The Smallest Part
“Was that a shooting star?”
It sounded hopeful, like a prayer that wouldn’t be answered. I used to pray every night when I was younger. It got to be a ritual of sorts. I had the entire narrative memorized and when I wanted to add someone new I'd tack them on at the end. It became quite the memory game after a while. Got to be so long that I was always afraid I'd forgotten someone. Go back to the beginning. I could never make it through the second run before falling asleep with Leno on in the background. I would wonder the next morning how many ills would befall the unlucky people I’d neglected in my pleas to God. Maybe they were better off if I didn't pray for them at all. Sometimes, in my half-sleeping state, Leno would make its way into the prayers…
“… please watch over Kathy, Kelly, and Kim (I had to alphabetize them eventually to keep them straight), and special guest Jim Carrey, and, Rembrandt toothpaste…”
Go back to the beginning.
My prayers were careful, and concise. The language was chosen with the expert hand of someone experienced in the art of bargaining without any leverage. I didn't ask God for something obvious, like not to kill off any of my loved ones. Only that he protect or watch over them. I figured he knew what I meant and I didn't want to challenge his authority. In my mind God was looking for loopholes, trying to find ways to trick you. To use your words against you.
“Yeah, I think it was actually,” I answered without knowing the answer and pulled the car off on the shallow shoulder to the left.
“Why are we stopping here?” she asked, leaning across my lap to try and see as I was seeing.
I didn't know the answer to that one either so I guessed. “I think it’s a meteor shower. Let’s see if there are others.”
Jess sighed but got out of the car all the same. She knew we'd look stupid if anyone saw us on the side of the road like this, but maybe she thought it would look more stupid if I was the only one out there. She joined me there in her tall boots and short dress, the clammy skin of her legs squeaking on the painted hood. There’s this feeling I get sometimes when someone is doing just exactly what I hope they will and when I get that feeling I absolutely have to call out to them.
“Jess,” I said, flat. I didn't have anything more to say.
She looked at me expectantly and I knew I'd need to have something else to say because it’s crazy to just say someone’s name because you had a feeling. I guess I sometimes think if you name something you get a power over it. I start thinking maybe I can extend that moment where other people in the real, external world, are exactly how I imagine them in my head. I can control them. I didn't think of this myself, of course. It’s called the Rumpelstiltskin Principle. You can look it up.
But I didn't have anything else to say and I didn't have any answers and this gets me into trouble an awful lot because people expect you to have something to say when you talk and I talk all the damned time.
“If we see another one let’s make a wish.”
She smiled and agreed, “Alright, let’s make a wish.”
When Jess smiled her eyes would close up at the corners. It was the most honest thing I've ever seen in my whole life. I'm a man now, chronologically speaking, and I've yet to encounter a anything as good and honest as her smile. I looked up to the sky and I knew she was still looking at me so I said, for no reason at all, “there was another one! Did you see it?!”
“Yeah, I saw that one!Make a wish!” she lied. The excitement in her voice sounded so genuine that it was almost shocking. We must have both known it was a lie. This lie, this most innocent of untruths, grew too powerful in my mind and I started to resent how deceitful it seemed in contrast to that smile of hers, which is ironic in a way, if you think about how her lie was totally predicated on mine, which came earlier in the timeline of bullshit. But I didn't think about that because I wanted to be mad at her so when she said “what did you wish for” I said “No, what did you wish for” knowing that she really wanted to tell me anyway. Knowing she was waiting for her turn to speak.
“I wished that my Mom wouldn't be sick anymore. I wished that she would get better. Now you?”
“Me too,” I said. But really I wished that we'd go to different schools in the fall and so I started to feel really low down about how we didn’t wish for the same thing. And how her wish was much more honest and pure than my wish. And how selfish I’d been. So I decided then and there that I'd bring some flowers by the next day for her mom. Moms like flowers. Even dying moms; maybe especially dying moms.
This is all so long ago she probably doesn't think about that night at all but I wonder if Jess knew all along we didn't share that wish. I squandered mine and now I wonder if it could have been rendered more powerful, could have been granted some celestial agency buoyed up by the support of one more well-intentioned wish and when Jess’ mom died I knew it was all my fault.