Pictured: A field of stars against a night sky.

Of Stars and Staircases | By Natalia Sanchez

I clambered up the next set of steps, my boot heels clinking on the metal stairs like I was playing a xylophone.

I turned over my shoulder. “Come on, slowpoke.”

Andrew had just reached the landing. He let out a puff of breath, which swirled like tendrils of smoke in the winter air. “Tell me again why we’re climbing up the city’s electrical tower.”

“You promised me you’d come.” I said, adjusting the strap of my pack. “Just one more flight of stairs.”

He groaned. “That’s what you said at the last landing.” He set down the tripod and held his side. “I wasn’t meant for this kind of exercise.”

“It’s good for your heart.”

“Mine would beg to differ at the moment.” His chest heaved, rising and falling with his bated breath.

I shot him a wicked grin. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“I think I left it somewhere on the seventh flight of stairs.”

“It’s not that bad. Just a little exercise.”

He stopped at the bottom of the staircase, hands curled around the railing. “Look Selene, I know this keeps you healthy, but at what cost?”

I met his brown eyes, unable to stifle the chuckle in my throat. “You’ll thank me when we get there.”

“If we get there in this lifetime.” He muttered.

“It’ll be worth it, I promise.”

“I’m missing out on valuable sleep, carrying a tripod heavier than you, and walking up all these steps in the bitter cold. It better be freaking worth it.”

I smiled at him. “Come on, grumpy pants.”

I readjusted the strap of my pack on my shoulder. Andrew sighed dramatically before his feet echoed the sounds of mine.

I caressed the metal railing, my fingertips colder than ice. But, the mid November weather couldn’t shake the warmth in my chest. This is it.

I finally arrived at the last landing. The top of the city’s electrical tower loomed before me. Tall and cylindrical, whirring softly. My heart quickened at the thought that for once in my eighteen years, the world would be clad in nighttime. I used to sit on my grandmother’s lap and listen to her tell wild tales about a time when lights had been powered by their own nature and not the garish white and yellow lighted dome that kept our town in perpetual daytime.

I walked over to the side of the tower, looking for the fuse box. I heard Andrew grunt as his butt hit the landing.

“You’re lucky I like you more than I hate stairs.” He panted.

He pressed his back against the railing, wiping sweat off his forehead with the sleeve of his sweater. “So, what exactly does an astronomer do?”

I scanned the length of the tower, eyes fixing on the fuse box. “I’m not an astronomer, yet.”

He rested his head on the railing and looked up at the dome. “You mean, you made me climb up here claiming to be an expert on some ancient profession and now you’re telling me you don’t even consider yourself an astronomer.”

“You can’t be an astronomer,” I said, hand resting on the fateful switch, “if you’ve never seen the stars.”

His lips parted in question, but whatever he’d meant to say next got caught in his throat. I pressed the light switch off and darkness fell over the entire town. Extinguished like a candle.

We blinked a few times, adjusting to this new world.

“And how exactly are we supposed to…” Andrew followed my gaze up. “Holy sh—”

The night sky stretched before us. In the eternal day of the city, no one had ever seen the stars in the sky. But, bedtime stories didn’t lie. Night is real.

The whole sky was lit up like a circuit board, with flashing lights and splashes of color. Indigos and smoky blues and the darkest shades of purple were woven like a cloak of the finest silk. Constellations I had only ever read about in dusty frayed books dotted the sky. And the moon, in perfect full view, cast rays of subtle light in the darkness, faint and somehow bright all at once.

It was beautiful. I couldn’t hold back the urge to tear up a little.

Andrew got to his feet. “Selene—”

“I know.”

We turned to each other, both cast in pale moonlight. Shadows played on his features, outlining the sharpness of his jawline and the slope of his nose. Color was softer, muted, but the white of his teeth gleamed in the darkness.

“How did you know all of this would be there?”

“I didn’t,” I said, “but, I hoped.”

The edge of his lips curved up. “It’s amazing.”

“It sure is.” I set down my pack, pulling the zipper open. “Pass me the tripod.”

He raced over to the railing and propped it up in front of me. He arched an eyebrow.

“What is that? Some kind of spyglass?”

“It’s a telescope.” I corrected.

He snatched it from my hands and turned it over, studying it. “Did you make this out of old camera parts?” His brows were knit together.

“Mhmm.” I took it from his grasp.

I set up my makeshift telescope. I’d had to scour quite a few metal junkyards to find the perfect pieces and messed up my sleep schedule in the pursuit of its creation. But, when home always had perfect lighting, replacing sleep with work wasn’t a difficult task.

I took a deep breath and looked through my telescope. My heart soared.

“This is what astronomers see.” I motioned for him to take a peek.

Andrew bent over until he was eye-level. His jaw fell open.

“Whoa.”

He faced me, a look of utter bewilderment smacked on his face.

I smiled ear-to-ear. He matched my smile.

“Astronomy doesn’t seem like a bad occupation.” Andrew said, peering into the eye again. “Though, I would much rather take the elevator up next time.”

“Elevator?” I sounded dubious.

He pointed at a spot past his shoulder with his thumb. On the tower, a neon green sign glowed with the words: ELEVATOR.

“Oh.” I felt my face flush with embarrassment.

Oh.” He said.

 

Natalia Sanchez is part of the Dual Degree Program at Chapman University. She earned her B.A. in English Literature from The University of Texas at San Antonio. As a first generation Mexican American, she hopes to bring the two disparate cultures and languages together in her writing.

 

 

 

Featured Image: “Starry Night in Denmark I” by Jochen Spieker is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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