Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Black nylon stretches across the sky. Where it tears, the stars shine through, peering at humanity with their golden and crimson eyes. The old man on the park bench beside me grips his cane with white knuckles and stares back at those stars. His jaw clenches like he’s holding a decades-long grudge. Maybe he senses my awe, because he looks at me just then, but the malice I expect in his watery brown eyes is something entirely different: a little fear, a little want. A sprinkle of oncoming peace?

The two of us have our own staring contest, and then he sighs as heavily as if the world depends on him.

Maybe it does. This man feels otherworldly. I don’t even remember him sitting down beside me. Me, who came here for… something.

Tension eases from his body a fragment at a time, and I could swear a new star glows brighter with each piece. I can’t look away.

Crickets serenade us all at once. The old man taps his cane in rhythm to a song lost on my ears.

The stars turn their attention to him, so I do again as well.

Before my eyes, with every tap on his cane, the man loses wrinkle after wrinkle. His hair shimmers like waving grass in the moonlight, leeching darkness from the sky. A smile forms on his reddening lips. As he tips his head back, those lips part and his throat stretches, beautiful and silver in the moonlight.

The solitary streetlamp nearby flickers out with a tiny hiss and the aura of city lights dims to nothingness, as if everyone has finally decided to get the rest they all so badly need.

More and more pins pierce the nylon, until a whole other world is staring down at ours. Milky purple and royal blue. Highlights of honey and olive. The stars smile down at us, and the man smiles back. The universe reflects out of his brown eyes. He hums a song and tilts his head to the side now, silky hair sliding over his forehead.

My hand reaches out before I realize what I’m doing. It hovers there in the space between us.

He doesn’t pull away like I expect. Instead, he closes his eyes and leans his head into my palm.

Strange emotions tangle in my throat and flit around my ribcage. Something familiar tugs at my earlobes, and I’m sure they’re turning red. Despite myself, I stroke his hair. As the seconds tick, my throat untangles and my chest settles. Warmth swirls in every part of me, and in the corner of my eyes I see the stars glow brighter. I feel like I’ve done this before, to someone else I used to know as well as I know myself. I couldn’t say for sure.

Some time passes like this. I couldn’t say how long.

I sigh heavily and feel the tension ooze out of me into the air. Up to the sky. I watch it go with a smile, like I’m saying goodbye to a fond friend.

And then I stare at my hand, floating in air above the empty bench.

Wrinkled.

Has it always been that way? That feels right, though I can’t remember the years that got me here. Or maybe something in this place returned to me from the past. Stopped to say hello. Nudged me to remember even a little. Something important?

The city wakes up again, its light patching the nylon and hiding us all from the other world. A couple stars twinkle weakly, but I admire them shining despite the shroud we’ve pinned above us. They always shine.

I should probably be scared of what I’ve lost. But that can wait for tomorrow. Tonight, I’m happy. And that’s enough.

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