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Forty-one short stories
by Holly Gramazio

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25 down

And what's the other thing?

Deirdre's eyelids block out the moon. After a moment she lifts them open, and light slides across the landscape, summoning back trees and distant houses as it comes. She yawns and moves in towards Adam. They're in a gap between trees, and the sky is intermittent on the other side of the branches. They'd planned for the middle of the racecourse, but even the best rubber-backed picnic blanket has its limitations.

Occasional cars pass, over to one side. They've still got food in the picnic basket, but the thermos should keep the coffee hot for at least another hour; there's no rush. In any case, it's a while since they've been out on their own, without Jesse there to pull and nudge and guide.

Deirdre shuts her eyes and lets the world shrink again until there's just the pillow of a shoulder, and the stone-bumped mattress of the ground-plus-rug, and the sound of breathing. "I still can't remember what the patterns are supposed to be like," she says. It's the eighth time they've done this, every year since the first, and every time she looks up and it's just dots.

"Tell me about them, then."

Trees and city lights are hiding all but the brightest stars, but she'd been too tired to drive into the hills; even driving through the city she'd envied restful cafes, a girl asleep by a tree. "There's, I don't know. There's three or four bright ones. They're in a kind-of big triangle."

"Okay," Adam says.

"That's about all at the moment," she says, and she wishes she could see more. "Maybe when this cloud's gone by. Here." She sits up to reach for the basket. "Have some coffee."

There's no mugs, and she picks up an empty glass, wondering if hot coffee will crack it. She rolls it between her hands to warm it up first, and it doesn't break. "Here."

Adam pushes himself to sitting. "Thanks."

"Wine glass," she warns as she holds it out. "I forgot the mugs."

They stay sitting up to drink, and she's cold enough to notice the air on her legs but not cold enough to mind. She looks at her coffee, steam swirling off it and fogging the lip of the glass, lit from one side by the city.

Later, when the glasses are empty again, they lie back down. Deirdre looks around for the moon, and finds it, higher than it was before, blurry behind a screen of air and water. There's rain from the grass on the side of her face as Adam slides an arm under her neck.

A paper napkin flaps. Someone runs by. She shuts her eyes, and feels the tug of her hair caught against fabric as she shifts her head.

"Tell me what I should be looking for," she says. "I don't know why I can never remember. It's not like it isn't interesting." He doesn't say anything, so she goes on, saying anything. "Tell me how many moons Saturn has, I can never remember. And what they're named after. Tell me what the difference is between meteors and comets, and what's the other thing? Dinosaur-death-rock."

"Sounds like a music genre," he says, and hoarsens his voice. "There's evil in the room, there's an evil evil doom, it's a creature causing wrecks, it's Tyrannosaurus Rex."

"And which order the planets come in," she says.

Adam sings. "We feel the end, we feel the night, we never ever feel the light. You're trying but you can't ignore us, we're the evil brontosaurus."

"Nice," she says, then lies silent for a few minutes before taking a turn. "I like devouring all that's nice. I don't need pepper, salt or spice. Catch me and I'll eat my captor: I'm the grim...

"Velociraptor," Adam joins in. "Wonderful."

"Get back to the stars and the rocks and the extinction," she says.

He shrugs. "It hasn't changed since I told you last year. Have the clouds cleared up at all?"

She can't really tell, but she says they have, a bit, and closes her eyes.

"Tell me," he says.

Her eyes are still closed. She's remembering a day eight years ago, walking along near ducks on the late summer river, talking about the evening sunlight, describing the source of every slanting shadow they walked through: plane tree, tree she didn't recognise, woman wearing bike shorts, old man with a bag of bread. She thinks about how desperately she'd wanted to distill everything she could see into something she could press into his hand.

"I don't know," she says, and opens her eyes, and looks up. If she concentrates she can see a few more stars behind the brightest. "I can't tell where one constellation ends and the next one picks up, anyway. There's a shape like a question-mark," she adds; she can't quite make it out but she's sure she remembers it from last year or the year before.

"Tell me?" he says again, a little later. She feels the weight of her eyelids resting shut. If she doesn't look she can't know it isn't true. "The clouds have cleared up a lot," she says. "Loads of triangles, I don't know what the constellation name is for a primary school orchestra."

"One of them might be Musca, he's pretty triangular. A fly. You'd think the Sails would be too, Vela, but they're shaped like a big blob."

"Can't imagine that catches the wind very well."

"They goes with Puppis, which is the poop deck, and Carina, which is the keel, and Pyxis, which is the box. It's supposed to be the Argo, as in Jason and the."

"The Argonauts, famous for their box?"

He shrugs. "Apparently. I've never been a classicist."

Later she opens her eyes after all, still lying down, and reaches out to pull her handbag over and look at the time. She wonders whether he's awake; he hasn't moved for a while, he's breathing slowly. Maybe asleep. Probably asleep. She opens her mouth to say something else, and then he moves.

"How are the clouds going?" he asks.

"A few left," she says after a moment. "Mostly off to the side, though. So much sky."

She sits up and he follows a moment later. They lean into each other, and she tries not to flinch when his hand brushes past a bruise that he surely isn't aware of.

"You okay?" he asks.

With her eyes shut there's just them again, for a minute. "Mm," she says, and his hand slides again past the bruise he can't know about.