[As this is my last blog post until January 2nd, I’m putting up more than a snippet this week. This is a short story written earlier this year for a competition on the theme of ‘Stars’. I hope you enjoy it. May I wish everyone a joyous holiday, whatever you celebrate, and a peaceful New Year. See you in 2014.]
After the funeral, Amy’s grandparents took her to live with them on the farm. Clambering down from the back of the battered, muddy Land Rover, her gaze was drawn to the wide patch of light making a path from her feet, across the yard and through the field towards the horizon where a creamy cratered moon stared down on her. She leaned backwards against the vehicle and gasped as she slowly took in the display above her head. Orion’s Belt, the Plough, the Great Bear plus many others she couldn’t name; and threading through them all, the glowing arch of the Milky Way. As a well-educated teenager with an interest in science, she recognised these phenomena from the books she’d read and the television programmes she’d watched with her parents. But as a city girl visiting the Devon countryside for the first time in many years, this was a whole new experience.
“Do you think they’re up there somewhere, Gramps?” she asked, her voice breaking and the tears she’d held back on the long drive from London finally beginning to slide down her cheeks. Her grandfather sighed and stood for a long time with his arm around her shoulder before speaking. She was beginning to think he hadn’t heard her question.
“I don’t know, poppet,” he said finally, “maybe they are. You know, in ancient times,” he continued, “they used to believe that every person on earth is represented by a star. When Fate decides your time is up, she snips the thread anchoring the star in place in the heavens.”
“And the star goes out?”
“Well, maybe, but only after making its way spectacularly to the afterlife.” He squeezed her shoulders and bent to wipe the tears from her cheeks. “Come child, let’s go in. Tomorrow night, I’ll take you to watch their final journey.”
“Nanny, are you sure you don’t want to come with us,” Amy said the next evening as she and her grandfather collected together blankets, torches and a flask of hot chocolate.
“Good gracious no, child,” laughed her grandmother, “My star-gazing days are over. I’ll just settle down with my new Dick Francis until you get back.”
The young girl and the old man walked across the field and threw down their blankets on a clear piece of grass next to the pond. Switching off the torches, they lay flat on their backs and waited for the show to begin.
Amy knew shooting stars were really meteors, small particles of debris burning up as they pass through Earth’s atmosphere. But right now, she didn’t need the science or the truth. She needed a way to connect with her parents, snatched from her suddenly, shockingly, by a careless driver, while she was at a friend’s birthday party.
“They go so quickly,” she whispered. “If only I could hold on to one of them.”
As the Perseids meteor shower fizzed and crackled above her head, she tried closing her eyes, capturing the images, but although the stars flickered briefly against her closed lids, they soon disappeared.
“The Greeks believed a shooting star was good luck,” said her grandfather.
“Maybe we should see if we could track one, see where it falls.”
“Or better still, catch it in mid-flight,” laughed Amy. Suddenly, she sat bolt upright. “Gramps, I’ve got an idea! Can we come back tomorrow?”
When the pair left the farmyard for their starry theatre the next evening, Amy had an old butterfly net tucked under her arm. As they lay watching the display, she tried to wrap the net around each of the fiery trails. Her head told her it was an impossibility, but part of her still had to keep trying; the part of her that wanted to believe if she could catch her parents’ stars she would be able to keep them with her a bit longer.
“No, that was someone else,” she would whisper each time she missed. “When
it’s you, I’ll know.”
Amy didn’t catch her shooting star that night, nor any night that week. As August gave way to September, she started at her new school and star-gazing was replaced, at her grandmother’s insistence, with homework and early nights. As time passed, the hurt became less of a sharp knife in her stomach and more like a dull ache that could be ignored most of the time.
Every year, in the middle of August, Amy and Gramps would cross the field and lie staring at the stars. She never really gave up the hope that she would catch a star, but as she grew older, she swapped the butterfly net for a camera. Even when she left the farm to travel the world, taking pictures of other places, other constellations, she still tried to return in August, to share a week of star-gazing with the old man, especially after her grandmother passed away.
But this year, it was too late. She’d got the call while she was on a photo shoot in Kenya. A heart attack, a short, sharp shock and it was all over. Standing at the graveside where her beloved Gramps was now reunited with his wife, Amy smiled through her tears.
“I guess you’ll have a ringside seat at the show this year Gramps,” she said, “and no doubt Nanny will be keeping you company once more. But don’t worry, I won’t be alone either. I’ve brought someone with me; I think you’d like him.” Then, dropping her flowers on the grave, she turned away to where her new boyfriend, Ian, stood waiting for her. He was an astronomer; they’d met when she’d attended a lecture he’d given on The Myths and Realities of Shooting Stars.
Late that night, Amy and Ian left the farm she now owned, carrying blankets, torches and hot chocolate. They crossed the field to lie under the stars and say farewell to Gramps. And for one last time, Amy had a butterfly net tucked under her arm.
Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.
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