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By Andrew Dunn
“You don’t see that?”
Antoine wasn’t interested. We were lounging on duct-taped sofas we drug out from an alley, the tang of smoke circles he was blowing infused the small hours with a buzz they didn’t deserve.
“All I think about is drag honey.” Antoine dismissed, blonde bouffant still perfectly-coiffed on his head, glitter sparkling on his brown skin. “Nothing else.”
Our sofas were on 33rd Street. Front-row seats: We watched a liquor store sell paper sacks of the cheap stuff, its door chime singing ‘di di di dah’ to every customer. We pretended we didn’t see a couple of kids squeeze in through the side window of a closed bodega and out again with beer. Cops rolled by too busy to ask why a junkie and drag queen were sprawled on pink and peach outside a brownstone and anyway, we’d have been too busy to answer them.
Antoine was numbing himself with smokes the way he always did after a night downtown. Me? I was looking up at the sky, wondering why I could see a handful of stars a billion lights in the city couldn’t outshine.
“Really bro,” I asked, “you don’t see that?”
“Marcus,” Antoine sassed, “I don’t. Even if I did, it doesn’t mean anything to me. I ain’t some astronomer.”
Catch that? He said ‘astronomer’, not astrologer like I might have. Antoine was a refugee from a suburban cul-de-sac. If you didn’t know him, you’d have thought he was gay. Antoine dutifully dolled himself in fishnet and fancy to strut at a hip joint downtown every night. Gay men loved him and he relished their attention, but he could pull more women than most brothers too, when he wanted. Sex wasn’t all Antoine wanted — he wanted to make it big: Hollywood, the Internet. Antoine was crafting his way to stardom.
And I was wondering who or what crafted those twinkling diamonds that managed to bleed through fog that drifted in after the liquor store closed.
“You’re a funny dude.” Antoine said.
The last time Antoine called me funny I was strung out. His words came through my buzz like a melody that merged with the sounds of our lovemaking in his apartment. Beethoven couldn’t have scripted a symphony more tumultuous than the music we made together on satin sheets.
I wasn’t interested in seduction or satin right then. I was looking at a black sky, watching stars that glowed brighter night after night.
Back in the summer, the stars shined through smoke clouds you saw when you turned your TV on and saw how climate change set creation on fire the way heretics did to Joan of Arc, and how we were living through blackouts and protesting outside the power company’s headquarters. Starshine cut through tear gas cops shot at us when wouldn’t cease and desist, and glowed brighter after that, like burning coals left in the wake of flames that devoured a thousand cul-de-sacs. By September you could see starshine through even the most densely clouded night sky.
That was enough to turn me sober.
I found a street preacher that said I could go cold turkey and it almost killed me. I holed up in a spare room at the preacher’s, sweating and shaking inside four walls I was sure were closing in around me like a casket. The whole time I was wondering if those lights in the sky were my own private visions of Revelation, four horsemen of all the apocalypses I’d needled into my veins, the end of my world multiplied a thousand times, gleaming in those fiery night-sky jewels.
“Need some of this?” Antoine blew a cloud my way, his penchant for double entendres from downtown spilling on to 33rd Street. Don’t get upset with him. He didn’t know I’d kicked my habit — no one did. Antoine wanted me to come home with him, knowing the shelter wouldn’t have a bed for me at that hour. He was right. My only other choice was an old minivan under a bridge.
“Look will ya?” I groused. “There’s something up there.”
“Ain’t nothin going on up there,” Antoine giggled, “but my weave honey.”
Wrong. Those orbs were closer than they’d ever been. I could feel them. They made the air smell like ozone. They were so close traffic lights that normally flashed syncopated red and yellow were strobing a kaleidoscope of colours and intensities — mesmerising patterns that lured you in then changed unexpectedly, leaving your soul unsettled.
“It’s late,” Antoine chirped, “you got a place to stay, or are you coming home with me?”
Antoine was thinking about more than his drag routine.
He was thinking I was easy. It was hard not to be, knowing the way his body felt against mine. All the same, it was harder not to watch the way outlines of interstellar hulls, illuminated by the first rays of pre-dawn sun, were taking shape overhead.
The liquor store’s door chime sprang to life, ‘di di di dah’, as cars coughed to life one by one, blaring the same four tones through their speakers. Music was resounding up and down the block.
“What the…,” Antoine began.
“Beethoven’s Fifth.” I told him. “Probably the most famous symphony ever composed. They put it on the Voyager spacecraft back in 1977. Both Voyagers went interstellar in the 2010s.”
You’re wondering, how would an ex-junkie living under a bridge, lounging on a duct-taped sofa, know about symphonies and spaceships? We’re all refugees from somewhere or something, driven away from everything we once knew for reasons we wish we could forget.
When you’re a refugee, you know your own, whether they are Antoines from burned-out cul-de-sacs or survivors that sailed a universe of deep space — their navigational apps programmed the way yours was once — to find hope.
“C’mon,” I told Antoine, “let’s see if we can score another couch from the alley.” It was more than anyone did for us when we reached 33rd Street.
This story previously appeared in Antipodean Magazine.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Andrew Dunn is a Maryland-based writer. His work has previously appeared here in MetaStellar, 365 Tomorrows, Antipodean SF, Daily Science Fiction, and Penumbric Speculative Fiction. He's won a few writing awards as well. When he isn't writing, he's running, cooking, playing with his dog or guitar, or watching old movies - all of which fuel his future stories.