We spent most of our first date staring up at the night sky, I remember.
Of course, that wasn’t the intention. No, I had plans. This girl was everything I’d been looking for – sweet, caring, and with that weird little sense of otherworldliness about her. Somehow, when I talked with her, our conversations drifted from the mundane deep into the realms of philosophy. I loved spending hours with her, just running circles through the meaning of life.
I’d intended to take her out to dinner, followed by a play that had been getting tons of great attention in the papers recently. But the restaurant was so crowded that we couldn’t get a table, and it turned out that one of the play’s actors had just torn a ligament, and he didn’t have an understudy.
All of a sudden, my big night, the big planned date, was dissolving into nothing.
But we didn’t let that stop us.
Instead, we simply headed for the big hill in the park, Carrie shyly letting me hold her hand. I can remember how my big, clumsy fingers seemed to dwarf her slim, graceful digits. I was so worried that I’d accidentally hurt her.
There, on top of that hill, in the grass and the fading residual warmth of the summer, we gazed up at the night sky, at the stars.
“The ones that are left are still pretty,” Carrie commented to me. Our heads were next to each other, and she barely had to speak above a whisper. I could feel the vibration of her words as her body pressed against me.
She was right. I tried to think back, to remember how the sky had looked before. Already, the images were fuzzy, faded, inside my head. How could I forget something as important as that? But I’d never thought of the stars as especially important to remember.
If I’d had to guess, I would have said that there were a quarter of them left. The scientists on the news claimed that we’d lost far more than seventy-five percent, because of all the ones too dim to see, but what did those matter? If no one could see them, there was no one to care that they were gone.
“Where do you think they’re going?” Carrie asked me. Her words didn’t break the silence as much as they shaped it, slipping in easily between the soft chirps of crickets in the tall grass.
I started to shrug, but then realized that this would push her head off of my shoulder. “I don’t know,” I said, my voice sounding rough and unpolished compared to her light tones. “They say on the news that it’s the dark matter collapsing, that maybe it’s a wave of gravity sweeping through and putting them out.”
“They say, they say,” Carrie parroted my words back to me. “They don’t know anything! Maybe someone poured a bucket of water on our universe to put out the cinders. They don’t know.”
For a minute, we fell back into silence, listening to the crickets. Carrie’s leg pressed against mine, and I could feel her heat through my jeans.
I had been so certain that she’d say no, that she’d just laugh at me, that I almost didn’t ask at all. It was only with the egging on from my friends, not letting me shamefully back down, that I dared approach her as she sat and sipped at her cup of tea, perched so gracefully on the edge of her chair as she held her little book. I remembered a beam of afternoon sun, cutting through the windows to illuminate her face. Like an angel, I remember thinking.
She had smiled up at me, read to me a line of poetry that I forgot the minute it left her lips. I said something stupid, embarrassing – and she had burst into peals of laughter, her whole body quivering. She was a songbird, amused by the inarticulate bullfrog as it tried to match her beauty of song.
“They say that it will reach us in about a year,” I offered, tilting my head slightly until I could see a single brilliantly blue eye gazing back at me. “All sorts of doomsday cults are starting up.”
That single eye looked back at me. Suddenly it was serious, no laughter hiding there. “What do you think?” Carrie asked me. “Is the end coming?”
I felt as though this was a test. What would it say about us, about any chance at a relationship? I worried about that, sometimes. Would I die alone, swallowed up when the blackness reached the planet? Had the universe put an expiration date on us? “Do not consume after 8/23 of next year”?
I cleared my suddenly dry throat. “I don’t think the end is here yet,” I said, not letting myself even think about my words. “I think this is a beginning.”
For a moment, Carrie just stared at me. The songbird was thinking, deciding whether to take wing and leave the poor bullfrog behind.
And then she decided. “A beginning,” she repeated softly, snuggling in closer to my arm. “I like that.”
The crickets continued chirping as we lay and watched the lights above us slowly wink out of existence.