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Patricia Koelle: There will be stars tonight
© Patricia Koelle
He appeared out of a heavy fog on a still, dismal morning. In a coat several sizes too big for him, he looked frail and slightly unreal, like nothing more than a passing thought. Tourists were huddled on the beach, sad because their precious holidays were dribbling away in days far too cold for this place and time. Mothers wrapped blankets around wet, shivering toddlers, husbands grumbled because their newspapers disintegrated wetly. The waves ducked beneath the weighing horizon; even the breeze had died.
I sat on my towel, arms locked around my knees against the cold, and listened to the seagulls, whose cries drifted through the mist. My attention wandered to the fragile man with the white beard who walked from tourist to tourist with slow determination. It seemed he spoke to everyone in turn, then squatted down to hand them something tiny. My mother was busily solving a crossword puzzle.
“A sea creature with eight letters” she mumbled thoughtfully.
A shadow fell on her.
“There will be stars tonight”, a voice soft as the absent breeze announced firmly.
The man stood before us, no taller now that he was so close. But there was something in his eyes: the warmth and the light that was missing from this July, and more. He crouched and held out a fragment of paper to my mother, who was surprised enough to take it, though she usually mistrusted strangers. Then he gave one to me.
“Don’t forget, there will be stars tonight!” he repeated, smiled earnestly at us, rose and dusted the sand off the deteriorating seam of his coat. We watched him meander north towards a family with three howling kids. They fell silent when he came up to them.
I looked at the scrap of paper in my hand. It was a sticker, the simple kind. In those days they had no glitter, no holograms, no three-dimensional gimmicks. This one simply showed a cluster of cheerful, yellowish-golden stars, the way a child would draw them. My mother held a moon in the palm of her hand. We looked at each other and discovered smiles on our faces, echoes of the man’s. I can’t resist stickers, besides, my shorts had no pockets. I peeled off the paper and stuck the stars on the case of my sunglasses. My mother searched in her vast handbag and stuck her moon on the side of the small mirror she always carried in it.
When I looked up, the man had gone. But the people on the beach were somehow sitting straighter than before. Some had risen and were strolling along the sea edge, splashing their bare feet in liquid silver in spite of the cold. The sky had grown just a bit lighter. Someone had started a ball game, and the kids were laughing over the antics of a crab. We promptly forgot all about the strange man and went to buy an ice cream and look for shells. After all, you can find shells in any weather, and ice cream always tastes of summer.
We were tired from the sea air and went to bed early. By now, rain was pattering on the sill, making me even sleepier. The TV had announced we would have to live with this weather at least half a week more. Yet around midnight, I woke up. My mother was standing by the window.
“Look!” she said softly when she noticed I was awake.
The clouds had gone. Outside a vast and perfect sky shimmered, not a single cloud sailing to mar a silent show of winking stars as brilliant as they can only be in the desert, on mountaintops or over the ocean.
“There are stars tonight!” I whispered in awe.
The sky was back to a wet grey the next morning, but for some reason it was less discouraging. Three days later the sun came to stay. We were soon sweltering. I used my sunglasses daily and always caught myself smiling when I noticed the star sticker on the case. We didn’t see the man again, though I looked for him among the multiplying crowds. Two more weeks passed, full of heat and swimming and astounding sunsets of opera-like grandeur. Finally, our last day of vacation arrived. We were strolling along the shoreline a little sadly, picking up a few last shells as if keeping them would also keep the relaxed days coming. Suddenly, a pair of bare feet and bent, thin legs blocked my path.
“There will be Christmas trees”, a familiar serious voice remarked.
I looked up and met the sticker man’s luminous gaze. He held out a tiny piece of paper. I took it eagerly. This time the sticker showed a burning candle. My mother, coming up behind me, received a snowman. “Thank you” we managed in chorus before he smiled benignly at us and moved on. We turned and watched him; in the growing distance he almost resembled the sandpipers scurrying trustingly near him.
“Well”, my mother finally said, “let’s go pack.”
In the hotel room, I stuck my candle sticker on the cover of my favorite book of poems, which I had been reading. Our sadness at having to leave had dissolved; we looked forward to home.
After all, there would soon be Christmas trees.
... to read the complete story
Dieser Text ist urheberrechtlich geschützt. Nachdruck und Vervielfältigungen, auch auszugsweise,
bedürfen der schriftlichen Zustimmung des Verlags.
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