[FICTION] The Story of a Starry Night
Nicky wanders into the river, trying to feel Mother’s spirit. This is her river. The air is moist. Quiet. Water whispers, lapping against the shore. Swaths of butter-colored street lamps reflect in the stillness of the evening. Stars hang over him, watching wistfully. He feels the weight of the water, as he imagined Mother did on that night when he was eight.
He feels the weight of the water as he wanders into the depths, drawing away from the shore, into the vast middle. He feels the weight of the water beneath him, insistent and heavy as he meanders away from the safe shore, the grove of cottonwood trees that line the beach, a bulwark of strength. Reliability.
He dives beneath the surface, grayish water filling his lungs. Fish swirl around him, in their steady journey to places unknown, to fulfill lives he cannot imagine. He envies their coolness.
Mother used to tell him stories about a Russian composer who’d tried to drown himself in a river, in 1877. Genius, she said, required its bouts of madness, a dreaminess tinging her voice. Mother herself was a songwriter, a woman who always sought inspiration in the oddest places. Funerals. Car crashes. He never understood why she found inspiration in the darkest spots but remembers being dragged along. He recalls the less-than-diplomatically veiled eagerness with which Mother asked the funeral goers about the deceased.
He feels the weight of the water filling his lungs.
Nicky of course, is no genius. He’s gone through so many jobs. Ticket-taker. Bartender. Piano player. He can’t fit in any one niche, can’t seem to find a home. He’s twenty-six now. He’s worried that he’s turning into Mother. Of course, he cannot say with certainty, having never truly known her and this thought has hung over him like a shadow. Going to work, going to bed.
He wishes he could have stopped her. Three times, she visited the river. The first two times, he stopped her. The third time, though, she never emerged, and he wonders now what she found so beautiful beneath its depths, among the mud and the murky scent.
Above him hangs a world unknown. Perhaps he’ll be a songwriter, like her. Or something entirely different.
“I love you, Mother,” he whispers, rising slowly to the surface. Stars flicker, smiling down on him. The moon darts from behind a cloud, silver beams casting a veil upon his wet, brown hair. Around him, the world hangs, uncertain and beautiful, a vast space, where questions linger unanswered.
Mir-Yashar currently attends Colorado State’s MFA program, in fiction. His short stories have been published or are forthcoming in various literary journals including Monkeybicycle and Crack The Spine.