It was the evening of a great holiday in a year when things were tight. Guests at tables talked back and forth, lifting glasses, complaining to one another about what they really wanted. Fires burned brightly behind metal grates.
Elsewhere, two women with their children raked up late autumn leaves. A mechanic in his garage swore at something under a hood that wouldn't budge. And, hammer in hand, a new janitor whacked nails into a wall, each of which missed a stud.
Somewhere out there was also a man, let's call him Z, who cooked up rice and greens, made some tea, then served it all in clay bowls, sitting down to eat quietly with Y, his friend. After doing the dishes, they went out into the cold night air to look at the stars. As they stood there, shifting their weight back and forth, the silence of the neighborhood surrounded them.
Nearly everyone was celebrating in dining rooms, or in bars and restaurants with signs like "What you're looking for!" and "What you crave!" hung in large frosted windows. Gas station attendants and party store cashiers, most of them young and lonely, read magazines to pass the time.
Y pulled a bottle from his coat, took a swig and passed it to Z. "Thanks," he said and drank a little. They had each been staring at the sky, the city lights making it hard to see the stars. But there was a bright planet that they couldn't miss hanging in the leafless branches of an oak.
"There it is."
"Last night, it was higher up."
A low form stood out from the background of shrubs. It was a white boulder that they'd taken a lot of trouble to move from a farmer's field to a spot between plants and a tree in the yard. Y's gaze drifted down from the planet to the almost glowing white rock.
"Sure looks wild in the dark."
"Yeah, I like it better'n a star."
"I mean the rock over there."
"Oh yeah, that too. Rocks are better'n statues in a garden."
A breeze lifted and they pulled their coats closer around them. After kicking off frost that their shoes had picked up from the patio tiles, they started walking. Soon they were moving along the tree-lined street in the dark.
They avoided the lighted places, the avenues with the stores, and stuck to the quiet of the deserted sidewalks where they could still imagine all that big land surrounding them, lying under and around the city.
They were walking down an alley when Y saw an old shed, covered over with a makeshift shingle job, braced here and there with slats. In the center of one wall was a white circle, like halfway between writing and drawing. It stood out in the dark like the rock and the morning star.
Z and Y looked at the ring of light. It was as if someone had known they'd walk by there. But that wasn't it. The writing wasn't a word, just a clear signal. It made everything come together. Everything was in it. And they laughed out loud with understanding.George Tysh is Metro Times' arts editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org