The only things that had really ever changed in Alex’s room were the color of the walls which had gotten darker over the years like dried blood, his posters and a black computer desk he had stolen from the neighbor’s bulk garbage pickup five years earlier. He had meticulously steam cleaned the exterior and used an exacto to remove stickers bearing the likenesses of Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and Usher. He lay in his twin bed gazing out the screened window and listened to the whoosh of maple leaves that signaled a coming storm. He could not see the stars anymore. They had cleared the wild meadows near his house to put up a new subdivision – “Whispering Willows”- and the street lights, along with the ever growing population of outdoor shopping plazas (strip malls) had stained the night sky that he grew up with. It was black now. And that made him nervous.
It annoyed him that he knew there were stars in the sky, but he couldn’t see them. Though he had spent most every night with eyes squeezed shut listening to wind and crickets and the sound of Nightline blaring from his father’s office, he had suddenly realized that he absolutely must see the stars… or he would do something drastic. It slowly became a compulsion, but he did not realize how severe the itch to see the stars had grown until one night he burst out of his room, ran to the car and started the ignition all with the intention to drive far into the countryside until he could see the Big Dipper. That was the plan. But once he put the car into reverse, Alex blacked out and awoke to paramedics slapping his face. In the corner of his eye he saw his Dad’s car neatly tucked into the side of the neighbor’s Suburban. The white steam slid into the night air and he thought how nice it would be to go to a sauna tomorrow. Just get all the toxins out, sweat out the pain and the chemicals and the crap he had been breathing in that disgusting room over the garage.
The next day, he had forgotten all about his night terror. He had blocked out all conversation with others throughout the day until it seemed he had only been awake for an hour or two. He was a stoic genius waiting. He knew that he had been born for a reason, and that all was not lost for his lack of work, ambition or focus these last few years. He discovered, during his blackout, that he was waiting for an idea. Just one, simple, exquisite idea that would shoot him out of this house forever. Maybe it was a household invention. Or a mathematical equation. Or an engineering breakthrough. Or something to help babies or dogs. He didn’t know. But he felt good knowing that it was just a matter of time until something happened.
Alex’s confidence soared while he shaved, clipped his toenails, washed his face and applied his topical ointment to the eczema on his feet. But for all the fantasizing about getting his due someday soon, his anxieties returned once the lights were out. He tried to focus on the crickets, but they would not chirp to the rhythm that was in his mind playing over and over. Ode to Joy. He had to quickly abandon the crickets. The trees were no better. Where there was wind last night, tonight it was as still as death. It seemed everything he wanted wasn’t there.
Alex felt his heart racing. His body was one large itch that could not be scratched. If he didn’t hear the crickets play Beethoven or see the hidden stars or hear the song of the trees that was soothing and sweet, he didn’t know quite what he would do. His mother had the only key to the liquor cabinet, and he was fresh out of the two liter plastic bottle of vodka he had finished the day before yesterday.
Alex reached over to his clock radio and looked at the time. It was 10:33 p.m. He tried to hold his breath for a full two minutes. If he could do that, he could do anything and everything would be OK. After 45 seconds, he let out a deep gasp followed by an alarming squeal and burst into tears. Alex’s hands darted toward the clock radio to hurl it against his bathroom door. It fell to the floor and the crackling volume pierced the air. He went to grab and adjust it, but he inadvertently tuned to the Co-op station. He heard the unmistakable voice of Kate Bush and felt that at least he had been thrown a piece of driftwood tied to an old boat on a tumultuous sea.
Alex pulled himself together, crawled into bed and tuned the station in so it was clear and uncluttered by static. He adjusted the volume. Not too soft so he couldn’t hear it, but not too loud that he couldn’t go to sleep. He lay flat on his back, palms up and spread out, face relaxed and he listened. He couldn’t remember when or if he had ever heard a Kate Bush song on the radio. Her voice was an instrument. He wished that Kate was actually his sister or cousin or aunt. Mostly, he let her birdly voice sing of a lonely woman waiting for her long lost love to return from the sea. It was haunting, and he fell asleep just as Ava’s voice pushed him into a dream… “thank God for Kate Bush. I’ll be back tomorrow. Until then, I’m Ava and this has been Pop Candy.”