Charles Rafferty


He was thinking of the sparkling frost on the trashcan lid as he slammed it back down in the moonlight. He had to slam it because the can was dented and the lid didn’t fit right without some force. He was worried about raccoons.

He thought harder. There were other things that had happened, that he had seen, that made him feel like that brief, million-starred constellation that shimmered as he lifted it, leaving two days’ worth of apple cores and chicken parts and dirty paper towels to freeze itself into oblivion. This kind of cold kept everything from stinking. He turned and trudged back up to the house, following his footprints in the frosty grass.

There was the pile of down and blue jay feathers he’d found in the woods. There wasn’t any blood — every bit of the edible bird had been eaten, taken in, devoured. It looked like a dull supernova against the snowless December brown of the forest floor, as if the bird had moved into the beyond and left only the smoke of its feathers.

The cold he felt crossing the yard had come from nowhere. It was warm only yesterday, no need for a jacket. He remembered his childhood bedroom that overlooked a streetlight, how when they had moved in, he believed the moon was different in that part of the country, that it didn’t drift across a window the way it did elsewhere. He figured it out by the end of the week, of course. It took that long for him to disobey his father’s order to stay in the bed. And then he saw it was just a streetlamp — a simple light connected to a pole, ordinary. He was disappointed. Although he hadn’t put it into words until just now, he was vaguely excited, even encouraged, that the sky might be different above that new house.

It seems silly now, but until that house he had never lived with streetlights. They were something he saw in the movies.

And there were the sudden nebulas of fog that drifted off the creeks that ran behind other houses, the deep-space black of a crawl space, the slow and tailless meteors of the jets above his home — above every home, no matter where he lived.

He was at the back door now. He stopped with his hand on the handle, listening for raccoons, listening for the sounds of his children cleaning up their dinner. He felt that he could lift his arms and float up into the stars, that the stars were hidden all around him, that he could see them if he angled his world just so — like a trash can lid beneath the mineral glare of the moon. But no. His father was dead. The world was only cold.

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