by KM Elkes 

Mid-shift on a slow Friday afternoon, Carrie pulled off her apron, folded it carefully onto the counter while the manager watched with an open mouth, then fetched her bag and walked out of the café. She stood outside, thumbing for rides until one stopped – a guy in a convertible, wearing a deerstalker hat and a good-enough smile.

He said he was heading to a country house party, if she had no better place in mind.

‘Want to be my plus one?’ he asked.

‘Lead on, Macduff,’ she said.

They drove through country lanes until they reached a house remote among fields of pink-tongued cows, lazy with milk. Stepping inside, Carrie saw it was the usual sort of party with the usual sort of crowd. Except maybe one. Corner-bound, reseating glasses on a slippery nose, she watched as he observed proceedings with unusual intent. As though he would be asked questions about the whole affair later on.

‘Name and occupation?’ asked Carrie, offering wine.

‘I’m Jerome,’ he said. ‘I study the solar system.’

‘Aha, a starman,’ said Carrie, placing herself on the arm of his chair. ‘From what I read, Jerome, the sun will swell in a gazillion years and swallow everything. So what’s the point of looking at the solar system?’

‘It’s about discovering as much as we can, while we can,’ he said.

‘Ah yes, discovery. Tell me about that, Starman?’

Jerome was quiet for a moment. He pulled off his glasses and began polishing the lenses on the bottom of his t-shirt. Then he began. He told her to imagine exploded stars being visible in daytime, how lunar tides would make every day one second longer; how mountains would erode and continents fuse and how, in about 240 million years, the solar system would finally finish a single orbit of the galactic centre. Carrie listened. The wine grew warm in their glasses.

Eventually she was pulled away to dance and they lost each other for long enough that the night resolved to a same-same point for Carrie – dancing, chopping lines, fucking the deerstalker guy.

When the house was quiet Carrie lay awake, the old familiar heaviness rotting in. She padded down to the kitchen and found Jerome standing on the table, suspending fruit from the ceiling with lengths of string.

There were passion fruits for the inner planets, spinning oranges for Neptune and Uranus. Jupiter was a grapefruit and Saturn a ripe mango, circled in a rind of melon.

‘What a beautiful thing,’ said Carrie. ‘An amazing thing.’

Jerome held up the Earth, a lime: ‘The thing to remember is the sun’s gravity is strong enough to keep the Earth from floating away, but too weak to bring it closer. It’s called the Conservation of Angular Momentum.’

‘And do I get to see the view from space, Starman?’

It was when she stretched out so he could pull her up that Jerome saw rows of silvery sickle moons scarred onto her arm. His glasses began their slow descent. He felt the Earth held aloof in his other hand. And Carrie heard the clatter of the deerstalker guy coming downstairs, his circling arms round her waist, pulling her back with soft words, back to the same-same point.

Next morning the solar system was piled neatly back into its bowl. Jerome was gone. And all that Carrie carried with her was the smell of bruised fruit and a notion about the lonely spin of planets, held together and apart.

KM Elkes lives and works in the West Country, UK. He began writing in 2012 and has since been published in more than 20 anthologies and won or been placed in competitions such as Fish Publishing, Short Fiction Journal, The Bridport Prize, Aesthetica Award and Bristol Prize. He is co-Editor of The A3 Review arts magazine.

He tweets via http://www.twitter.com/mysmalltales