"Astronomical Odds" by Vesna McMaster
There was something really wrong with my father. Apart from his absence. He didn’t just leave an emptiness. It was more like the pulsing radio waves of a neutron star or the gravity of a Black Hole, sucking in peripheral unwary strands of information and conversation. No-one would talk about him. At all. Aunt Jenny simply shook her head and made her jowls wobble, sometimes lifting her finger in silence if I asked. I knew better than to ask my mother. Most of the others pretended not to hear and changed the subject. I’d never seen him, of course.
Just once, when Aunt Jenny’s nose was tinged pink with a glass of New Year’s champagne and her eyes had that crinkly blue-mist haze, she forgot herself for a second. “He had ideas, my love.” Then the haze lifted all of a sudden and she extricated her hips from the armchair with a violent pull of suction. She ran to the kitchen and turned the tap on, even though all the dishes were done.
I was studying for my Uni entrance exams, window wide to let in the cut-grass-and-lilac from the garden and the radio on easy jazz. The midday newscast came on and an earnest voice relayed the latest from some war-bogged Eastern European country. I focused on the page on the death of Socrates. The floral print of the curtains bloomed suddenly into the room and my mother’s torso burst in through the window in a whorl of flying black hair and gardening gloves. She slammed her hand down on the radio button, engendering silence.
We stared at each other. She panted. My mouth was open but I might have forgotten to breathe. She drew herself up, tucking hair behind ear.
“Extraneous auditory input decreases the efficacy of study,” she said.
I blinked into the sunlight as she turned and left.
Socrates was dead. I abandoned the revision. I couldn’t remember which country it was the newscaster was talking about, but I made a guess. Google worked overtime for twenty minutes.
The rebel leader in a blurry photo in some pastoral setting. Something in his posture made me look twice. More photos, not so blurry. A chiseled, delicate jaw and peculiar set of the eyes. Blue. A certain stoop. Dates, about sixteen years ago. And a tiny mention of our hometown in a bottom left margin of Wikipedia.
My gaze lifted to meet the one in the mirror. The heart of the neutron star.