What is your form? Solid? Liquid? Gas?
Are you afraid of heights?
Have you ever left the atmosphere?
Can you keep yourself occupied in thought?
Are you able to take on a lifespan of a few hundred million years?
Do you want to explode as a supernova or collapse into a black hole?
Do you subscribe to Universe Today?
Is your name Mary by any chance? Forgive me, but I’m just wondering. I guess hoping. It’s been years but I thought maybe she’d see this. Somehow. God knows if she’d even remember me. Isn’t strange how someone can be the brightest star in your universe but you may not be in theirs? In fact, you don’t even stay in their universe. That’s what happened to me and Mary. She had left her husband. And for the most amazing three days of my life we were together. She was the librarian in town and I remember the day I walked in to take out a copy of Birds of the World because I loved looking at the bright illustrations by Arthur Singer, and I watched as her smooth hands moved across the marble desk to check out the book, noticing that her ring finger was bare. I waited for her on the stone steps at the end of her workday. She came out in her pencil skirt and thick soft cream sweater and looked at me as if she just knew I would be there. Waiting for her. She took my arm and led me to the Radcliff Hotel.
She looked like Katharine Hepburn. So much so people in town often made note of it. She would just laugh and wave her thin arm, like it wasn’t true. But she was so beautiful, that somewhere, in that gesture, she must have known it. How could she not.
I remember our first night together as we looked out the window facing Main Street and up to the indigo sky. I want to be your little kitten, she whispered to me. But you’re a bright star, I thought to myself.
It was early morning of the third day when her husband came and found her. We both knew it as soon as we heard the loud consecutive knocks on the door, saw the knob shaking as he twisted from the other side. She didn’t put up a fight. I stayed back. It was between them. He grabbed her coat before she could put it on. She looked to me as he placed his heavy hands on her back.
She never returned to the library. I knew she wouldn’t. But I went that Monday anyway and Margaret Munson, who was a retired schoolteacher had taken over until they could find someone. I stopped going there after hearing her bellowing voice and staring into the space where Mary had once stood.
I heard Mary’s husband had moved her across state lines. I’d heard other things about him. All that I hoped weren’t true.
The other night I turned on the radio and they said Jupiter was viewable. They said it was technically a planet, but so close to being a star but it had never started burning. It didn’t have enough weight. They said if you stood outside at just the right time you’d see it glowing bright. So I waited. And I went up into my attic and found my plaid wool coat, the same one from twenty years ago that I’d worn the morning I walked home alone from the hotel after Mary left. It was as I’d left it, carefully folded in a carved wooden trunk, preserved beneath a fading lambswool blanket.
I put the coat on and went outside. The cool fall air surrounded me and my small white dog that stood by my side. I tucked my hands deep into the pockets, hoping to get a bit of warmth as I looked up at Jupiter. And just as I saw it, bright and clear and alive, I felt something in my hand. I pulled it out. It was dark but the planet glowed just enough to illuminate a soft and small script on a beige piece of notepaper with the Radcliffe Hotel printed at the top.
I held it out in front of me and read.
I am. So happy. Right now. Your little kitten.
Apologies for my digression. It’s funny how your mind can veer off. You can just be going about your business and a thought wanders in and it’s like you are back there. A time traveler. Pulled into an envelope of your past. Well, at least for me. But I try not to dwell on Mary. In fact, I only allow myself to think of her at the end of a long day. When I look up into the sky. Which is how this application came about. Just a few more questions and I will let you get back to your business:
Have you ever been part of a constellation?
Are you afraid of swirling dust and gravitational pull?
Will you shine bright no matter what happens to you?
Anna Mantzaris is a San Francisco-based writer. Her work has appeared in Ambit, The Cortland Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, New World Writing Quarterly, Sonora Review, Spry, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the 2020 Eyelands Book Award and the 2022 Lascaux Prize in Flash Fiction. She is currently a fiction chapbook fellow with Galileo Press.