IN THE STARS

By John Thomas Tuft

The screen door screeched as the spring stretched, hesitated at the apex, then swung back and slapped shut against the doorsill. Bare feet padded across the porch, down creaking steps and into the dust of the pathway. The sun is up, the birds are wide awake; it is the beginning of another long summer day, an exquisite treat all unto itself. Cade loves coming to the cabin at the lake every summer, getting up and out the door before his parents, who think summer days are for being lazy, awaken and burden the day with lists and limits. The only list he needs is everything from baseball to hiking in the woods to swimming. The only limits include: is it fun, and did it hurt anyone else? Oh, and getting ice cream at the Dairy Palace was also on the list. And the long talks he has with the Starman.

The first time was a rainy day on the dock. Cade and his friends liked to run and jump off the end of the long wooden dock, splash into the water, come up shaking their heads like wet puppies and yell in the sheer joy of being alive. One day it started to rain, and everyone ran back to their cabins, except for Cade. He continued to try to increase the distance he could jump from the end of the dock until he landed in the water. He was already soaking wet, he figured, so why not? He came up sputtering and wiped his eyes. On the end of the dock sat a man all in white. A white suit, white shoes, shirt, tie, even a hat: all white. “Who are you?” asked Cade, climbing up the ladder. The man only smiled. “Where did you come from?” The man pointed up to the sky.

“From the stars?” That gets a nod. “Whatcha doing here, Starman?” Cade is fascinated. The man finally speaks. “You have been making wishes.” Cade shrugs. “Everybody does. Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight…”  The Starman cuffs him playfully on the shoulder. “When you were seven you wished that you could be a kid forever. When you turn thirteen you’ll be wishing you were grown up already.” Cade thinks this over. “Do you really grant people’s wishes?” Starman thinks this over in return. “Should we?” Cade is not easily put off. “Stars are just burning rocks in the sky. I learned that in science class.” Starman is gentle in his words. “People need hope, from one to another.”

Cade is on the lake one evening, in a canoe, with a young lady. “Do you ever wish upon a star?” she asks. Cade is cool, detached. “Stars don’t grant people their wishes.” She persists, “Do you ever make any secret wishes? Wishes you don’t ever tell anyone else about?” Cade looks up at the high heavens. “If I had one wish, it would be that it always be summer.” She ponders this. “But isn’t that everyone’s secret wish? That and that someone would like them?” She pauses then says, “Some people say love is in the stars.” Cade sees someone on the shore, all in white, waving his arms, but he turns away.

Another time Cade is walking by himself, not paying attention to where he is going. He almost trips over a man in dirty clothes, surrounded by pieces of trash and burned rocks. “Cade,” says the man. “Don’t you remember me?” Cade studies him closely. “Starman? What happened to you?” Starman sighs. “I’m overwhelmed by everyone’s wishes. ‘Like me,’ they say. ‘Help me.’ ‘Protect me,’ they plead. Love, money, happiness—it’s all too much. I’m just a star.” He sees the look on Cade’s face. “Why do you look so sad?” “My father is shipping out tomorrow. There’s a war. He has to go. Will the stars look out for him?” Starman sighs, so heavy that the papers swirl and the rocks tumble. “We are just stars. We help sailors find their way, we are there when the black night seems so endless, and we will be there high above your father’s head, wherever he is.” Cade picks up one of the burned rocks. “Thank you.” Starman whispers, “People need help, from one to another.”

Cade is sitting alone on the end of the dock. Summer is gone. He hears soft footsteps on the planks behind him. He picks up the rock from the Starman and throws into the water. “Young man, have you given up all hope?” He turns to see a beautiful woman in a gown of deep blue with sparkling stones around its hem. “My father is never coming home,” he cries. “Go away and leave me alone.” She takes a step closer. “I am the Morning Star. I was there on your father’s last day. I bore witness as he kissed your mother’s picture and called your name.” Cade is angry. “It’s not fair. What did he ever do to deserve this? Or me and my mom?” Morning Star came and sat beside him. “People need healing, from one to another. It is in the stars.”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.