The Stars Like Rain
by Adhara Law
It was this mountain that held her soul. When she descended into the town and into the living, she walked bodily in the world but was not of it, because she was divided, separated. Only when she was here on this rocky precipice was she whole. Only when the gaping silver mouth yawned open and lifted its mirrored tongue toward the starlight that fell on it like snowflakes did she feel alive.
She had different ideas of aloneness and loneliness. Humans needed other humans as mirrors to reassure themselves that they were alike and connected to one another. They needed the fabric of humanity to cover them, warm them like a security blanket. She needed no faces; she didn't see herself in them. Instead she felt a freeing aloneness looking into the inky mirror of night, seeing her reflection in the wavering sparks, in the moon that hung full and low and mottled with dark. She was alone together with the universe.
She sometimes brought him there because he didn't understand. She would stand under the dome, point out into the well of darkness and say nothing, because there weren't words enough.
"Why?" he would ask. She didn't answer, couldn't answer. The true answer went beyond the theories and the equations and the hypotheses into a space where there was nothing, nothing but the night sky. And so she would try to explain with her body against his body, and it was enough.
When she had been a child, the fires that burned in the night sky made her eyes open wide with awe and drip tears of happy wonderment while she asked her father what held them there in the same place every night. The questions tumbled out of her, hour after hour and night after night, until her father bought a telescope so that she could answer them herself. It had been like digging up the key to the universe.
Her key led her here, to the door of the mountain, where some nights she stood outside at dusk, when the sun and the moon tried to catch each other as they traveled over the horizons. She stood at the apex of the mountain, drinking in the falling starlight until she was feverish, almost teetering on the edge of the plateau. Work would always pull her back from total escape, and she would curl herself in front of the computer screen while the immense machinery of the telescope moved in the dome next to her, chasing things too far away even for the sun and the moon to catch.
He grew impatient with her when she lost herself in the stars for days at a time. No matter how often he climbed the rocky slope with her, no matter how long he stared into the sparkling abyss as he sat next to her and heard her breath catch in her throat when she lifted her eyes, he never understood. There were stars, and they were too far away, and there were planets, and they rotated about the sun in their orbits...he was mechanical, predictable. And, he thought, so were the stars.
He could have told this to her ears, but there was no one in them to hear. She would leave him sitting in his inability to understand while she flew away into the dark with a vacant smile on her dimly lit face.
Their trips together up the stony mountain became less frequent; he had started to grow tired of her endless lengths of silence that were broken only when she spoke about the stars. She descended less and less to the land of the living, mingling among people only long enough to get food and supplies before she secreted herself on the mountain top under the cold dark blanket of night.
That was when her focus had shifted. She had been working in the dome on the enormous telescope close to the huge, round mirror at its heart when she caught a glimpse of her reflection. The cool night air drifted in from the open slit in the dome and ruffled her hair as she looked deeply into the rectangle of night reflected in the silver pool and smiled at the halo of stars that circled the image staring back at her.
Every night she sat there for a long while as the sun rose and hushed the night sky, gazing into the huge mirror like a gypsy into a crystal ball. Her time spent staring into the shimmering pool of night cradled in the telescope's mirror began to grow longer than the time she spent using the telescope itself, until one night she climbed into the mirror and lay on top of it, staring up out of the slit of the dome and into the night, motionless until the sun rose again. So this is what it feels like to stare into the universe, she thought.
She had an idea.
She slept on the little bed in the building next to the dome as the sun crossed the meridian, soundly and peacefully, and awoke just before the sun began to set. She set about turning off the lights and the computers and opened the heavy doors on the top of the dome, watching them groan apart and receive the fading sunlight as if for the first time. She went inside, sat down for a while, and drank some tea. Then it was time.
The silence of the dome was deafening. Even the bats, who so often flew in front of the monstrous telescope and caused the eerie shadows she would sometimes see, somehow knew that their place was not here on this particular night. With no moonlight to guide her, she removed her clothes and dropped them on the floor, then felt her way along the mount of the telescope to the handrails on its side.
Her feet grasped the cold metal edges of the mirror assembly as she gingerly descended into the heart of the telescope and touched a toe lightly to the mirror's surface, then placed her foot, and finally both feet on the mirror. Slowly, as if in a solitary ritual, she lay down on the cold surface, legs and arms splayed out, her body a five-point star. The rhythm of her breathing slowed to near nonexistence, and her eyes fixed themselves on the narrow rectangle of black above her as they brought the thousands of pinpoints that studded the sky into focus. In a whisper heard only by those who were meant to hear it, her voice oozed out between her lips and reverberated against the metal curve of the silent dome.
The stars fell like rain upon her skin and streaked into her body, melting her into the mirror and making her want to scream with fear and sorrow and joy. She felt herself separate, disappear, fly away into the night where not even the sun and the moon could catch her. And the vacant smile on her face was the only reminder that there had been a body that had briefly held her.
He had known. With the guilt that people feel when they knew they could have done something and didn't, he had known that something was wrong up on the mountain. He had climbed there with others concerned about the woman who had mysteriously chosen to separate from society and seclude herself on a rocky plateau. They approached the gaping maw of the dome, lit with an orange glow by the morning sun, the telescope pointing up into the bluing sky. It was only he who had thought to look inside. They climbed clumsily up the mount and peered, astonished, into the mirror. Knowing that there was nothing that could be done, they shook their heads in their ignorance and their impatience, and only he knew that she had left them all so far behind.