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Three stalled raps against the wood –
With this familiar knock, Professor John Lark was pulled from his trance; the dense and difficult theories saturating his mind instantly faded from thought. He transferred his gaze from the charts sprawled across his desk to the girl who lingered at the door.
“Dad, I can’t sleep.”
Stella leant heavily against the doorframe and her right hand was clenched in a taut fist around the handle. Recognising this solemn stance, John ushered her over.
“See this path – ” he held a magnifying glass to one of charts –
“It’s called Lyra’s comet. And tonight, it’s passing by earth for the first time in 15 years –would you like to see it?”
Stella forced a breathless smile, then a silent nod. John took her hand and they wandered out of the office and through the back door.
Their house stood at the centre of an endless ocean of sharp grass that outstretched for acres both behind and beyond its solid frame. Together, they stepped into the open field. As they pushed onwards, the wind called in sodden howls that seemed dampened by the prospect of the darkness that lay before them.
Soon, they reached the telescope. As John fiddled with the focus, Stella remained silent. He knew his daughter’s mind – often swelling with restless thoughts of a texture far coarser, far darker and more dangerous than that of a typical 12-year-old.
“You’re stuck on those thoughts again aren’t you?”
She said nothing, but reached out to grasp his leg, as though anchoring herself in the dark. He recalled the trill that had fractured Stella’s voice when she had first expressed ‘those thoughts’ last month. There is no such thing as the present, it’s impossible for it to exist, every moment that elapses instantly becomes the past. There is no space in between, no space to exist. Even stars dad, we don’t see them in the now – we see past-stars. What they were thousands of years ago.
Stella’s realisations, her unanswered questions had consumed her mind; induced a permanent anxiety. John had once felt the same; had been at once trapped and left adrift by the ideas that Stella herself now wrestled with. He wished he could teach her how to escape it, to displace her fear and instead dwell in the comfort of vulnerability cast by the shadow of those forces that exist unchallengeable; perpetually more powerful.
“Have a look Love.”
He gestured to the telescope.
They both looked to the sky – Stella with her eye pressed to the lens, John with his neck craned and the wind’s iced breath scratching his eyes. What he saw was the palace of the stars – a distant kingdom suspended upon the surface of an infinite vacuum of empty space. Each star a synthesis of power and light poised beyond reach.
Three minutes passed; Lyra’s comet emerged from the folds of the sky – they watched the red blaze settle into the night. The entire time, Stella at the telescope and John standing beside. While the wind nipped at John’s feet and the air strangled his ankles, Stella seemed to glow – she smiled; threads of moonlight caught in her eyes and her face stained with a silver glow.
“It’s beautiful Dad.”
The rise of Stella
Three stalled raps against the wood –
John was pulled from his trance – Stella used to knock like that. Not anymore.
At the door stood Professor Maine from the lab next door.
“It’s almost time John – see you down there.”
John gathered his things and made his way down to the observatory field. Fearing his peers might offer awkward gestures of inclusion or consolation, he tucked himself away and set up along the field’s edge.
John looked to the stars loitering above – they peered through the distance, taunting him from miles above, reminding him that he was a mere speck of dust bound to the earth’s surface. His mind churned with a throbbing pulse of agitated thought. Had it really been 15 years ago that he and Stella had watched Lyra pass? Could he watch it now again without her? Those forces he’d taught her not to fear; to respect their power – they were the very same forces that for the last decade and a half, had held her from him, the idea and shape of her tumbling inevitably with each passing year plunging into a distant and unreachable space.
As John readied his telescope, he struggled to fix the focus. He felt the phantom weight of Stella’s arm around his leg.
Perhaps the solid, crystal image didn’t need to be found, perhaps if he just slid the focus back and forth…
The sky pulsed with stars – blurring and then reforming; from their faint outlines to ripples and ribbons of sparkling gold. An ocean – but not the kind that existed as a distant horizon. John didn’t just see it, he was in it – immersed within its waves, tumbling in smooth flurries of light. Nothing was still. Wading through the pleats of the blur from earth, his eyes beamed with an unfolded joy; an unravelled relief – the swirls and speckles of hazel swimming in circles of starlit gold, glowing amber and pulsing emerald.
Soon, a red haze rose to the surface. It was Lyra. As she wove in and out of the darkness, John was certain he could feel the warmth of her glow – had he reached out his hand, it would have been held. John was certain.
Lyra passed –
It was Stella, saying goodbye, hello, see you soon. 15 years before she had passed; 15 years on she would pass. Always in orbit, circling
– drifting and dissolving through the folds of time.