'Map to the Stars' by Kristen Bailey

Harry has never slept alone.

Every night his mother curls herself around his body and lies with him.  She closes her eyes and pretends to be asleep but secretly she’s making shopping lists and thinking about the TV schedule.  Tonight, Harry takes
his finger and traces the freckles that outline the curve of her cheek.  He stops at the mole on her jaw line.

‘What do these dots mean, Mama?’

‘It’s a map,’ she says, her eyes still closed.  ‘Go to sleep.’

‘A map to where?’

‘The stars.’

‘Then why is it on your face?  Maps should be on paper, in books.’ She remembers they need laundry powder.  And salt. ‘Because I’m special, a chosen one.’ He pauses.  ‘But one day your face will get old and wrinkly and the map won’t look right anymore.  And you’ll die and they won’t be able to keep your face.’

She opens her eyes.  He traces his fingers along her eyebrows and smiles.  'Good night.’  He finally goes to sleep.  He dreams about this special map, and how it leads his baked bean tin spaceship to a planet ruled by monkeys who wear waistcoats.  His mother, like she does every other night, falls asleep next to him.  She dreams about her face melting off like wax and awakes with a startle at midnight to find her evening has gone and she’s hurt her neck.

*

Harry sleeps alone these days, in a pod built for one, attached to a wall.  He unbuttons his rest bag and he’s carried to the control panels in zero gravity.

‘Niner, five niner, come in.  Can we get a progress report on the mining expedition?’

‘The minerals report is coming to you now.’

The craft is never silent.  Switch gear and air vents click and hum in harmony.  Fuzzy messages break the monotony to check he’s still there with them.  Harry gets a glimpse of the darkness outside.  A halo of light makes the planet’s atmosphere glow bright and neon.  Stars flicker in the distance.  They have never looked real, like dots on a dashboard.  He remembers they used to shine brightly against alabaster white.  They used to move according to whether she was happy or angry or confused.  These ones carve out direct routes, fixed patterns.  Hers weaved themselves around her features.  They shone more brightly with the sun.

‘The carbyte levels are misleading.  We’ll need repeat measures of these.’

‘Copy that.’

Harry eats from a packet of freeze dried granules.  He readies the extravehicular mobility unit and moves into the depressurised zone of the craft.  He opens the doors.  Maybe the stars were just always in her; for now she is part of the stars.  There was never any map.  He takes a step on to the planet, clouds of dust displace and float into nothing.  He smiles.  He looks out into the silence; still dreaming, still waiting for that monkey in a waistcoat.

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