Scene: Mobsters and Lobsters

In early 1972, with the United States still mired in an insane war in Southeast Asia and coping with an autocratic, paranoid president, Bob Crane invited me to accompany him as an assistant navigator aboard the sloop “My Little Brainchild” on a voyage to The Bahamas. We would pilot the sloop from Manasquan Inlet and follow the barrier islands down to the Chesapeake and the official beginning of the Intracoastal Waterway in Norfolk, Virginia, and then possibly keep with the Intracoastal Waterway to Florida and from there sail the Atlantic on to Nassau. Bob wanted to leave at the end of January and the Atlantic Ocean would be too rough and cold then, so instead we would cruise the Intracoastal Waterway long enough until the weather and seas were milder.

Bob was inviting me for a couple of reasons. Ostensibly he wanted to rely on my navy experience and my knowledge of astronomy to teach him celestial navigation. When I told Bob I knew little about celestial navigation, he assured me that during our voyage the two of us would master it together. And I’d recently achieved the milestone of a decade with Brainchild Scientific, and Bob wanted to show his thanks for all my hard work, my running of the business and all I had done to make Brainchild Scientific a success over the past 10 years. He praised our decade-long, near-perfect professional relationship. Bob was now 38 and I was 31, turning 32 in early May, and we were both much different people than we were in 1962, certainly we had drifted apart culturally and politically, but more on that later. My regular salary would be paid for the duration of our voyage; I could have Kate manage the store and leave Stuart in charge to run the factory and warehouse. Bob was bringing his latest girlfriend, a 19-year-old by the name of Wendy, and I could invite Gladys if she wanted to come—meaning, if Gladys cared to leave the house for more than a few hours without having a panic attack. Bob’s offer was too good to refuse.

But Gladys declined when I asked her to come along on the sailing voyage. The thought of being on open water terrified her, and I understood her fear from having been in the navy and exposed to that particular phobia (a hybrid of agoraphobia and hydrophobia), though I’d never experienced the phobia myself. Gladys also didn’t want me to go on the voyage.

“Do you want to drown and die along with that ridiculous playboy?” she said.

“Oh, come on. I was in the United States Navy, Seaman 1st Class. Why would a little trip on a sailing yacht cause me any trouble?”

“Will there be any young girls on board?”

“Oh, so that’s what this is all about, not about me drowning . . . why would he be asking you to join us then?”

“A formality,” Gladys said with smug self-assurance. “Both you and Bob Crane are betting that I will never join you on your hedonistic pleasure voyage.”

And she was right.

A week later, as the sloop gracefully launched from the marina in Point Pleasant, Bob Crane mentioned that we would be docking for a day in Miami to meet a friend of Wendy’s before sailing on to the Bahamas. The friend was going to be joining us for the final days of the trip, and without having met the “friend,” I was already thankful that Gladys would not be coming. When I inquired about the age of Wendy’s friend, Bob stared at me and said he didn’t know but assumed the friend would be at least as old as Wendy (for legal reasons, he said with a knowing wink) and possibly a little older.

Wendy was 19, tall and blond, a melange of a few playboy magazine models and the actress Ann Francis as she appeared in the movie “Forbidden Planet.” Wendy would remain forbidden fruit, and however fetching to look upon she wasn’t my type, I felt no stirring in the loins when near her. What was Bob Crane doing with this child who was years closer in age to his oldest son, a high school sophomore? According to Bob, Wendy was “very smart and mature beyond her years.” Wendy attended community college part time and worked as a go-go dancer, which explained how the two of them had met.

Late that afternoon Bob and I stood on deck in a biting sub-freezing wind, passing a bottle of Jack Daniels back and forth as we shivered in our Fiberfill parkas. Wendy was below deck. The sun was setting, a hazy smear of red-orange behind opaque winter clouds.

Bob said, “You want to know what the temperature is in Miami, Soren? 73 degrees. And how about Nassau? 76 degrees! Warm and sunny. That’s where we’re heading, to ‘warm’ and ‘sunny’. And we’ll be done with these Eskimo suits long before we get there.”

Contemplating the tropics, Bob Crane paused to light a cigarette. I took another pull on the bottle of bourbon.

“Are we going to try celestial navigation tonight,” he asked me.

I looked up and said, “If we have any stars. Sky is pretty overcast. It doesn’t look promising.”

Smoke eddied and curled back into Bob’s eyes, forcing a reflexive jerk of his head.

“Then I guess I’ll just have to get under the covers with Wendy all night.”

“That’s a shame,” I said. “I did bring my sextant.”

Bob Crane laughed at my science boy naivete’.

“Good! Very good! Let’s have a look at that sextant of yours after dinner!” and then he laughed a bit more, flicking his cigarette into the water.

The irony of course was that, at least for the early part of our trip, celestial navigation wouldn’t be needed. There were so many markers of civilization on the Intracoastal Waterway that we would likely be waiting until Florida and clear skies before making a legitimate attempt on the open seas. Bob and I could work on sighting the sun and moon as practice until then.

I should have recalled from my navy days how much activity occurred behind the barrier islands and on the Intracoastal Waterway, especially when we were closer to urban areas and saw a large number of marinas and even more stopping points that merely consisted of a dock and gas pump with maybe a few open slips. And sometimes at a stop, and always at a marina, you could moor a sloop as large as the Brainchild and get off to briefly rejoin terra firma, and there might a be a lobster house or an Italian restaurant, or a combination of those two cuisines, a red neon lobster beckoning or a flickering mound of spaghetti and meatballs. Near Atlantic City the parking lot held a couple of Cadillac Deville’s, and inside a Mafia capo and his mistress were dining near the window that overlooked the inlet. Mobsters and Lobsters . . . as we moved further south and away from the metropolitan areas of New York and Philadelphia and Atlantic City, the lights, traffic and stop off points became fewer and far between, and still one saw a great number of lights winking and pulsing along the inlets and bays, lights on channel markers, towers, drawbridges, marinas and docks. On the sloop we kept a red light on the port bow and a green light on the starboard at all times, and we saw other craft in the distance and knew them by those two lights. White and yellow dock lights punctured the oily skin of black water like long golden shimmering fangs.

And the stars did appear that night after we’d docked and Bob and Wendy had pleasured each other in their bunk and fallen asleep. I stood on deck near the helm and watched the spangles of winter stars mirrored in the water, an illusion of sky below, two heavens—one up, one down. I thought of a few lines from a famous poem.

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

And I couldn’t recall the rest of the poem except the last few lines:

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Where were we heading, slipping unseen through the night, the faces of other travelers as hidden as our own? Blindly, you knew the Atlantic Ocean was just beyond these barrier islands, beyond this inlet, you felt its presence and its boundless reach, like the universe above, the ocean and all the oceans and seas and great lakes of the planet calling and beckoning in the darkness with their latitudes and currents, with their troughs and trenches. . . . Two thousand miles across that ocean was the coast of Portugal and then southward the coast of Spain and at its southern terminus, The Straits of Gibraltar which I had passed through on another Navy ship, “The Tamarind,” some dozen years ago. The headlands of two separate continents had enclosed us like a pair of great lazy giants, and I’d been transfixed by the mythic grandeur and history of The Pillars of Hercules where the colder Atlantic eased you into the warmer and saltier Mediterranean and on toward shores of ancient civilizations, as if you were living in some dream of the Argonauts or The Seven Wonders of the World.

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Detective Porto’s first name was Dore’. The name, which I believe was after a French painter, had always sounded too “faggy” for him, so everyone called him “D” and sometimes “Ray.” He was in his late 40s, about 20 years older than me. He had two kids in college and a third with CF. He had a second mortgage on his first house in the Northwest section, a block from Forest Park, and he had a second house in Canon Beach. He was in deep, up to his eyeballs. A small man, normally thin, but lately he’d added a bit of weight. Brown hair, slightly bald, more northern Italian, urbane, ancient classical looks, as if his face could have been minted on some Roman or Etruscan coin. He was a decent guy and we always got along, but you had to understand him first, his cunning was not to be underestimated. He was a descendant of that Tuscan or Florentine gene pool which had given us Galileo, Dante, Michelangelo, Machiavelli . . . with Porto, it was largely Machiavelli.

The victim wore the pin of a Masonic order on the lapel of his dark suit jacket. I knew he belonged to the Masons, whose arcane rites and mysteries had kept all us non-members guessing for centuries as to what the Hermetic Order was really about. The temple stood alongside the Portland Art Museum, its stone frieze engraved with strange symbols. On Friday nights I had watched the chauffeured Lincoln Continentals, Cadillacs, Jaguars and maybe a Rolls or two pull along the Maple-lined curb of the park blocks and disgorge their passengers, mostly elderly white men in jackets and maroon fez who would then file in procession to the entrance of the temple. Whoever had dropped the victim here knew about the proximity of the temple. It may have been a clue. But if the killers were also Masons, then it seemed more likely that they may have been following some arcane protocol. Or maybe the victim had been murdered in the temple and carried the body outside, the way Thomas ‘a Becket had been murdered at Canterbury Cathedral.

Porto wiped a trail of sweat from his jaw.

“So, whaddya know about Masons, de Fuca? Freemasonry. The Masonic Order. And why are you even here? Just happened to be enjoying a burger with tomato, guacamole and alfalfa sprouts at Hamburger Mary’s?”

“The Masons had nothing to do with this,” I told him, as I continued to stare at the body. “Doesn’t look like poison. Asphyxiation maybe. But there’s no marks. Pillow? Sack? A snake or human would have left some marks.”

“Jesus, why don’t you let the coroner deal with the cause of death . . . I think the snake is somehow involved, but I don’t know how.”

“A coincidence,” I offered.

“A coincidence,” Porto said with a skeptical look. “An 8-foot Boa constrictor within spitting distance of a dead Mason near his local temple, or mosque, or church, or ashram, or meeting house, or whatever the fuck you want to call it . . . Yeah, some coincidence. And why are you here? At this particular crime scene? You left the force two years ago.”

I didn’t say anything.

Porto smiled wanly, a slight but discernible bowing of his chalky pink lips. But he looked dismayed too. We had always bantered, Porto and I, it was just something we did, and normally I might have toyed more with the existential underpinnings of his question, twisting it into some absurd joke, or truism (why are any of us here? we’re all just riding on the back of a turtle!) which would then piss him off. But I hadn’t engaged Porto this time, and he rightly sensed that something was wrong with me.

And I was lost in contemplation too, thinking what it must be like to be that snake pressed to the Earth, maneuvering every undulation and contour of the ground, sensing all vibration and tremor, the barely perceptible gradations of light and shadow, hot and cold, moisture and aridity, hard and soft. As a snake you can tell people from prey and avoid people or other animals who want to prey on you. Nothing quite escapes you unless you allow it to escape. You would make a good detective, you can’t help it, the world is being perpetually shoved in your face . . . and often within striking distance.

As they wrapped the body, I must have been staring maybe a little too hard, staring in a way that was making everyone nervous. I had to stare, thinking of all those years I’d seen him on an almost daily basis. He’d been a hard man to get to know, emotionally inaccessible, though kind and polite mainly, even friendly on rare occasions. He’d been a good poker player (I guess they would mention that in his eulogy). I had watched him many Thursday nights with several of his presumably masonic buddies seated around the octagonal beize table, a green lamp shade suspended over them, making a pleasant enclosure of smoky light and casino color. Had he ever been charming? Sometimes, if the script required it, but mostly he’d been inscrutable, aloof and indifferent, a closed book, a cipher. The man had always been something of a stranger to me, and seeing him dead now I was all the more certain of that.

Porto scrutinized me. He fished a cigarette from his shirt pocket and lit it.

“All day I’ve been hearing these stupid lyrics in my head. That damned Beatles song,” he complained, with a head shake, as if the head shake might dislodge the clinging words and they would tumble out of his skull and onto the ground like dice or marbles. “‘Eleanor Rigby’ . . . he said, “those lines, ‘All the lonely people, where do they all come from?’ but especially that last fucking line, ‘No one was saved’ I’ve been hearing that one in my head all day . . . Something wrong, Juan? You know this stiff by any chance?”

He exhaled a cloud of smoke into the warm air, waiting for me to answer.

“I do,” I told him. “The stiff was my stepfather.”

The dead man, Everett Lovejoy, and I had never been particularly close. Lovejoy for the most part had minimal paternal involvement in my life from the time I was nine until I’d left home at 18 and joined the army to escape going to jail. My mother and Everett divorced a year later. My biological father was Sanchez de Fuca, a trumpet player of some renown in Mexico, and I have no memory of him. He was reportedly very talented, handsome, charming, and a notorious womanizer. My lovely mother was a modern dance teacher at the time, and once when Sanchez played an extended gig in Portland, she had been another one of his road conquests. He’d never known that she was pregnant. My mother mentioned that she had once tried to make contact with him, so at least he would have known I existed—like he cared. My mother had constantly checked the Northwest jazz club circuit on the off chance Sanchez would be playing in one of those clubs, but to her knowledge Sanchez never played in the Northwest again (not further north than San Francisco). One time my mother had even driven the 14 hours to the Keystone in San Francisco because Sanchez was reportedly playing there, but she’d missed him by a day.

My mother’s name was Victoria and she had often told me about the choice of my name, and about her name; about the maps she’d pored over as a young girl transplanted from northern Minnesota, and also how as a young girl she had ridden the ferry from Anna Cortes to Victoria, describing the enchanted beauty and powerful spiritual awakening she’d experienced on that ferry ride. The San Juan Islands were dramatic, fantastic, and the straits this vastness. To the girl Victoria whose name would be forever linked to Vancouver Island, the passage across those straits had felt as if she was sailing to the ends of the Earth. I was named after those straits. And today I wasn’t particularly sad or emotional as I watched Everett’s body being hoisted onto the gurney. He’d been more of an unfortunate reminder of my real and eternally elusive father.

Burns and Allen
The Burns and Allen TV show had a run of eight years in the 1950s and has been showing recently in late night reruns. The TV show was little more than a continuation of their radio show which originally aired in 1936. By then George and Gracie had been around for years and had made numerous appearances on radio, in Vaudeville, and movies. Their first film, the feature “Lambchops,” appeared nearly a half century ago in 1929, followed by the more famous revue, “The Big Broadcast.” After seven years of television Gracie left the show because of her health. She died of a heart attack in 1964 while watching a Spencer Tracy movie. The show only lasted one more season without her. She was clearly the star.

And like Beatrice, Gracie Allen also had heterochromia iridium—one blue eye and one green—but not as distinctly polar as the orbs of Beatrice.

In recent years George Burns had been making a comeback with a Vegas solo act and playing God in the hit movie, “Oh, God!” A few years earlier he’d received an Oscar for his role in “The Sunshine Boys.” Despite his late resurgence and popularity as a solo performer and actor, George Burns always carried with him that other half, the Gracie half, and somehow he made you oddly aware of it. George Burns and Gracie Allen had had love in their lives—that was their secret. They were happily married for 38 years and their success in love and marriage played a large role in the success that they enjoyed in their careers. Their work was comedy but also about their relationship. Whenever he was asked about the secret to a successful marriage, George Burns—poised, puckered, cigar in hand—quipped, “the answer’s easy, marry Gracie.”

Couples weren’t staying together anymore. The 70s had witnessed a sharp rise in the divorce rate. The idea of lifelong commitment, of vows to “honor and uphold,” was in free fall . . . and yet I believed I deserved and wished for the kind of harmonious marriage that George Burns and Gracie Allen had known. I wondered if I still had time and whether or not there was any possibility of a perfect, long-lasting union with Beatrice. I could not see that at her age, with her beauty, she would settle into a stable relationship so early, especially with someone 15 or 16 years older. But we’d had a rapport on that star gazing night, I felt it, and I wasn’t willing to abandon the possibility of any kind of relationship with Beatrice—a little friendship or possibly some brief and fleeting carnal knowledge, anything. I simply wanted to be near her and with her in whatever form near and with happened to take.

At least half of the known stars are binary or multiple star systems. I often reference a few of the major Star Catalogs of Visual Double Stars, and I’ve been keeping a private list of multiple star systems I have sighted for almost 14 years. Binaries are often confused with optical doubles like Mizar and Alcor in the handle of the Big Dipper, but double stars are not true binaries. In a true binary system one star is designated the primary, normally because of its greater mass, and its companion, also known as the comes, revolves around the center of mass. The Roche Lobe is a space around the binary system that sets a boundary often in the shape of a teardrop around which other material may also be orbiting the star through its gravitational pull. The red giant Antares, the heart of the Scorpion, is a binary. Some other binaries in Scorpius are x-Scorpii and Nu-Scorpii. Outside of Scorpius, some more famous binaries are Algol-B and –A, and Sirius which is an astronomic binary, and Polaris, which is a double star.

Eclipsing binaries are one type of binary system and they are classified as “eclipsing” because the plane of orbit of both stars is in the line of sight of the observer. The shift in brightness, or light curve, is plotted in phase, and it’s extraordinary that these stars are called variable stars when there is little to zero light shift in either the primary or its companion. The “variableness” is the result of the stars being in mutual eclipse. Algol-B and Algol-A is the most well-known example of an eclipsing spectroscopic binary, its period of orbit (a mere three days) is determined from the light curve and the dips in brightness, or magnitude, are typically pronounced.

Two nights ago, the night before the star watch with Beatrice and her astronomy club, I’d begun tracking Scorpius-429 which I thought might be an eclipsing binary in the stinger stars Shaula and Lasath, and I returned to Scorpius-429 this evening. I was running out of time; in a couple weeks the sun would pass through the constellation for eight days and I could lose the position and need to start over again in late winter or early spring. I was working in a faintly visible region to begin with, but I had wanted to isolate the object because I hadn’t yet recorded any light curve or variable shift to confirm a companion star. Scorpius-429 was invisible to the naked eye but I had its coordinates and position in the Etherscan-1200 and even with the light shift I was still hoping for a slight distention or protuberance, a bulge or growth like a wart on the right of the primary (if there was a primary), and if the companion was closer in size I’d maybe capture an image not unlike an amoeba in mitosis.

Tonight Scorpius-429’s position was in a favorable 90-degree angle for tracking. Occasionally I would lose the sidereal coordinates (celestial longitude) relative to time of day. I’d been doing this for years and should have been an old hand at it by now, but I’d been distracted lately, profoundly distracted, a passive spectator to the dark chaotic upheaval in my life and routine, something I’d never experienced before, not with Roy’s wife Carol in the early months of ’68, nor in the orgiastic summer of 1969 with Cosmic Cosmo, nor on Bob Crane’s sloop in the late winter months of ’72. The distraction I called Beatrice was unprecedented.

I hit a trough while tracking Scorpius-429 on the Etherscan-1200 so I momentarily directed one of the better Schmidt-Cassegrain scopes at the Butterfly Nebula—NGC6302. I hadn’t bothered to observe this sublime nebula in some time, and I wondered why I hadn’t because it is complex and beautiful and fascinating, with two primary lobes and possibly other lobes and intense heat and color. Its shape is reminiscent of an hourglass and has a cold sensual symmetry, but whenever I observe The Butterfly I see a scarf or veil knotted in the center with two flared ends, or I imagine one of those metal torsos they use in dress shops lying on its side draped with a diaphanous rainbow-hued garment.

Beatrice materialized around 10:00. She sat with our child in a corner of the glass room, in the chair next to where I keep a reading table and lamp. The opposite corner of the glass room has a table and strong fluorescent light under which my star charts and notebooks are spread, but I use the more private meditative corner to sit and think about stars, often in the dark. . . Beatrice shone in the ring of muted lamplight. She was reading a bedtime story to the boy or girl (the child’s gender kept changing, simulacra of sexual dimorphism) who’d just drifted off to sleep, a few tangled locks of silky hair skewed across his/her slightly flushed forehead. Beatrice was clothed in a dark green dress with her hair gathered up and held in a pearl clip. Our sleeping son or daughter made a faint wheezing snore as Beatrice tented the book “Goodnight Moon” on her lap then folded and placed the book on the reading table, the black crystal panes in back of her head trapping her face in haloed reflection, a more insubstantial image within the waking-dream. Beatrice stroked the sleeping child’s dampened brow and gazed out into the night with a serene and contemplative look on her face, a moment of perfect sweet reverie. She then turned her head and smiled at me without saying a word, and the pull of her magnificent aura surpassed anything I would ever experience on Earth.

Gladys habitually left the TV on in the den, and sometimes I would stop in this room on my way to bed and silence the silver-blue chatter, leaving Gladys in her unaccustomed place of darkness. Often the TV would show Tom Snyder interviewing noteworthy guests like Charles Manson or the Sex Pistols, and Gladys would be asleep on the sofa bed, shimmering in a wrapper of pale violet luminescence as if she’d been abducted and taken on the space ship . . . I stared at the Burns and Allen rerun for a few minutes, laughed at some of the jokes and Gracie’s absurd monologues and non-sequitur, and I pondered how much America and the world had changed socially in 25 or 30 years and juxtaposed the brilliant joyous marriage of these two showbiz personalities with the sadness of my own and that of the prone snoring figure lying on the sofa, a disk of amber residue in a tumbler of emptied Southern Comfort carelessly placed on the end table near her lolling head.

As mentioned, I would normally turn the TV off now and go to sleep, but I kept watching Burns and Allen in anticipation that something significant was about to happen, a slippery queasy sense of wonder and dread. I returned to the glass room and looked through the ocular of the Etherscan-1200 at Scorpius-429, deciding to record the objects brightness one last time. There was now a faint distortion, a barely discernible oscillation. I brewed a pot of coffee and stayed with the telescope and soon observed a lip or a small blister on the star, that would hours later appear as an elongation, as if Scorpius-429 had become a pulled piece of taffy. I recorded the light shift. The difference was dramatic from two nights ago—an increase in brightness from 5.1 to 4.8, too marked a shift to be a distortion in phase, and as I began to reel with the thrill of what I’d been seeing, I knew I would check again tomorrow evening and expect to find a shift in the other direction. The brightness now was somewhat besides the fact because the changes in Scorpius-429 were visible. Although I continued to track the star, or stars, until dawn, I knew there wasn’t any way of misreading the properties and behavior of a dwarf companion . . . I had finally discovered a binary star!

And I soon nicknamed the binary “Burns and Allen” because if I hadn’t paused a moment to watch the old black-and-white TV comedy I may have never decided to return and continue tracking Scorpius-429. George Burns would have told Gracie if he’d discovered the binary system, he told her everything; there were no secrets between them. But I didn’t feel that I could tell Gladys, at least not yet. I certainly wasn’t going to wake her up from a liquor-induced comatose state to give her the good news. Maybe sharing my discovery in this moment would somehow weaken my exultation and make it more diffuse. I may have needed to experience the discovery alone. After all I’ve spent most of my life alone, and one day I will die alone, so why should my astronomy discovery be any different?

I stayed up for several more hours, watching for light shifts, plotting the light curve, and taking notes. For some inexplicable reason I kept visualizing wires in woven patterns, lines of spark and current, rich explosions. I was hearing the John Lennon song “Across the Universe.” And then I remembered being a boy looking out the bedroom window of my house and watching my mother hang wash on the line. It was a clear windy Saturday afternoon in the fall and the line bowed downward with sodden shirts and jeans as I watched the metal pulleys revolve when my mother’s hand tugged the clothesline to find an open segment. Wet clothes swaying and bobbing. . . Then, like a fast motion time lapse film, day faded into night and I stared at the same clothesline in moonlight under a dense drizzle of stars, but it was January now and the shirts and pants and socks were glazed with ice and the metal pulleys looked forbidding and alien in the moon glow. I dressed by putting on a winter jacket over my pajamas and added a knit cap. The house was dark and my parents were asleep. I slipped out into the star-filled winter night and it was like being under a huge dome fused with a million diamond candles. Most likely that moment, and not the Navy ship in the equatorial Atlantic near Brazil, was when I knew I wanted to try astronomy. But why didn’t I begin back then? I was old enough; my father would have bought me a telescope. Why would it take me another nine or ten years? I figured that maybe it was because the early pre-adolescent experience was so visceral and unconscious that I hadn’t realized I could a give a shape and pursuit to those deep stirring feelings about the stars. Because as soon as I was out there in the middle of the ocean, alone with the universe, I returned to this memory and knew I’d fallen in love with the heavens back then. I don’t remember how long I’d stood outside shivering in the midnight air, but when I returned to the house and crawled into the warmth of my bed, I was unable to fall asleep at first. Whenever I closed my eyes the night was there again, slightly less defined but no less profound, the underside of my eyelids more of a gray screen, but with all those stars gathered on my retinas—some dim, some intensely bright—an afterimage similar but stronger than fireworks, perhaps owing to how long I had stood outside with my head turned upward, looking at the resplendent, dizzying vault.

I ended my observation work around 5:00 AM and climbed the stairs to my bedroom so I could at least try and get a couple hours’ sleep. I met Beatrice at the entrance to the bedroom door. She was still wearing her school teacher’s skirt and blouse at this late hour. She’d been waiting for me, a question forming on her lips.

“I discovered a binary star tonight,” I explained.

“That’s fantastic! Wonderful!”

“You inspired me . . . and the discovery . . .”

“You inspired me too,” she echoed. “I’ve been more confident in the classroom since you talked to my students . . . and I’m not as self-conscious about my weird eyes as I used to be.”

“Your eyes are lovely,” I reassured her. “You should never feel bad about your eyes. They’re who you are.”

“You mean the light and the dark?”

“Yes, the light and the dark, day and night . . . It will be light out soon. I need to get some rest.”

Beatrice clutched my shoulder and leaned against me as she stepped out of her high heels. Her calves were sleek and taut in stockings.

“You’re a genius,” she said. “Like Galileo or Carl Sagan.”

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

“What does it look like I’m doing?”

Her fingers gingerly worked off the buttons of her blouse, and then took the time to fold that garment before starting on the stockings and skirt.