Oct/Nov 2001  •   Fiction

To Blot Out All the Stars

by Becky Ohlsen

Art by Bob Dornborg

Art by Bob Dornborg

Sometimes in that town you got too bored to breathe. Like in every small town. Especially if you were about 15 and had no girlfriend and no job and hated your parents. Which almost everyone did, at least a little. You and your two friends would try to find things to do to distract you from the burning smallness of your heart and make it easier to breathe. The trouble was that in a small town like that there was nothing to do. Some kids had arcade games to play, or movies or shopping malls to go to but your town had nothing, not even a decent restaurant. There was a bar on the edge of town that served food and the waitress was your mother's best friend and she knew how old you were to the minute and wouldn't let you in. Sometimes one of the older kids would buy you beer and you'd carry it up to the lake and sit there drinking and burping like men until the cops came and you scattered. Half the time it wasn't a cop anyway, just one of the older kids in his car with a girl from your class, because the girls in your class only looked at the older boys. They didn't notice you at all so you tortured them and then they noticed you the way they noticed a spider or a cockroach. They were stupid anyway and you mostly hated them.

It was bad in the summer if you had no job but it was worse on the Christmas holidays. You had to stay inside most of the time because of the snow, and you were supposed to be cheerful and people noticed it more if you weren't. So you put on all your clothes and went outside and walked to your friend's house and the two of you met your other friend on the corner and walked up and down the dead streets. The lighted candycanes on the lampposts had been up since Thanksgiving, so for something to do you threw snowballs at them, and then when one started to fall under the attack of the snowballs you knew you had to make it fall completely, the way you can never stop picking at a scab until it comes off. You bombarded the thing, you and your friends, with rocks and snow and sticks until it was shredded and half of it fell to the street. It was a hideous green thing made of fake plastic leaves. You wore it as a victory crown and marched in a circle. After a while you looked around for something else to do.

It was getting dark, and up on the hill above town, the lights of the Christmas star had just come on. You and your two friends looked at the star and had the same thought at the same time. Only the older kids ever did it. The climb was bad and you had no flashlight and your mother was probably wondering where you were but it didn't matter. You started climbing, your friends behind you.

It was dark and you kept tripping over rocks. There was no trail but it didn't matter. Your toes hurt and your fingers were numb and your eyes watered from the cold. It seemed to take forever, with the star glowing on the hill in the distance ahead of you like hope or a promise.

Finally you got close enough to see the individual lightbulbs. One was missing, either burnt out or already smashed by someone else. There was always one or two missing, every year. The little old ladies clicked their tongues when they saw it and muttered something about kids these days. They would sure be surprised tomorrow morning.

You finally reached the star, and your friends' faces were yellow and their eyes were shining. Each of you had a stick in your hand. You broke the first bulb and it felt so good and sounded so impossibly loud and you felt this giant scream come rising up from the belly and you let it out and started smashing everything. Your friends joined in and screamed too and pretty soon the bulbs were all smashed, every single one, and it was dark. You were all three panting in the sudden quiet, breathing better and deeper than you could ever remember breathing in your life. You'd blotted out the Christmas star and it felt good. You laughed. And put your head back. And saw all the other stars up there, bright and huge and close enough to touch, and you stopped laughing then because it was hard to breathe again. You raised up your stick and looked at your friends and you knew there was only one way you would ever be able to leave this town.

"Let's get them all," you said.