Shooting Star

Tyler Sage

We were in a back booth when the poet came in, and she came in like a battleship with no one at the rudder.

Ah, she said when she saw us. May I join you?  

She sat before there was a chance to answer.

Hello, she said, looking at each of us in turn. Hello, hello. I'm having a hell of a night. A hell of a night. I've just come from a lecture. In the old foundry? Do you know it? No? Yes? One of my friends lives there with his girlfriend.

Let's see, she said to the waitress, let me have a Jack Daniels, just in a glass. No ice.

Actually, she said to us, a few people live there. Squatting's not really the right term, is it, but I'm not sure if they have heat. But they have a basement, where they have this lecture series that runs the first Wednesday of every month. It's two dollars to get in. It's cold and there's graffiti on the walls and I guess it used to be a derelict building. The lecture series is run by this guy who's really into Transhumanism, and you sit in folding chairs and there's an old music stand for the presenter and a slide projector and a sheet hung against the wall. Have you been?

She did not wait for an answer. Her eyes were hazy and bloodshot.

The lecture tonight was on comic books, she said. I need to tell you about it. What I need to explain was that the man giving the lecture was one of the most entrancing people I've ever seen. I was transfixed. It was forty minutes long and there were no visuals. It was just him, sitting there on the edge of the table, talking. He had this luminousness that is difficult to explain. His talk was about coloring in comic books—inking and shading—and how those reflect the time period they're created in. Or the socio-economics. Or something. All of this stuff, I'm not really sure. But he had this way of moving his hands. They never stopped. They flowed. They made patterns in the air. He talked about how husbands and wives used to write these comic books, and how he would do the drawings and she would ink in the colors. Or maybe it was just this one couple, but it was about the beauty they were able to get into their comic book. It was about love. And I was watching him, and his hands, and I saw that he was in love. That's what they were shaping. His hands, I mean. He was in love with this couple that made the comic books. He was so deeply in love with the books themselves. And yet he'd never been in love himself. With another person, I mean. I could see it just from the way he sat there on the edge of the table, from the way he wove those sad things with his hands.

And it's hard not to fall in love with someone who's so in love and doesn't know it, and who's never been in love himself, you know what I mean? I'm serious, by about halfway through I was in love with him. I was his. Take me anywhere, I wanted to tell him, I'll go with you. You might be tempted to think that I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. I've been lonely in this city. I don't know if I've ever said that, if it's ever been clear. It's not a big thing, I mean, who isn't lonely? It is what it is. So.

For a moment, she paused and went away from us. And then she came rushing back.

Oh yes, she said, and also, I have this thing that I do where when I'm really concentrating, or really blown away? I'll shake my head instead of nodding. Kind of like this.

She opened her eyes wide and pursed her lips and moved her head in small back and forth motions.

And the reason I bring this up is that he had that thing that a lot of charismatic people do, which is that he disdained his audience. On the surface he was just a really stereotypical nerdy Jewish guy, but beneath all of this, he reviled us. I bring up the head shake because, right in the middle of his talk, he stopped everything and spoke to me. He stopped the whole lecture in the middle of a sentence. What are you shaking your head for? he asked me. Is there a problem? And before I could say that I didn't know he told me to stop it. He didn't give me a chance to say anything, just stopped and gave me this look of disdain and said, What are you shaking your head for? and then as I started to answer he said, Well, stop it, and then he went on talking. It was phenomenally dismissive. He reviled us. He wanted to be in a position of power over us, and he was. Just because of his persona. And he made us like it. He made me love it.

Oh, she said, here's my drink.

But what I really want to tell you, she said, is about his head. Yes, his head. When the lecture was over I went up to talk to him, of course. I was in love. He reviled me and I wanted to be reviled. He made me love him. And then he took it away. Because when I went up to talk to him after, I looked at his head and I freaked out. It was completely flat on top. Completely flat. Like one of those formations where the rocks go straight up and then it's flat on top?

She made a motion with her hands.

A butte, she said. He had a head like a butte. It was, I don't know, it was monstrous. You couldn't really notice it from a distance, but then I got close and it was all I could do not to stare at it. But, then, when you are introducing yourself to someone, where else do you stare? So I went up to him and put out my hand, and I was set to try to get to know him, or try to get him to ask me for my phone number or something, take me home and defile me, I don't know, anything, and I said my name and he said his and I began staring at his head and I couldn't stand it. It wasn't a human head. It was deeply disturbing. And what had been love, inside me? What had been love turned to revulsion. On a dime. Without stopping. Without passing go. It was monstrous, that head. He was a freak. I immediately hated him. So I said that I had to go, and I left. I came here.

She nodded several times to herself.

Let me draw it for you, she said. It is really shocking.

She took a pen from one of our notebooks and began to draw on a napkin a man with a head like an anvil.

Very shocking, she said. And he parted his hair to emphasize it, so that on the side of his head all the hair was combed down, and it was all short like this, but on the top of his head it was curly and black and all brushed straight forward, like this. And the part ran right along the square rim of his head, on both sides. And why would you do that? Why would you emphasize that hateful part of yourself when all the rest of you is so incredibly beautiful?

She had drawn the hair onto the man's square head. Now she began to draw his eyes and his nose and the line of his jaw. She was a good artist, and the man in the picture, aside from the shape of the top of his head, was handsome.

I was in love, she said. He was brilliant. He was fascinating. I mean this very seriously. I was in love with the way he disdained me. I felt it. But that head. And now I hate him. Now I revile him.

She held up the napkin in front of her to look at.

And I don't know what I'm going to do, she said as she stared at it. There are times when it all seems so distant. The future, what comes next and all that. One of my mentors says that he's still always thinking about how he's going to give himself another six months as a writer, just six more months to decide if it's too much. He says he's always six months away from applying to nursing school. Which is a great line. Funny. And it's true, isn't it. He's broke and he doesn't think he can write anymore. And I certainly can't squat in a place like that foundry, like they do. I couldn't live like that. And I like teaching but I don't know if I can get a job, and there's the whole Fulbright thing, but I don't know if I will get that, I mean, we all know what the odds are, and so maybe I'll go get a PhD. So much to do, I guess, so many possibilities. But also no possibilities at the same time. And this horrible loneliness. Don't tell me that you all don't feel it too. And what I'd like to do is be in love. Obviously. We all would. But there's nothing. Really, there is nothing. And I'm going to be thirty in six months, did you know that?

She looked around the table at us.

Did you know that?

She put the napkin on the table and finished her drink and stood and pitched and rolled her way back down past the other booths and out the door. And there on the table was the drawing of the man with the strange head. And she never talked about those things when she was sober, and once she was awarded the Fulbright she became insufferable and never came around anymore.