Shafts of moonlight illuminated the white dome of the observatory. The little girl clutched her aunt’s hand and dragged her up the path towards the entry. Struggling through the early evening humidity, her aunt gave a little resistance at first. Then with a cheeky laugh, she let go of her niece’s hand and ran ahead.
‘Come on Lily! Don’t you want to see the stars?’ she goaded. Lily scowled and picked up speed, bulleting up the path and catching up swiftly.
‘That wasn’t fair,’ frowned Lily, ‘and now I’m all sweaty.’
‘It’s 30 degrees babe. You were sweating in my air-conditioned car. I reckon you’ll survive.’
An evening treat with her niece was just what Kate needed to feel human again, after a month locked away in her flat finishing the umpteenth draft of her novel, she was ready for the public again. They’d reached the admission booth. Kate was fishing around in her purse for the printed tickets when she caught a look at herself reflected in the admission booth window.
Sweat had caused a slight sheen to her shoulder length blonde hair. She used to be as light a blonde as her niece, but as she’d gotten older, her hair had darkened to an almost light brown, a brown she described as ‘dirty blonde’. She brushed an errant strand of hair back off her face and behind her ear, briefly revealing an ear with multiple piercings from the ear ridge to the lobe. Her eyes lingered on their reflected selves for a moment. Sharp, intelligent, ice blue eyes with small flecks of gold peered back at her.
‘Not bad for thirty-five,’ she thought to herself as she gave her reflection a wink.
Kate looked down at Lily. She was often mistaken for her daughter. At 10 years old, Lily was a time capsule of what Kate had been at her age. Except that Kate had been bit of a loner and Lily was the ultimate extrovert, interested in everyone and everything. This month her interest was the universe.
‘Come on, Aunty Kate! We’ll miss the session!’ Tickets found, and scanned by the attendant, they wandered into the air-conditioned observatory.
Before they could enter the observatory proper, all of the ticket holders were mustered in a small antechamber, walls covered in fact sheets about the history of the observatory. Kate looked around her and wondered how long Lily would be interested in the session before wanting to drag her into a café for a coffee—the very thing she’d promised her sister she wouldn’t let herself be bullied into by a 10 year old. She hoped that they could both endure what she expected to be a mind-numbing explanation of star configurations. At least it would be a respite from the final heat of the afternoon.
‘Aunty Kate! Are you listening?’ She wasn’t. ‘I said, this is Amica and her dad Leo. Amica is my best friend at school.’ Kate noted a bemused smile cross the lips of Amica’s dad as he looked from Lily to his daughter.
‘Leo is single,’ said Lily.
‘All the subtlety of her Mum,’ thought Kate as she felt her cheeks redden and looked at the handsome man in front of her. Her sister Lisa was constantly putting her in embarrassing situations with men, and it appeared that this was yet another of her well-intentioned traps. Kate made a mental note to herself to have another chat with Lisa.
‘Nice to meet you, Kate,’ Leo extended his hand for a sweaty handshake. Kate immediately regretted it. He held her hand a little too tightly and for much too long.
‘So, what do you do for a living? I’m an architect at Grayson and Associates. The new Cove Tower is one of mine.’ Smug.
‘That’s…good. Not the most environmentally focused design if I remember correctly.’
‘Well everyone knows that climate change is a conspiracy. It’s crap. Just doesn’t exist.’
‘Right.’ Lily grabbed Kate’s hand in the nick of time and gave it a firm squeeze, the signal begging her not to ruin this opportunity.
‘Aunty Kate’s a writer. She’s freelance.’ And it was obvious that Lily wasn’t quite sure what this meant. Leo raised an eyebrow.
‘To him, freelance writer must be code for unemployed lefty loser,’ thought Kate, ‘but he doesn’t look put off.’
Kate smiled uncomfortably. She had hoped that the situation would backfire in her favour. For a long moment no-one spoke. They were drowning in silence when the doors to the inner sanctum of the observatory swung open, bringing with it a gust of air-conditioned coolness. Standing in the open doorway was one of the most beautiful women Kate had ever seen.
She was tall with perfect and unblemished olive skin. Thick, black, wavy hair bound in a neat ponytail. Eyes a mysterious light brown. She wore the standard issue uniform of the observatory guides, but on her it looked tailored for her lithe, long body. Then she spoke. Her voice was a dark melody of sweet honey.
‘Welcome to the Galaxy. I’m Samira, and I will be your guide this evening. Prepare to experience the universe.’
Samira. Kate was mesmerised. She knew that the people all around her were chattering away, Leo was even trying to ingratiate himself with her. But all Kate heard was silence. From the moment that those doors swung open, she had not taken her eyes from Samira.
When Samira spoke again, her velvet voice was the only sound Kate heard. She was transported into the galaxy, amongst the stars and swept along with stories. Samira made the photographs of galaxies come alive and told tales of the Maori and the Australian Aborigines, comparing their stories of the stars with the tales from her own South Asian background. She wove stories from science, myth and fable making each a personal journey.
The time flew, and her interplanetary guide landed them from the wonders of the stars back into the observatory. People ambled out of the room. Before she knew she was doing it, Kate walked to the front of the room to introduce herself to Samira.
‘That was amazing. I’m Kate. I was wondering if you were doing anything now? Can I take you out for a coffee? I’m a writer, and I’d love to hear more.’ She was babbling, but somehow in what she thought was incoherent gushing, she had made her point.
‘Actually, this is my last session of the day. I’d love a coffee.’ And when Samira spoke to Kate, once again the rest of the room fell silent. It was as though it was just the two of them floating in space. Kate felt her face flush and a distinct lack of oxygen.
‘Aunty Kaaaaaate! Can we all have coffee?’ Her niece abruptly brought Kate back down to Earth. Leo and Amica stared expectantly.
‘Yes. Let’s all grab a coffee. Is there somewhere here you’d like to go?’ Leo. It seemed as though he sensed competition and was staking his claim.
‘How about I meet you at the Observatory café? I just need to change out of my uniform.’ And Samira smiled at Kate. Kate knew in that moment that there was no hope left for her.
The Observatory Café was not as spectacular as the observatory itself, but Kate didn’t care. As she waited, Kate wondered if Samira would be interested in her, the girls loudly discussed the latest fashion magazines, and Leo did his best to impress.
Leo had just reached out to put a hand on Kate’s knee when Samira glided in. It was impossible, but she was even more attractive than Kate had remembered. She was now wearing jeans and black sneakers with a light blue V-neck t-shirt. Nothing special, but on her it was spectacular. Kate leapt up, knocking Leo’s hand away.
‘You made it! What can I get you? Coffee? Cake! Would you like some cake?’ Amused, Samira grinned, and it was like the light of a billion stars reaching through the blackness of space to find Kate, and only Kate.
‘No cake for me, but a peppermint tea would be good. Actually, why don’t I grab it? I won’t be long.’
‘I’ll come with you. I did promise to pay.’ And with a shared smile, they both meandered to the front counter.
‘Why don’t I grab that tea takeaway? It looks like you have a situation here with your partner?’
‘Oh, no! I’ve just met him.’ Kate clutched at the opportunity as she saw it slipping away from her.
‘I’m here most days, feel free to pop in any time. We can grab that coffee then?’ Kate was rendered mute. She nodded in disappointed agreement, her mouth dry.
And with that, Samira was gone. Kate dragged herself back to the table.
‘She’s not staying? That’s disappointing,’ smirked Leo.
‘Yeah. And I should be getting Lily home. School tomorrow Miss—your mum will kill me if I don’t get you home soon. And do not tell her about the coffee.’
After dropping Lily home, Kate felt restless. She drove around in the warm heat of the summer night, turned off her air-conditioning and rolled the windows down so she could feel the warm night breeze. How could she have made such a fool of herself? Samira was probably straight.
‘You really need to get out more,’ Kate berated herself and before she knew it, she found that she’d driven herself back to the Observatory car park.
There was one other vehicle at the far end of the parking bays. A small yellow hatchback was parked perfectly near the grassy area in front of the observatory. On the grass behind it, on a red tartan picnic blanket lay Samira. She was on her back, her head pillowed by her arms, gazing up at the stars. Her hair flowed out around her like a black halo.
Kate leapt out of the car, composed herself and calmly walked over to Samira. She didn’t want to startle her. About to speak, her mouth was inexplicably dry.
Samira made the cold silence as warm as the night air with one sentence: ‘Why don’t you join me?’
Kate dropped down on the rug beside Samira and lay down on her back, facing the stars. It was a perfect, humid night with a clear sky full of a billion pinpoints of light. As she gazed at the night sky, Kate was torn at what to surrender to—the night sky or the beauty of Samira? She fought the urge to turn and stare at Samira, to lose herself in her star speckled eyes. It was a fight that she eventually lost, and when she turned to look at her, found Samira lying on her side, appraising Kate.
‘Did you know that by the time we see a star it’s already old or dead? We see it in its youth as it’s simultaneously dying of old age somewhere far away.’
‘That’s a cheery thought.’
‘My point is, how lucky are we that we get to be present with each other at this time simultaneously? It’s a million to one shot that you would find me at the Observatory. Then you drive back and find me here tonight? That’s got to be about a billion to one.’ Again Kate was dumbstruck.
Samira reached out and gently took Kate’s hand in hers.
‘You’re cute. It’s not often someone tries to pick me up at work.’ Samira whispered. Kate’s face reddened.
‘Was I that obvious?’
‘And now you’re even cuter,’ purred Samira as she took Kate’s face in her hands and kissed her.
Samira smiled with the warmth of a supernova. They lay back and once more appraised the sky for what seemed like aeons, safe in each other’s orbit.
Suz Mawer is a writer of prose, poetry and script. She has had articles published by online Arts Journal Audrey Journal and voices a podcast of her short stories (‘Modern Myths & Legends’). Suz recently made her public debut as a poet reading some of her material for the 2020 Mardi Gras program at Kings Cross Theatre.