It is 10:37 p.m. and everyone is straggling out, following the dark shape made by a line of cars parked in the grass along the drive. Everyone is home from college, or on summer break before county schools start, or swinging by after work. Everyone has grown up together. Toting a hodgepodge of iPhones, one flashlight, a sheet, and two blankets. Disembodied voices bob on the air behind and in front, and the dark is thick enough to taste. People talk, to create points of orientation. The stars are too far away to make much light. The moon is not out.
Is this sheet white, or blue?
What? I think it was blue.
What’r you carrying?
A 30-below camp sleeping bag.
It looks like a body bag for the Incredible Hulk. From what I can see.
Crunch, crunch: gravel gives way to the field. Somebody trips. Human shapes pass under the dark outline of a towering homemade field goal, pipes against the dome of the August Northern Hemisphere.
Ew, there’s dew already. We are going to get soaked.
I hope there’s not any copperheads out here.
What is that?! By the woods?
That’s the dump truck, dork.
Whoa! The grass is wet.
Either there are aliens, or somebody left the four-wheeler over there, and it has green reflectors. Doesn’t it have green reflectors? Now I’m creeped out.
The blanket carriers cluster in the middle of the field. There is kicking off of shoes, spreading out of sheets. [No! That doesn’t make sense. Turn it the other way.] Piling onto cloth and lying down in strips, alternating directions, like bacon on a skillet. [Move over, Aaron! Mary–right here. There’s room.] The ground is knobby with grass roots and the sky splays out like a contact lens overhead, clear and focused. On backs, it’s hard to tell exactly where people are and what direction they are lying. The smell of dew and summer sweat mixes with the loamy pungency of the ground. Lying-down voices sound like water in a tin, rolling around inside heads, as if each person had a cold. We were told there’d be meteors.
What is that strobe-y flashy thing going on at the edges of the sky?
Uh, heat lightning?
‘Strobe-y, flashy thing.’
Slight laughter makes back arch off the ground.
Don’t mock me. It looks different from lying down.
Words drift up; now close, now further away, like fireflies–from every blanket.
I spy something white and small and billions of miles away.
Might be a slow show at this rate, guys.
I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE METEORS!
A very bad chorus of “Twinkle” warbles faintly from the barn-facing side–those who do not sing laugh, and then all dissolves into conversation. A long pause, night bug choruses. Bodies, all close together. Some words about the cloud cover. Then, a sudden white streak across the sky. And a collective:
Did you see it? First burn of the night!
I hope we don’t get hit.
Dude, every cocktail party ever, you’d be like, “Guys. I got hit by a meteor one time.”
Which constellation is it over there that makes a “W”?
Another white streak across the sky. A couple of:
I bet a beaver is going to come out and eat all of us.
Cocktail party story revised: ‘Guys. Once I got hit by a meteor and eaten by a beaver in the same night.’
If that ever happens to me, I’m playing the lottery because it’s my lucky day.
What time is it?
Nobody is going to believe me when I say I stayed out until 2 a.m. stargazing on Saturday night.
Aw, naw, they broke out the stargazing sleeping bag. Backwoods crowd getting’ crazy. I think there’s a cricket right here.
A restless hand swings up to the left.
What is that?
Look, there’s Orion! See, the belt?
No silly, that’s him over there.
What?? How are there two Orions?
The sound of a palm slapping a leg, off to the right. A screech.
Christian! Don’t hit Elizabeth!
She was tickling my leg like a bug.
Didn’t your mom ever tell you not to hit girls?
Yeah, but my dad said go for it.
Rule number one: Never listen to anything Christian says.
I thought that was Rule Number Two.
Oh right. Rule Number One is ‘never listen to anything Jacob says.’
I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE METEORS! I want a refund.
Somebody chucks an iPhone from close by, and the screen blinks quickly between rotations as it flips in a perfect arc over the group. There is a collective:
WHOOOOAAAAA! GUYS, THAT WAS SO CLOSE!
. . .And then there’s this certain type of eagle that heats up spit to 212 degrees Fahrenheit and scalds it prey with it.
What are you guys even talking about?
Too many conversations, like overnight mushrooms, have popped up across the blankets, flinging their spores, spawning new growths and even some mutations:
Didn’t John Kerry marry into the Heinz family?
. . . And then the zombies come out and you blow them up with six grenades and a machine gun.
I wish I knew more constellations.
. . . And then Curtis said, ‘where’s the remote to the changing-color under-counter lights?’ And I said, all those words should never be together in the same sentence.
The Milky Way is in the way.
I wish I knew more about which constellations are which.
Elizabeth just said that.
The white swath that the Milky Way leaves over Chatham County is suddenly obscured by a black wagging beast with dog breath.
Aaaaaah! Incoming Pepper!
Here, Pepper! Hey girl!
She weaves her way through the bent knees, stepping on hands and hair, lowering her moist nose to foreheads as she goes. People are laughing.
I never realized that there were so many stars.
Every city kid says that.
It’s 12 a.m., right? Aren’t they supposed to be more frequent by now?
I don’t know. I don’t think they gave us a schedule.
Does this count as taking a shower tonight?
You did not really just ask that.
A streak of white across the sky. A mostly collective:
Where??? I missed it!
Seven or eight arms fly up and the outline of pointer fingers looks black against the bluedeep.
“Over there” means nothing. You just pointed to the whole galaxy.
A small shape swoops low over all the upturned faces. Another swoops across going the opposite direction.
Gah! The bats are out!
Verbal hashtag?? Oh no, son.
Yeah, and afte—a white streak across the sky.
Man. I keep trying to think of something clever to say, but whenever one happens, we all end up saying the same unintelligent nonsense.
That spray you just felt? It was not rain.
What are you people even–a white streak across the sky.
You were appreciated, meteor! As you burned and died. YOU WERE APPRECIATED!
Yells fade into the sky. The air is big enough in the field for all that. The night drinks up thoughts and shouts and shooting rocks in outer space, and togetherness. Ba-doink! Ba-doink! Ba-doink! Several text messages come through on Drew’s phone.
Op! Guys, just got service. Pause to read screen. Triple A is coming.
What’s wrong with your car?
The keys are inside it. And the locks are down.
All these mechanically-minded people here and nobody can jimmy your locks?
Jacob can. But he said it involves breaking a window. And it’s a rental.
Skin contacts skin in restless movement.
Who is that? Rebecca?
No, that’s Curtis.
A gravely rumbling comes out of the woods at the edge of the lake and up the drive.
Oh, close your eyes! Headlights!
The Triple A guys stop at the end of the drive, headlights shining into the field; they roll down the window. In the field, upwards of seventeen pairs of knees stretch out and backs sit up at different orientations around the blankets. Seventeen pairs of eyes blink into the beams and several hands stretch forward to shield eyes.
They probably think we’re smoking something.
Because who else would be in a field in Pittsboro at the end of a three mile dirt driveway marked with a sign that says “Goat House Gallery” but a bunch of hippies?
Who lock their keys in their rental cars.
Drew! Get up! They’re waiting.
Drew jogs in the dark across the field and voices elevate above the diesel chugging. In a few minutes, Drew’s shape approaches again. The heat lightning has stopped, and all the white pin-hole specks are absolutely still in their gravity-less suspension.
Don’t lay down! We’re getting up.
Is that all?
Yeah, it’s like already tomorrow. And we have to go set up for church early “tomorrow.”
My back hurts.
You old man.
The line straggles back toward the house, dragging the sheet, carrying the badly rolled sleeping bag. Talking and following the speckle-glint across the humps of cars parked in a long line down the drive. Tromping up the porch stairs, tracking dewy grass bits. Adjusted eyes squint into the 60-watt-illuminated mudroom, and bed-head from lying down catches the light, everybody, frizzy. A motley star-and-bat-crossed crew. Less one flashlight and plus one set of car keys.
Great show, guys.
Wow, is it really almost 1 a.m.?
Don’t forget your mom’s roast pan; it’s on the stove in there. We washed it out.
Thanks for having us.
Sure. Come back soon.
‘Night. Watch out for falling meteors on 15-501.
Yeah, because there are SO MANY of them out there.
Call us in three million years or whatever for Andromeda.