February 3: Stars

February stars, temporary scars 🎶

Today the flash fiction prompt was “stars.” A couple ideas jumped to mind right away: glow-in-the-dark stars that you stick on a bedroom ceiling, a quick scene about celebrities living in New York (I just read up about the San Remo)….but where I ultimately landed was on the timeless act of stargazing. It’s a little longer than my first two pieces, around 540 words, but still very petite.

The story as I first imagined it began as versions of my brother and father at their property along the river, but in writing about the kid running from his house, I had a flash of being at the beach. I thought about being unable to see the ocean over the dunes, running through the grass with my cousins, and how surprisingly cold it gets at night, even during a sweltering summer. So it became the beach, and two friends looking from their tiny, cozy world into the vastness of space. I give you Joey and Kenny.

“Bye, mom!” Joey yelled behind him as he shot out the front door with a half-zipped, half-rolled red sleeping bag stuffed under his arm.

“Take a flashlight!” she called back. Joey waved his dad’s Maglite over his head in farewell without slowing down. The fading twilight was more illumination than he needed on the well-worn paths that led through the dune grass and over the rise that protected the line of houses from the relentless ocean winds.

Kenny was already on the beach, fighting against the whipping gusts to lay down a wrinkled blue plastic tarp. He’d chosen a flat stretch of sand near a giant log that had been washed up by the highest of tides. His stained and worn backpack lay on its side several feet away.

Wordlessly, Joey dropped his sleeping bag in a heap and grabbed a corner of the tarp. Together, they used chunks of driftwood to anchor it down, then spread the sleeping bag out on top. Kenny retrieved his backpack, and the two boys settled themselves in the middle of their flannel-lined island in the sand.

“My mom sent snacks.” Joey shoved his hands in his pockets and pulled out red wax-covered rounds of cheese and a half-empty brown plastic sleeve of crackers.

Kenny unzipped his backpack. “My mom made cocoa,” he offered, pulling out a Thermos. “She said if we lose the cap again, she’ll send juice boxes next time.” He removed the lid and handed it to Joey, who held it as a mug while Kenny filled it with steaming hot chocolate and carefully screwed the cap back onto the bottle. He tucked the Thermos back into his backpack and tugged out a dark green fleece blanket.

When Kenny finished spreading the blanket over their laps, Joey gave him the hot chocolate and began picking wax off one of the cheeses. “Where’s Len? He’s the best at remembering the names of the stars.”

“I think it’s his sister’s birthday,” Kenny shrugged. “I remember the constellations and some of the stars, but yeah, Len’s better.” He traded the mug of cocoa for a cheese and considered the horizon while he nibbled. “What do you think, ten more minutes?”

Joey followed his gaze. “Mmm, maybe five.” He crammed a cracker in his mouth then took a sip from the mug, mashing the sweet and salty sludge around in his mouth before swallowing hard. “I forgot my mittens.”

Kenny shrugged again. “You wanna borrow my left?”

“Whichever one you don’t want, thanks,” Joey mumbled. “I probably won’t even need it anyway.”

“Well, if you get too cold.” 

Their knees brushed together as the two boys quietly ate their snacks and passed the cocoa between them. At some unspoken signal, Joey tucked the garbage into his pockets and Kenny shook the crumbs out of the blanket. They laid back on the sleeping bag and spread the blanket over themselves.

Joey tucked his left arm behind his head as he gazed up at the night sky. He sighed contentedly and a wisp of a cloud escaped his mouth. A moment later, Kenny fumbled under the blanket. “Here,” he said, passing a knitted mitten to his friend.