Stars

by Chris Buchanan
Short story, 2010

Dan welcomes his ex-wife to the horoscope segment of the BBC Radio Merseyside afternoon show. He does not care for horoscopes.

I was the funny host at Radio Merseyside. DJ’s there were divided into three distinct groups, as per BBC local broadcast policy. There were young lads who tried to be funny, old men who tried not to be, and me. That’s why I got the afternoon show so quickly, and how I kept it.

Don’t get me wrong, now: I was never anything special. I was never national quality, although I always suspected that if I was, then the accent would have held me back. Don’t hear too many Scousers in the top presenting jobs. But I didn’t belong up there by rights. I was right where I deserved, in the crumbly, understaffed halls of mediocrity, Paradise Street.

On the day of my last show, I remember staring at the clock until ten minutes before the end.

Jessica Jones finally mooched into the studio without anyone letting her in. She just hung up her very silly furry coat, sat down, pressed her knees together and made that stupid smile where it’s not really a smile so much as a deliberately bad impression of one. She thought it made her look innocent and sweet. It made her look like a liar, I had always thought. I smiled back. ‘Just in time,’ I mouthed. She pursed her lips in exaggerated confusion, then pretended to figure it out when I abandoned the charade and signalled to put her headphones on.

Simon and Garfunkel were faded-out prematurely and replaced by what was labelled ‘astrology ambiance medley’, but known in the building as ‘new age shite tape’. Pan pipes and chimes.

‘We say farewell to the wonderful Sound of Silence, there,’ I announced happily to the mic, ‘and welcome back to Miss Jessica Jones! Astrologer…’ and I paused there because she had written-in requesting me to, ‘to the stars.’

She hadn’t bothered with the make-up today, I noticed when she looked-up. It made a nice change. The milky, still glance she shot me was either to thank me for including her pun, or admonishing me for the little ‘silence’ gag, it was impossible to tell which. Even without them painted, I couldn’t read her eyes.

Come to think of it, she looked just about normal. No big ear-rings, no ten-years-too-young corset or anything. It was a black jumper and almost not-shiny trousers. She’d never been in the studio, not for the astrology anyway, looking like that. She looked nice. I did notice that.

‘Good afternoon, Daniel,’ she replied. Daniel. I didn’t know if I’d annoyed her or if we’d just become so formal that ‘Daniel’ seemed right to her. I suppose I wasn’t exactly calling her ‘Jess’ these days, so fair enough, but…

‘So what have you got for us this month?’

‘Well, it’s going to be a very busy time, at least for the next couple of weeks, for all of us. There are some very interesting… shifts, which I shall get to later.’ She sounded robotic when she recited her reports, as if she took no joy in the work. Like even she didn’t believe in what she was saying. I had to wonder about that. Shifts.

I nodded with the best dopiness I could muster. ‘Right,’ I said, ‘what kind of shifts are we talking about?’

‘Well we have a full moon starting tonight…’

Yes, much like every month. ‘Yikes. Is that unusual, Jessica?’ I grinned.

Boldly, she ignored it. ‘Now, you’re a Cancerian, of course.’

‘You remembered!’

‘I did. And the moon is your ruler, obviously.’ On the recording you can hear my chuckling at that point. It’s not me being spiteful; it was purely by accident. What I said afterwards was spite, but I thought I might as well after laughing at her.

‘Well, obviously, yeah. I never leave the house without consulting the moon. You can tell by looking at me. Funny thing is, whatever I ask, it always just gives me this sad face.’

‘Right…’

‘It’s depressing.’

‘The moon is your ruler, Cancer, and it will be full tonight and it will be in Taurus. Taurus is the part of your sign that deals with group activities, which seems lovely, but remember that the full moon is all about letting go. So, that’s maybe something you should think about now.’

Well how bloody specific. How nice of whoever created the universe to leave a complex system of stars and planets around the Earth in order to tell people born in June that they should maybe think about letting go around October.

Now before you start taking her side, thinking I was being a bit harsh, let me remind you that her last book was called The Venus Code, and that she bought a BMW with the profits. All right?

All right. ‘It could be anything,’ Jessica followed, still in her bored computer-voice, ‘a gathering of friends you no longer have time for, a work thing, or who knows, even your family. But you should say goodbye to whatever it is before it’s too late.’

Thoughts of gullible fools at home flitted through my mind. There must have been people at home who actually took her on, who sat at home with a pen and paper and based their lives around these random, vague platitudes she had strung together while waiting for a roast to cook.

She was vegetarian by then, actually, so no.

Some ‘Cancerian’ might just go and throw his family away, or something, because of this. Because the bloody moon was in bloody Taurus.

I stopped listening. My guest continued reading her fortunes as if they were shipping forecasts, while I slowly closed my eyes and smiled, tried to rise above the scene. Her droning and twittering dulled, leaving only the panpipes audible. The ill-fated listener in my thoughts was replaced by an image of stars against black. Five stars that apparently someone once thought looked a bit like a crab. They don’t. They look like the tips of great, shimmering mountains. Every one of those five is all we can see of a system of planets, like our own, or maybe different. We don’t know. Couldn’t possibly. Every one is unique, gorgeous, alone, except for that glassy, emotionless white dot that made it to our eyes. After all that time and space. Five of them.

‘Now, the Sun is changing signs now, moving to Mercury. This is veryexciting for Cancerians because…’

‘Awww, Jessica Jones, will you shut the fuck up?’

The astrologer frowned and creased her face at me, helplessly registering a mixture of caring and disgust. Honestly, it was wonderful for me to see that face again. That was Jessica Jones’ face. I’d missed it badly. I almost didn’t mind when I realised what I’d said on air.

‘Do you actually–’ I was sputtering now, but no plan of action came to me no matter how much time I bought myself. ‘Do you believe this stuff? That’s what I want to know. Are you in on the con, or did you somehow get sucked into this? Because the last time I knew you well enough, you were much, much smarter than this!’

I had known her well for seven years. I like to think I knew her better than anyone else ever did, but she’s changed so much that I suppose it doesn’t matter. And I understand she found a new fella the week after the divorce, anyway, so maybe I am just second-fiddle now. They’re still together, at time of writing. I certainly don’t know what the astrology was all about. We never talked about it, anyway. She wasn’t the type, back then.

I knew her well. Seven years. It was my fault she got interested in fame, and I’ll take the blame for that. I let her help on the show, made up the occasional comedy character for her to play. She loved it when I introduced her by her full name on the radio. It made her feel like a celebrity, I think. But I just haven’t got a clue why she went the way she did. Whether she believed in the horoscopes, or she just liked the celebrity. In our day she was brilliant. She used to wonder at everything she saw. Used to forgive too easily.

I swore some more while she watched, blank and empty. When I had clearly run out of steam Jessica walked out, very dignified. A few minutes later, Joe – Joe McCoy that is, producer at the time – politely asked me to do the same. Next time I saw her was on a street corner. She was shopping, I was looking for work. The conversation was awkward. We both kept our hands in our pockets.

But Jessica smiled a bit as we talked, a nice smile, like she used to, and even laughed at a few of my jokes. She always said she thought I was funny.

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