Anna Mantzaris ~ Application To Be the Brightest Star In the Universe

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.