The Star-Night Convention

Matt Rottman

 

Happiness

 

When you cry alone—when you don’t believe in God—the hardest part is that no one is listening. And you actually feel quite fucking pathetic.

 

Two more hours, though. That’s when the sun comes up, and I wish it would already. In two hours, I can fake it—they don’t know the difference—all is well. All is well, isn’t it?

All is well.

 

How about another cigarette? For some reason, thoughts tend to make more sense ten feet from the backdoor, consumed in a dry smoke. Why is that? Non-smokers would certainly have a heyday with that thought. Fuck ‘em. If they had a little bit of sense, maybe they’d indulge. Maybe, if they had any lick of sense at all, they wouldn’t be so happy.

 

All is well.

 

God-fearing people shouldn’t be so happy, either.

 

 

Now, that’s a thought.

 

Should I mix another drink, first? Hell, yes. Indulge.

 

It’s quite peculiar how the God-fearing people are so happy, so confident—fuck, that’s obvious. Too many drinks, and you begin to think in the obvious—but it’s sacrilege, right? Being happy?—happiness? If anything, it’s a secular emotion. God never commanded anyone to be happy—only to marry, to spread our seed—as well as the Good Word—we only assumed happiness was part of the deal.

 

What a fucking mood, huh?

 

What the hell happened tonight?

 

 

Comfort

 

June 17, 2004

 

The worst part of being confined to a fucking hospital bed is that if they’re not in your room, they’re talking behind your back. My suspicions, I think, are materializing—there is some coalesced effort—an effort to bombard me with a unified front—to arouse my spirits with the absence of death in their sympathetic banter. This façade might have had a more convincing effect, too—after all, eminent death is an easy matter to forget—if Kat hadn’t cried this morning. Her distress ushered in the entire reality of what is to become of me, inadvertently foiling all the labor that was spent to put my mind at ease. God bless her for that. I want to talk about it—how come no one else wants that? Everyone acts as if they’re the ones that have to die. And if they ever muster anything, it’s “a shame to be robbed of life at such a young age.”

I’d be an asshole to dispute that—you’d be challenging the memory and livelihood of millions of youth and infants that were unfortunate to make it thus far—thus far! Twenty-six years. There has been nothing conceived of the human race more insignificant as these numbers—concrete systems invented to attach value to the abstract conceptions of significance. Scientists spend their entire lives studying and recording the light radiating off stars hundreds of millions of miles away—concocting itineraries to visit the celestial bodies, striving to gain as much knowledge of their universe as they can before they die. The point always seemed foolish to me—where is one to go once acquiring such information? We affix the proper numbers, calling them scientific certainties, and then what? We move on to study something else—we move on, then we die. Is it so unthinkably unfortunate for all the young that have perished to do so before learning these facts? Regardless, they’re fate is the same—maybe we should be calling them the fortunate ones!

 

These definite numbers have the potential to foster a vulnerable, inconsequential conviction, yet we as a species, use them to our advantage—we construct a therapy of numbers to better ourselves—against others and against nature. We defy the latter by living old—years certainly being the most atrocious of manly constructs—and we defy each other with our monetary values and petty assets. And when these worldly figures fail us, the Good Book is readily available—forty days and forty nights—the Holy Trinity—the twelve apostles—one Lord and Savior—precise language for the most ambiguous of all human exploration.

 

 

The Proposal

 

June 17, 2004

 

Before Kat cried this morning, she sat on the edge of my bed, and we went through the rosary—fifty Hail Mary’s and five Our Father’s. I could have thought of more productive tasks, but it seemed to make her feel better—the repetition of each prayer appeared to bring a sense of comfort to her world—as if within, there was meaning to what was happening to me. I couldn’t feel this, and by the end, I was left completely unmoved. But her presence gave me pleasure, and I wished throughout that there were more prayers to say—that she would sit there just a little longer.

 

When we finished, a smile came across her face, and she removed a newspaper she had carried in with her purse. She impatiently sifted through the thick weekend edition, and unfolded one of the latter pages across my chest in order for me to be able to read it. Kat said it was good news—I read—Cutout Bride and Selected Short Fiction apparently had garnered a good review—Kat tore the paper from my grasp before I even had a chance to begin the opening paragraph.

 

She quoted from the text excitedly, accidentally skipping over words at times—flushed, she would begin to mumble—her eyes glancing embarrassingly into mine before trying to retrace her steps. Slowly, I began to tune out the words entirely. I countered her glances with smiles, thrilled about the temporary improvement in her mood.

 

—I told you it was good, she said when she had gotten to the end.

 

—Well, I wouldn’t think you’d make it up.

 

—I’ll just leave it right here. That way, you can brag to all the nurses when they come by to check up on

you.

 

Kat stepped over to the small table separating the two beds and gently laid the newspaper down—review face up—turning:

 

—You didn’t like it?

 

—No. The review was nice.

 

Sitting on the edge of the bed, she sighed and rested her hand on my shoulder.

 

—Father Michael told me you had spoken with him yesterday.

 

—Can’t a dying man get any privacy?

 

—He said you wanted to do confession?

 

—So?

 

—Richie, when’s the last time you went to confession? You couldn’t possibly think. . .

 

—Better safe than sorry, right?

 

Kat—standing:

 

—I can never get a straight answer out of you!

 

—Sit down, I laughed. I’m not trying to be difficult. I just don’t want to talk about that.

 

—Okay?

 

I shifted nervously in the bed:

 

—You’re going to think I’m insane.

 

Kat gave me a skeptical glance and opened her mouth to speak—I cut her off.

 

—Alright, I get it. I’ve just. . .I’ve been thinking. Hanging around here, it gives you ample time to conceive the

worst of ideas.

 

—Oh, no.

 

—Yeah, no shit: ‘oh, no.’ But like I said, though, I’ve been thinking. And. . .I think we should get married.

 

She took it better than I figured she would—she laughed abruptly—more of brief choking spatter—and then a sobering glance.

 

—You’re serious?

 

—As AIDS.

 

Looking as if she wanted to slap me:

 

—That’s not funny at all.

 

—Okay. Bad joke. Look, it can’t sound like that much of a radical idea—

 

—A radical idea? It doesn’t make any sense!

 

—It doesn’t make any sense to marry someone you love?

 

—Are you telling me, you love me?

 

—Yes. I am.

 

—See. That doesn’t make any sense.

 

—Then you don’t love me?

 

—What?. . .I—I don’t know. We’re friends—really good friends. I had no idea it could be more than that.

 

—Well, technically, it’s not.

 

—That’s my point.

 

—I don’t understand, minus the specific details—

 

—Minus the specific details!

 

—I don’t understand—that regardless—why it’s so ridiculous to want to marry someone I love.

 

—So, are you—like, attracted to me in that kind of way?

 

—Does that really even matter?

 

—Yes! It matters!

 

—No. Really. Say, if we did this. Would details like that matter when all is said and done?

 

—Richie, this is not some light-hearted ordeal. You, out of all people, know how serious of a sacrament

this is to me.

 

—There is nothing light-hearted about this proposal.

 

—There’s nothing romantic about it, either.

 

—What’s that supposed to mean?

 

—Look, you know I love you. But I can’t marry you out of some kind of a favor.

 

—It’s a favor because I can’t fuck you?

 

—You act as if it’s so far-fetched that that would actually have something to do with it.

 

—I don’t understand.

 

—Of course, you don’t! It’s not a favor because you can’t fuck me. It’s a favor because you don’t want to

fuck me.

 

—I’m not talking about sex here—

 

—You brought it up.

 

—I know, but is it so wrong for two people who simply just love each other to get married?

 

—It’s not wrong, but we can’t marry just because we meet the basic requirements.

 

—What basic requirements? Are you completely oblivious to our relationship? We connect to each other

far better than any actual couple. If any two people should wed, it’s us.

 

—Please, don’t put me in this position.

 

—A position to say no?

 

—Has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason we get along so well is that there is no chance of

being intimate?

 

—Intimacy is beside the point, here! Before I go, I just want something tangible—something I can hold

onto—and I don’t want just anyone at my side for this, I want you, Kat—as my wife. I want to spend my last moments with the only person I’ve ever loved—is that so strange?

 

Tears flooded her eyes, and she bent her face closer to mine, her hand touching my cheek—whispering:

 

—Please. . .Richie, please. I can still be here—I will be here. You know I’m not leaving you. What difference does it make whether we’re married or not?

 

—It makes all the difference to me.

 

—Why?

 

—Have I not explained this properly?

 

Kat broke eye contact momentarily to wipe her eyes—she sniffed in a way as if to catch her breath, and it was a long pause before she spoke again.

 

—And you love me—it’s for real?

 

—Yes.

 

—Say it.

 

—I love you, Kat.

 

A wave of emotion swept over her again, and she rested her body on mine, looking into my eyes. She kissed my forehead.

 

—I love you, too.

 

Stars

 

The cigarette and drink taste good together. Intoxication has the effect of being grounded—humbling in a sense—or more to the point, part of the ground; the earth. A reassuring thought when looking up at the night sky—the clear, night sky.

 

 

The brilliant men have overlooked something.

 

They knew it, of course, but it was never discussed—it was overlooked.

 

Billions of stars in the galaxy—or was it millions?—Christ, this drink has put me over the top—billions, millions, what did it matter, anyway? Stars like our own sun or bigger! And this was just the Milky Way, not to mention there were billions of other galaxies in the same universe—our universe—moving—no, expanding farther outward, away.

 

Newton’s Third Law of Motion—they knew this, but has anyone ever noticed?

 

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

 

This means not only are the galaxies moving away, so are we.

 

What the fuck does that mean?

 

Has anyone ever noticed?

 

Thoughts like that might require another drink—after the cigarette, though. The stars are inviting tonight.

Amazing how each one I can see has a name—a name means a personality—like a human being—like billions of human beings moving apart from one another—sometimes even clustering in groups to form constellations or galaxies, in which, those have names!—personalities!—nevertheless, moving away.

 

 

Numbers

 

June 19, 2004

 

Why am I still thinking about numbers? Capricious—billions of people in the world—it only takes one to make change. Coincidence—the function of the earth—intimacy is surely coincidental—true intimacy. There are influences, but in reality, it only takes one person to change you. And discovering that person amongst the crowds is coincidence.

 

After all, it took one person to change me—how many partners had I had? That question, purely irrelevant, is not what put me here. One night with one Stephen Graf put me here. Everything before that was sex—maybe or maybe not love—life unaltered—sex with many people is not as relevant as sex with one. Sex with one is death—and you only do that once.

 

The Voice

 

Will I still be unable to hear her voice when the alcohol wears off?

 

Is this normal—not being able to hear the voice? It must be strange that I’m feeling better about it.

 

Why was I even crying before?

 

My arbitration is only at the hands of manly constructs—and what are they—are they God, essentially? Someone has to take His place. Yet, they have no power, because there was no place to substitute anyway.

 

No worries.

 

I am my own judge. And it felt good.

 

And in the absence of God, that’s what counts, right?

 

But where the fuck is Katherine’s voice?

 

 

The Date

 

Katherine closed the hospital door quietly and looked cautiously at Brian lying across a hallway bench. He smiled at Katherine, but she knew he was bored.

 

“Don’t worry, I’m hiding,” Brian poked.

 

“Shut up. I feel like shit.”

 

“Here.”

 

He removed a Kleenex from his jacket pocket and moved close to her. Bringing the tissue to her eyes, he

carefully wiped the moisture from the top of her cheek. Her despondent vulnerability definitely accented her physical beauty, he thought. Brian could not believe she was a virgin.

 

His gaze caught her eyes, and slowly, he shifted it down toward the upper rim of her tight-fitting black dress. The space between her perfect breasts began to turn him on, and he smiled at her again.

 

“Thank you,” she smiled back, throwing her arms around him. “This would be so much harder if it wasn’t for you.”

 

“Are you okay?” he asked.

 

“No.” She broke away and sighed as if to regain her composure. “Let’s get out of here. I feel like I fucking live here.”

 

“Did you want to go to that new place on State?” He took her in his arms again. “We’ll get some wine; we’ll get shit-faced, and see who can outcry each other.”

 

She smirked, “that sounds perfect.”

 

 

* * * * * *

 

The check had come, but instead, Brian had reached over to gently rub the top of her hand. Katherine felt herself growing warm as he spoke to her. He was still in his suit from work, but she loved the way he looked in it. Focusing on the thin pinstripes of his black suit (she imagined it was expensive, though she was clueless when it came to men’s formal wear), Katherine began to think of what he looked like underneath. She regretted it.

 

Hail, Mary, full of grace.

 

She was lucky just to have him, she knew. For two months they had seen each other, and she had only let him kiss her. Sooner or later, she would have to sleep with him, or eventually, he’d get it elsewhere.

 

The Lord is with you.

 

Gazing at his shortly cropped brown hair and well-proportioned nose and mouth, their eyes locked, and Katherine thought he looked too young to be a lawyer. Young in a good way.

 

“You know. If you had an accent, you could play James Bond,” she said, suddenly realizing how much she had had to drink. She hoped he didn’t think she was an idiot.

 

Brian responded in a perfect British accent, “And you, my fair lady, would pass for a stunning Barbara Stanwick.”

 

“Oh, quiet. I could never fit into one of her dresses.”

 

“I think you’re perfect.”

 

“But you really think of me as a femme fatal?”

 

“Well, you do take a lot of my tissues.”

 

She laughed, and with a slight jerk, some wine spilled out onto the table.

 

“Shit,” she said, reaching for a napkin. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Who cares. You want to get out of here?”

 

“Where to?”

 

“Your place is closer.”

 

She wondered, pessimistically, if this would have to be the night.

 

 

The Night

 

He refilled her glass with chardonnay. “He asked you to marry him? What did you say?”

 

“What do you think I said?” she asked. Brian sat next to her on the sofa.

 

“But why?”

 

“I don’t know. He’s just confused. All this traumatic shit—it’s gone to his head.”

 

“Obviously, he doesn’t want to be alone.”

 

“You see, he’s not. It’s something else. He’s so depressed. I think, truly, I’m the only one who makes him

happy.”

 

“So how did he take the rejection?”

 

Katherine sighed. “I don’t know. . .I’m sure not good—”

 

“Hey,” he said quietly, placing his hand on her knee. “There’s no need to talk about this. It’s too fucking

sad.”

 

He kissed her gently on the neck, and immediately, it felt good—she could feel the goosebumps forming

on her legs. Slowly, he moved his lips down to her collarbone, where in which, he began to slightly use his tongue. When his other hand ran along the side of her torso and brushed against her breast, the blood in her body seemed to all run to her center, and she was warm.

 

Someone Else

 

June 20, 2004

 

I was an idiot, for sure, about asking Kat to marry me—am I overwhelmed so completely by this illness not to see she would ever say ‘yes’ to such a request? I’d hate to go out with such an inferred selfish agenda—it was pretty fucking dumb, but hell, she could still be upfront with me—I know she’s seeing someone else—I’m not that much of a fool—and aren’t we still great friends, after all?

 

She’d never divulge this now—not after my proposal—but I hear a man’s voice accompanying hers every time she leaves here. And unless she’s dating a doctor, it means this man actually comes with her to the hospital. I wonder if it’s serious, or if he’s just trying to fuck her.

 

Goddamn this bed—just a glimpse—that’s all I need to size this guy up—to warn Kat if he may have some serious ulterior motive. He wouldn’t be the first. She’s a beautiful girl in a vulnerable disposition—a pious position—a vulnerable disposition. If only she would have accepted me, I could have saved her the temptation.

 

 

The Floor

 

Brian lifted the bottom of her dress and arched his back accordingly to kiss the region around her bellybutton on her extraordinary flat stomach. She was strangely thrilled as her bottom undergarment became visible. From her lofted position, Katherine’s thoughts ran through the past two months with Brian, very much similar to the way someone’s life flashes before them at death.

 

She had met him at her publishing house, as he was the lawyer for one of the writers whose book she was editing. It was after a brief meeting he had bumped into her in the lobby of the building, heading for lunch. He was bold and charming, asking her out to lunch right there, but she declined. She had to visit Richard in the hospital, but there could possibly be a rain-check. To her surprise, he asked to go with her.

“You want to go?” she asked, shocked and nervous. Why would this strange guy want to go with me to a hospital?

 

“It sounds like a rough ordeal,” Brian had said. “My mother spent four months in the hospital dying of cancer, and I know how important it is to have some moral support.”

 

“I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

 

He smiled, and she asked, “Well, I mean, I won’t deny you the pleasure of sadness if you insist on coming.”

“Think of it. Hospital food has to be cheaper than the place I was going to take you.”

 

Since that moment, she liked him. Regularly, he would accompany her on her trips to see Richard, but he always averred to stay clear of his room, as to not make things awkward for her and Richard. But he was always there when she emerged broken and tearful, and he always had a joke. Hospital trips soon turned into dinners, then walks home. Once, in Brian’s doorway, as he ushered them in, embraced in a kiss, Katherine had stopped abruptly and almost started crying.

 

She revealed her vow to chastity and expected, immediately, for her polite dismissal. He laughed and said he understood—even respected it! She fell in love with him at that very second. However, ever since, it seemed he had tried, in a very subtle manner, to push things farther every time they were alone. This unnerved Katherine, and further more, she began to think he spent too much time at bars with his friends after work (and Lord knows, she didn’t take kindly to the smoking). Having no idea as to if he was around women, the thought perturbed her, and jealousy formed as a result of her selfish vow. If she wanted to keep Brian, tonight would have to be the night. Was it that important? Would God be understanding if she did it to secure the one she wanted to marry? This was a peculiar and perverse catch-22.

 

And hell, if it didn’t feel good. He was good, and she wondered how many women he’d been with before her. How many women could he be with now? With this thought, she had no objection when he lifted the dress above her head. She giggled, and drunkenly, she started to slip from the couch. The wine had gone to her head, and before she knew anything, she was on the floor. Brian was on top, kissing her, and his tongue danced gently against hers. Was she good enough for him? He was very experienced.

 

After a moment, he raised his back and unbuttoned his own shirt, Katherine helping with the bottom ones. As soon as his shirt was gone, she observed his well-toned figure, causing her to let out a slight gasp as his mouth went back to her stomach with fingers interlaced in the straps of her underwear.

 

It wasn’t long before they were both naked, and there were moments when they rolled over to switch positions; a sensual dance sure to impress anyone who would be watching. Katherine was caught up in the moment, but suddenly, she began to grow tired. She felt as if she was going to pass out. No, she thought. It feels so good.

 

He penetrated her, the pain bringing tears to her eyes. Immediately, she recognized this tenderness as a sign:

 

“Please. . .no. . . stop. . .”

 

Katherine passed out from the three bottles of wine he had bought. Brian, recognizing this, continued to thrust, harder and harder until he climaxed. Katherine’s last thoughts, before becoming unconscious, were of wondering if it was better to be asleep.

 

 

The Ultimate Authority

 

I’m like God in a way.

 

Ingenious.

 

She resigned to my will whether she knew it or not. And what will she think when she awakes?—is it the

drink?—is this why I’m not crying any longer?—the indifference? This is what I wanted, right? Mission accomplished? It may be the alcohol, but I can’t hear her voice any longer—a defense mechanism?—will hearing the voice make me reconcile with morality? Jesus, what an idiotic thought—go to bed, you’re shit-faced. She was just as selfish as me, not wanting to share her sexuality—and for whom? For Him!

Like God, I had the power to create feeling—I made her wet when I licked her nipples, making them hard and stiff—at my control! Just like so many before—she is one of many—like the stars—they all have personalities—billions of them—impassive—only moving farther away.

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