“Light From a Thousand Stars” by Cathy Ulrich

The astronaut’s wife pulls vases out of the storage closet, vases, vases, vases, lines them up by height on the dining room table. The astronaut likes this house with its dining room table and master bedroom and daisies in the yard. She likes her wife, rearranging the vases, hovering her hand over the tops of them to see which is tallest.

We have so many vases, says the astronaut.

The neighbors sent me flowers, says her wife, while you were gone.

She says: They kept sending me flowers.

The astronaut has been to space again and again. She thinks of space as somewhere you go, not as somewhere you already are.

When she is home, she thinks of space as being so far away.

It’s not far away at all, says the astronaut’s wife, holds her hand over a vase without touching. It’s here. It’s always right here.

Let’s go for a ride, says the astronaut.

She has an old car in the garage. Its radio dial is tuned to the classic rock station.

When the astronaut is gone — in space, she says, and in space, her wife agrees — the astronaut’s wife likes to sit in the old car in the garage, hand on the steering wheel, like she might drive away. Closes her eyes, thinks of open windows, rustle of wind. Thinks of rhinoceros call, hippopotamus thunder. Thinks of the places she has never been, will never go. Thinks of space, and space, and space.

She says: I wonder how many toads would fit in the car.

It depends, says the astronaut, on the size of the toads.

The astronaut will be going back to space soon. She is always going to space, always floating there, skeleton gone hollow like bird bones; she is weightless. She looks over at her wife in the seat beside her. It’s cold for spring, but they have the windows down. The astronaut’s wife likes the way the wind sounds with the windows open, the way it ripples the fake grass on the dashboard hula girl’s skirt.

Where should we go? says the astronaut.

Nowhere, says the astronaut’s wife. Everywhere.

She says: Right now, we’re already in space.

The astronaut’s wife looks out the window of the old car, lets the fingers of one hand carry the wind on their tips, dangling them outside. She doesn’t recognize the song playing on the radio, something about waiting on the wrong corner, something about waiting in the rain. The astronaut’s wife doesn’t listen to music when the astronaut is gone, except sometimes she will pick up their rotary phone, hold it to her ear, be swept in the wave of dial tone.

She says: Before you go.

The astronaut’s wife looks over, again, at her wife. The dashboard hula girl’s skirt rustles.

The astronaut’s wife says: Before you go, it always feels like you’re already so far away.

When the astronaut and her wife were girls, they rode the bus to school together, sat side by side, pinky fingers brushing. The astronaut’s wife was always looking out the window.

It looks so different, she said, than when you’re holding still.

The astronaut thought: I am never holding still, pressed more weight into her pinky finger, felt a pressing back in return.

The sun is high when they return home, shining in bright through the dining room window. The astronaut thinks of it as the sun is high, though she knows better, says to her wife it’s only the angle we are to it now, after all.

There are still vases on the dining room table; the astronaut’s wife never finished her project with them, never decided which was tallest.

They’re all so similar, she says, thinks of daisies, thinks of toads, thinks of filling the car with them, toad on top of toad. This big, she says, makes a fist, toads this big, and knocks against one of the glass vases, topples it over.

On the hardwood floor — the astronaut thinks I love this house with its hardwood floor — it shatters, prisms the sunlight, reflects it around them, pinpricks of rainbow.

The astronaut’s wife bends down to pick up the broken glass; the astronaut bends down beside her, brushes pinky finger against pinky finger.

Wait, she says, wait, and they do, in the reflection of light, fingers touching, breath catching, wait in the reflected light of a thousand stars.

Cathy Ulrich doesn’t like getting flowers or plants as presents because she always forgets to take care of them. Her work has been published in various journals, including Cream City Review, Sun Dog Lit, and Lunate Fiction.

Image: “Experiment” by Sarah Sampson

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