WASTE OF SPACE • by Sarah Hilary

In the beginning, there was the worm and the worm was Rod.

It wasn’t as if Rose didn’t know better, but Rod was supposed to be different. For starters, he was into astronomy. His favourite star was Betelgeuse and he knew all about the Hourglass Nebula. On their first date, he pointed to the brightest light in the night sky: “Antares, she’s a red supergiant.” Despite herself, Rose was sucked in.

She was soon brought back down to earth.

“In space you’d be weightless,” Rod smirked, when she struggled with her skinny jeans.

He told his mates, “I fell for her. That’s gravity for you!”

Gravity sucked. The well-documented enemy of womankind, it defeated Rose’s jawline and breasts, even her hair. She resented the lure of face-lifting firming masks, volume-pumping sprays. No one expected men to battle physical laws, unless you bought the sales pitch for Viagra. Women, on the other hand, were encouraged to attempt the defiance of gravity on a daily basis.

“Move your feet,” she said, busy with the vacuum.

“In the Mir Space Station,” said Rod, “there is no up or down, but to make the crew feel at home some of the floors are carpeted and the ceilings have lights.”

A wormhole, that’s what she needed, some shortcut to a parallel universe where she didn’t dream of taking an axe to his middle. She was a vicar’s daughter, not cut out for these feelings.

When she looked at the night sky, Rose saw star ghosts and slowly winking eyes. Rod saw debris: “Nothing in the Universe is new. Space looks crowded but the stars are miles apart. Our nearest neighbour, the moon, was dragged into our orbit by accident. Squint, and like astrologers of old, you think you see patterns, but it’s all chaos.”

Rose was developing a squint.

In Arabic, Betelgeuse meant the hand, or shoulder, of the giant. In French, it was Orion’s armpit.

“Betelgeuse is 427 light years from Earth.”

Closer than Rose felt to Rod, on a good day.

So one night, standing under the brightest star in the heavens, she told him, “When Antares runs out of energy, her core will turn to iron and without energy to sustain her shape, she’ll collapse under her own gravity in seconds. Had she been a smaller single star, she’d have lived longer and died quietly.”

Rod blinked. “What?”

“You’re dumped,” she elaborated.

Sarah Hilary is thrilled to be part of the 2008 Crime Writers’ Association anthology, MO: Crimes of Practice, which features her story, “One Last Pick Up”. She won the Fish Historical-Crime Contest with Fall River, August 1892. Her story, The Eyam Stones, was runner-up in the Historical Contest. Both stories will be published in the Fish anthology 2008. Her work has appeared in The Beat, Neon, Shred of Evidence, Every Day Fiction, Literary Mama and the Boston Literary Magazine. Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and daughter, where she is writing a series of crime novels set in London and L.A.

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