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This story is related to Close Encounters with Goldfish
‘The sky is actually black’ he said, although I didn’t want to know.
‘We only think it’s blue because the light bends in the atmosphere and blue has the shortest wavelength.’
‘Uhmh’ I said, with pins in my mouth. I was turning up the hem of our daughter’s dress, for Barry’s sister’s wedding, Astra was going to be the flower girl. Astra, I know. It was either that or Cassiope so I think we got off lightly. The nurse had come round with the registration forms and Barry had signed them while I was out of the ward having a shower.
‘The light we see from certain stars began travelling towards us in Roman times.’
I prayed that he wouldn’t mention aqueducts but that would have been more in his father’s line. He was a walking encyclopedia, except of course encyclopedias don’t really walk anymore. I mean you don’t see those door to door salespeople now do you, it’s all on line, you know, virtual learning. Roy’s father isn’t around anymore either. He finally came down from his attic, where he had all the trains and the Star Wars comics and God knows what else and died. Oh he was okay and he was kind to Astra. The way they chatted quietly in the corner, him in his easy chair and she perched on the edge of it, it looked like they understood each other. Sometimes I fear for Astra.
It was strange for Barry to be there. Usually he was out this time of night charting the UFOs. Once I asked his mother for advice, whether to crack down on that kind of thing, I mean he’s never said it out loud but in his sleep he’s been convinced that he’s been abducted by aliens. It’s not a nightmare, he says things like ‘is it okay if I pull this lever here?’ and ‘Yes, toenail clippings for analysis are quite acceptable’ and then he talks gobbledegook which seems to be their native language. His mother said her policy, if you wanted to stay married, was to turn a blind eye to everything unless it involved cutlery.
Barry’s got books like the Turing Option. It’s not about a badly spelled tour of a famous Italian town where they worked on authenticating that shroud thing, it’s about how to tell whether you are talking to a human being or a computer. Finally, I said to myself, a self-help book that was written for me.
Astra looked beautiful in white, shining really, like a……She’s the kind of girl who settles nowhere but is everyone’s friend, she kind of….collects strays. We spent Christmas last year with a woman in a wheelchair who ate nothing but cheese and a man who had to sit at the front window and count the cars as they went by. He also occasionally shouted ‘Yarr!
So, as I was saying, it was strange that Barry was around. He came home early for tea and I couldn’t give Astra fish fingers like I promised. Barry won’t have them in the house. It’s probably something to do with e-numbers and astrological charts. When we first dated he made sure that I knew where Pisces was in the sky and he said once that we were descended from fish. He also used to say things like ‘We are made of the stuff of stars’ which I thought was really poetic until he went on to explain about the Big Bang, carbon, nuclear star furnaces and intersteller dust particles. I think I fell asleep then but I married him anyway. I don’t know if I ever really woke up.
I ought not to really say this but you know how it gets with married couples after a few years, not to mention fifteen, the passion fades a little, but, how do I put this, the last time we, er, you know, there was a metallic taste when we kissed each other and when I pressed against him it felt as if there was something under the skin, cold, pressing back.
Then once I woke up with a bright light shining in my eyes and a strange blurry figure, that later turned out to be Roy, taking my pulse and, please don’t get me wrong here, I thought my toenails were longer. And there was a strange smell of mackerel or something.
Barry wanted to take Astra outside. He seemed agitated, in a hurry. I was about to protest, it was late and cold, so clear that you could see the full moon hovering, quite low, but I had pins in my mouth so they were out the door before I could say anything. He took her hand, his torch in the other. They hurried down to the end of the garden pointing.
I was just tidying up when I saw a bright flash of light outside.
I woke up in the easy chair. It was almost light, a suspicious kind of dawn creeping up, you know the way it does. My pins were all lined up at the edge of the chair and my fingers stung.
Then Astra and Barry both burst in the back door, breathless. Astra’s cheeks were flushed and she was different, not so serious. Oh I know what it is now, it’s both of them, they’re happy. I realise what’s been missing all these years and I start to cry. I was sobbing so hard that it was difficult to see but I noticed that Barry was carrying a fishing rod at the end of which was bait that….throbbed light….You know sometimes things are so…strange that I end up talking to myself like I’m doing now, but if anyone is out there….if there is anyone listening….I hope you believe me.
Astra, was glowing too, really, like that stuff under the water at nights. She hugged me. I felt her cheek against mine and a cool hard pressing from under the skin
Her beautiful dress smelled of mackerel. I had to get it dry cleaned.