand teeny-tiny stars.
They’d spent hours in his room, lights out and side-by-side on the bed as they lost themselves to the wonder of an imagined universe — the swirling of a hundred thousand tiny worlds, a hundred thousand tiny lives whirling on the ceiling overhead.
They lay down in the dark and watched as their own lives froze solid, counting each passing second in the sound of heartbeats pounding in their ears.
She closed her eyes and felt the room’s edges stretch out into a vast forever as the galaxy of lights bloomed and spun overhead.
Now she longs to go back, back to that darkened room and its star machine. She longs to go back to a time when everything seemed more certain.
She longs for the summer after high school when she watched the Perseid meteor shower, stretched out on her back on the tarmac of a hilltop airstrip in the pre-dawn night. She’d peeled herself from the comfort of her familiar bed and blankets to be there on that smoky summer night, counting falling stars as they raced by overhead.
She longs for age nineteen when, drunk on too-hot summer sunshine, she found herself feeling her way into a multitude of futures as she decided on her college major and mapped out the courses she planned to take.
Everything had felt so purposeful then. The stars had been her guide, her light. She’s doesn’t know how to navigate without them in the dark.
She longs for the year she finished her Master’s thesis in Flagstaff, Arizona when the moon had never seemed so bright nor the Milky Way such a bold slash through the inky darkness of a winter’s night.
She used to watch for falling stars, but now it seems to be the other way around — now it is the stars who watch her, watching as this time it is she who falls apart.
She’s two years out of school and she’s swimming in emptiness as she lays in bed alone at night, her eyes aching and exhausted after a day of work, and feels her edges melting as she dissolves into infinite darkness.
Somewhere along the way she lost sight of the overwhelming awe of stars glowing in the dark.
These days she’s nothing more than lonely brain in a lonely skull. And on the longest nights there is a moment when she remembers she is nothing more than stardust and for a heartbeat she no longer knows which is the one exploding — is it the stars? or me?
In that moment she teeters on the edge of revelation.
The moment passes. She falls.
In the middle of the night, she gets up from the bed and leaves her life behind. She heads out of the city in search of the only thing she still knows: stars.
She leaves the house with nothing more than the shoes on her feet and a sleeping bag strapped to her back. She finds her way by the stars. Outside in the dark they are map and guide and she knows their familiar arcs and shapes like she knows the swirl of lines on her own palms.
And late at night when she lies awake in her sleeping bag and stares into the vastness of the universe, she remembers her childhood bedroom and the way there were stars overhead, the glow-in-the-dark kind she stuck to her ceiling with Blu Tack.
She remembers the way she used to dream up the possibility of glow-in-the-dark constellations on the nights when she couldn’t sleep.
And now, as she lies awake in the cold and in the dark, she remembers it all and she thinks that maybe, just maybe, this is the moment the magic starts.