We Are Stardust
Emily balked, frowning, arms locked across her chest compact as a spaniel’s. “Daddy, I’m tired of that book.”
She was difficult, mercurial, like the 80s-era Qaddafi, Peter thought, his knees almost at his chest sitting on the edge of Emily’s small bed and his back beginning.
Peter’s day had stretched him thin as an eyelid. Senior partner in an artist management firm, he flickered with tiredness, falling across the finish line of Friday night. For an instant he allowed himself release at the prospect of some unstructured time, but not too much to lose focus. Tomorrow early was his squash time. He tried to keep it low key, using visualizations of the vegetable, round, orange, empty. The mind is like water: leave it undisturbed and it will become clear, on his Starbuck’s cup that morning. However, it was the club prelims for senior singles, and he could take it this time. He’d been working with a coach for the first time since Stanford, thirty-seven years ago.
A bounce of Emily: “I want a new story. Newest latest. Tha bomb.”
Peter rubbed the apostrophe between his closed eyes, imagining the new flat panel and Skyfall. But he’d promised his wife Supersize Me that night: Portia’s stepdaughter’s therapist assigned that as homework for next session, when they’d work on diet issues for commencement week: a dangerous time, warned the therapist.
Peter rubbed more, comfort in the mid-eyes spot. Then, he stood and strode to the Gehry rocking chair, in his tanned, dry hands a warming martini in a water glass, and a thin book. He lowered himself and drank half. The room shivered, and he swallowed the rest, waved the book in his other hand like a racket once. Twice.
“Dad. Hel-lo?” She had that sitcom look, the sarcastic one, like his clients. And his partners. And the valet parker. And the server at lunch. And the dermatologist, and the dry cleaner. And the Prius mechanic. And the accountant. And his last doubles partner, and his first wife, and Portia, and God probably, Peter decided, dropping the book.
“Fine. Here’s a new story. Brand new. Mos def fresh. Sickest.” Peter stared into the blue cylinder of his glass, blurred and darkened at the bottom.
“In 1969 there was a huge concert, called Woodstock. Many people came to the concert, so many that it was like a city. The”—
“Dad, we studied Woodstock in Mrs. Willoughby’s class last year, I already know about it. This isn’t a story.”
“Yes it is. Anyway, all the people gathered out in the country in New York, at a farm, as many people as a city, except it wasn’t a city, there were no offices or parking garages, or conservative Latino politicians”—
“Ignore that last part. It was like a made-up city, but it was a beautiful city with no violence, no one tried to hurt anyone else, it was peaceful, all kinds of people were together just listening to music and enjoying being with each other, like a story, except it was real.”
“Dad, I’m not”—
“Let me tell it. Woodstock became a magic place. That’s how magic happens, when enough people believing in the same thing come together it can create magic.”
“What about when we went to the Angels game. That wasn’t magic and everyone there”—
“That’s different. Not everybody there believed in the same things. Will you let me tell the story, please? Alright? So it was like a city, people slept and ate together and there was a kind of hospital where sick people went, and parts of it were like parks where people went and played, and there was the stage where there was music, anywhere you went you could hear music.”
“Would you let me tell the freaking story please?”
“Would you let me tell the story, Emily? Would you please?”
“So just like things happen in a real city, this imaginary city had a baby born, but just one baby. Out of this magic place, which only lasted for three days, a baby was produced. That’s pretty magical in itself.” Peter’s face was warm.
“And after the baby was born the parents took him through the crowd holding him high over their heads and everyone began cheering, and the cheer rose up like a wave sweeping through the crowd. Then the musicians on the stage found out and waved their arms, saying, come on up here, bring that baby up here. And the baby was smiling and everyone was laughing at this miracle, this child born in the fantastic city, and the crowd cheered so loudly that people far away heard the cheering and wondered what it was about, all around the world.”
Peter flicked his eyes at his watch, asked himself where he was going with this, thought about the new real estate bubble and market corrections, then breasts, then something else.
“So it wasn’t supposed to go on forever, it was just a concert, but each person when they left, wherever they went, they each took a little piece of that place wherever they were, even if they were by themselves. Okay. The end. That’s it for now.”
Emily rolled over and raised one eyebrow, the pair barely bigger than parentheses. “That’s not a story, nothing happens. Were you a hippy?”
Peter was surprised by the word, a bubble floating with nowhere to go, so he snorted and it vanished. “Time to get some rest.”
He loped out with her flinging bedclothes around like an angry maid as she settled, refusing to settle.
Peter descended the footlit stairs. One of his clients performed at Woodstock, and reconfiguring that estate’s tax position before a rights auction had eaten up too much of his week. Taking the final step into the white living room he thought, as he did each time: too white. He stopped and touched his empty, sweaty glass to the glossy, door-sized occasional table, leaving a smeary moon, then he wiped, practicing a flat backhand, and moved on; in his mind, fable, then table, then vegetable.
Batman landed on our street.
He swoops and dives: we jump, duck batarangs all day. It’s just that he gets in the way, frowning. We say, calm down, sip sweet tea, sit on this picnic bench and eat—you work too hard, the battle flares elsewhere, other sectors. Here we are good and plenty ready to vote and volunteer and give till it hurts.
You do not understand, he says, and keeps at it, creeping and leaping and stalking the little league outfield, patrolling, patrolling with his cowled thousand-yard scowl.
We finally say, go sit with Billy the vet in deep shade, and they speak in low tones, bump fists, slump back in folding chairs.
But now we do not like how together they stare at us, and smile, and smile.
for Orhan Pamuk
The story: a Shah commands his horses to slaughter as they look not like paintings, in which the perfect stallion has no penis and gallops without touching ground—then waiting Huns shaggy and ragged on feculent beasts with unmatched legs trample his empire, their caked swords common and dull with bone and blood, earth, invading another page in the books they cannot read.
The story, a lovely woman chokes down the language of roses. The state of your marriage not a bang but a whimper: the way the world ends with a clang and a zipper, the whisper of falling silk, then it is dinner time at the kennel, the hunger ugly but real, strays who have not eaten in weeks clean the bones, they are fighting and biting each other, eager to please, so hungry, so angry, and after, the concrete floor gone soft in their sleeping skulls.
Exhibit A. Death.
At the side of the brown convent a white panel truck and two black-suited guys with a gray rubber bag almost flat, on a silver gurney, each with one casual hand on the conveyance, not worried about spillage. The sky not quite blue.
Exhibit B. Death (II)
A guessing game. Animal, vegetable, or mineral?
Exhibit C. Art.
A question―what happened? I see pages; they brown and curl, then whirl away like maple seeds. All around, gray―floor, or ceiling, or sea?―fizzing and popping. Then, a burning bush of copper and silicates, a blank screen crackling. When I wake up, the dream dies with faint traces. I cannot remember more. Only the static.
Exhibit D. History.
100 American World War II veterans die daily, and to have been eighteen in the original Woodstock mud makes you older today than the average life expectancy of a current Zimbabwean, which equals that of a Saxon in the 8th century.
The rule-of-thumb used by Web site designers to ensure site “stickiness” is three minutes―if you haven’t made your case and sunk some hook into the viewer in that time, for you and your advertisers he or she will “be history,” something irretrievable, unreachable, and valueless. If it’s off the screen, it’s history.
Exhibit E. Philosophy.
Build “Brand You”!
Exhibit F. Religion.
An empty aspirin bottle, cap with tooth marks. An armored door.
Exhibit G. Children’s Wing.
Pardon Our Construction!
Exhibit H. Technology.
The 16th century Catholic church viewed the pneumonic systems of scholars such as the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci as strategic weapons and dispatched Ricci to India and China to dazzle the infidels with his memory feats and lure them to Christianity, the font of his power. This Samsung holds 10,000 names; it remembers, so you don’t have to.
Exhibit I. Science
Drink it, and remember, or forget.
Ed Taylor is author of the novel Theo and the poetry collections Idiogest and The Rubaiyat of Hazmat. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in a number of U.S. and U.K. publications, most recently in Southwest Review, North American Review, Willow Springs, Anemone Sidecar, Corium, Elimae, Louisville Review, Vestal Review, and Gargoyle.