Most of the Stars

“Where’s the sci-fi section?” Gemma asked the librarian. “There? Over there? Uh, ok.” She walked over to the wall filled with her favourite writers – Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein, William Gibson, Philip K. Dick. She’d read them all. There aren’t too many women authors, thought Gemma. There’s Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Atwood, but that’s pretty much it. I wonder why? Maybe I will become a sci-fi author to swell their ranks.

She wandered by mistake into the poetry section. P is pretty close to S. She didn’t mind skipping the Romance section. Romance books are often cheesy, and always stupid. She’d rather do it than read about it anyway, so never mind.

Let’s take a look at the poetry, she thought. William Shakespeare… To be or not to be, that is the question. William Wordsworth… I wandered lonely as a cloud. William Blake… Tyger! Tyger! burning bright, in the forests of the night. Walt Whitman… I sing the body electric. It was great to see more women here. Maya Angelou… You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise. Emily Dickenson… Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me. Sylvia Plath… I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; lift my eyes and all is born again. Kathleen Raine… And see the peaceful trees extend their myriad leaves in leisured dance….

She saw an old book out of place among the new ones. It was pretty battered. A layer of dust slipped off when Gemma retrieved it. Its outer was deepest blue, reminding her of night sky, and the same colour continued within, featuring the sun, moon, planets, stars, and comets. The image must have been over-printed many times to achieve such depth of colour. The book was called “Most of the Stars”, and consisted of one long poem which began:

“Most of the stars rose up within in her;

And she met her needs by reflection…”

Beside these lines was the stunning image of an upside-down, inside-out, heavenly goddess. It was a most unusual illustration, possibly Victorian. The lines were clean, yet held great fluidity. Gemma wondered how she could be standing proudly, but also be upside-down? And have a substantial body, but also be inside-out? The celestial objects filling her body made it heavenly; to know her required stellar navigation.

The Goddess reminded Gemma of her teenage years. They were very difficult years. Her skin changed as she grew. Multi-coloured blotches appeared across her body. The doctor said that they were unusual, but nothing to worry about, merely pigmentation abnormalities, known unofficially as “Spectral Skin”. But as Gemma continued her study of stars, she noticed that her blotches were not random patterns. They matched the positions of heavenly bodies, and moved around. There were ten main blotches that circled around her, appearing and disappearing around her front and back. Gemma knew that her search must be among the stars.

She recalled her childhood’s most thrilling event: visiting the planetarium. Entering its vast, cool white dome made her think of the inside of her skull. The stars appeared magically, and shone everywhere forever. Wherever she looked, there was sky.

The Goddess in the book seemed Mistress of the heavens’ motion. She could see the stars from any position in the world, at any point in time. She seemed a living starball, and also a spherical projection screen.

“Do you want a telescope for your birthday?” her father had asked her. “You spend so much time with your head out of the window, you may as well.”

“That would be great,” she’d said, and was soon an amateur astronomer. She peered at the moon mostly, saw its craters and scars – that poor little thing had really taken a battering. Mars had also had a rough ride, and were those long streaks really canals made my Martians? Saturn’s rings were creepy, looking like they would cut it in half, like a magician’s bad trick. Most of all she loved Jupiter’s red blob, like a bloody eye, staring back at her. Plus all the comets, nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies. She wondered how this universe formed.

Her mother read their horoscopes daily. She said, “The stars are fate, showing secrets permanent and predestined.” She’d call out, “Honey, do you want to hear what’s going to happen to you today?” They were never very accurate though. Gemma found a website that asked for your time and place of birth. It calculated the positions of the sun, moon, and planets above that particular place at that precise moment, and predicted everything about you. Its central principle was that of our cosmic integration, recognizing divine communications within celestial cycles. It said, “The cosmic order determines the place of everything in the universe – stars, planets, people. We were not apart from anything, ever.”

When Gemma had problems she didn’t take them personally. She knew them as opportunities written in the stars. She realized that we see the world as we are. As above, so below. As within, so beyond. The planets circled around her always. And her soul was their sun. What she yearned for now was a Starman. A Tyger who truly was, to join her lonely wanderings. To rise like stardust together. To lift their eyes. He would extend his hand and ask her to dance. Till death stopped for them.

“Excuse me,” said a bookish boy. “Do you know where the sci-fi section is?”

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