Solar Seth Smith stays true to his name.
The alliteration rolls off the tongue and I hear it everywhere despite being new at this school. The S’s of his name bounce from one pair of lips to another, creating this sibilance, not unlike that of a snake. I hate snakes. I hate overachievers too and Solar Seth Smith is nothing if not an overachiever.
He’s the president of the student council and the captain of the senior debate team. He has a royal flush of other titles, ready to be picked out and brandished as weapons.
I think that I will hate Solar because people like him, they sit atop a throne built with their trophies, 4.0 GPA’s and all of their parents’ love. Meanwhile we stand at the bottom looking up at them, modern gods, apotheoses, reminding us of our inferiority.It’s true. There’s him,then there’s me, repeating grade nine again, a bewildered sheep in the flock.
It astounds me that everyone else would just sit there and accept that their lives revolve around another sun. Accept that their lives are adjectives to another narrative. Accept that their lives will never be good enough to have their own narratives.
I don’t accept it. I struggle against the chains of gravity reeling me in, and I try my best to drift from that radiance until I can’t see it anymore. That throne. That shrine. That sun.
That is, until I can’t.
• • •
At tutoring club, he smiles at me from across the table.
“I assume you are Ida?”
“I am only here because it is mandatory.” My words are thin and bruised. He pays no mind.
“Which unit are you working on?” I don’t reply, because he is already grabbing my opened notebook. His answer is proclaimed atop the page black in irate biro.
“Space Goddamn Space.”
“Did you know there is an asteroid named Ida? 243 Ida, in fact.”
“Did you know you are named after the sun? Did you know everything revolves around the sun?”
Solar laughs. The cacophony of it is jarring in our little space where there is nothing except the sun and if you squint, an asteroid.
The people neighbouring us turn their heads. I get the impression that he doesn’t laugh.
“You are not the first to make that metaphor.”
He makes a little smile again, this time sandpaper-rough with too many teeth.
“Did you know that it is lonely to be the sun? Everything revolves around y-, around it, but they are locked into orbit, and never close enough.”
A startled snort weasels its way out in spite of myself.
“Did you know it is pretty lonely for 2-something-4 Ida too? Out there pushing against all the other little asteroids, scraped raw.”
He blinks the vulnerability in his eyes away, and this time his laugh is one befitting of the sun.
“You do know something about space.”
• • •
I come in at the end of the week and he is already there, head bowed as he listens to music. His eyes dart up as my backpack thumps against the floor.
“Trembling Blue Stars,” he declares.
“That’s the band I’m listening to.”
“Stars are not blue. The sun isn’t blue.”
“The brightest ones burn blue. Sirius, Canopus, Vega…”
His left eye twitches. “Solar isn’t a star.”
“No. It’s a metaphor.”
The silence stretches between us until he smiles like it’s an offering. Offerings, in my experience, are never something given willingly, but given in a false belief that things will be better.
“I guess I am,” ––– a laugh that is too loud ––– “Solar Seth Smith, bright and blue.”
As I study he points out different concepts to me, and I can tell how much he loves space by the way his eyes dance and crinkle at the corners. I can tell how much he hates the sun by the way he sighs, like the hiss of a deflating balloon.
I can’t blame him.
• • •
The next time when I come in he quizzes me on vocabulary.
“Everything that exists including all matter and energy.”
“A small rocky body orbiting the sun.” Maybe I am a metaphor as well. I think of 243 Ida somewhere out there.
“A phenomenon where the accomplishments of Solar Seth Smith overshadow everyone else’s.”
To my surprise, and perhaps disappointment, he’s calm. “Haha, very funny. Try again.”
“An eclipse in which the sun is obscured by the moon.”
“When the bright stars die.”
“Indeed.” His next smile is a classic smile of avoidance. “This is an important concept, care to elaborate?”
“The star runs out of fuel and collapses under its own gravity.” The metaphor hangs heavy between us, and it is a race of “Who will change the topic first?” He doesn’t. “Precisely. Stars much more massive than our sun go through nucleosynthesis, fusing hydrogen, then helium, fusing way up until iron. Then, boom.”
I don’t remind him that there is no sound in space.
• • •
“What happens to the smaller, dimmer stars then? The sun, for example?” “They turn into white dwarfs. Quite depressing, really.”
• • •
The stars that burn blue, do they ‘die’ quicker?”
“I think you know the answer.”
• • •
Within a few weeks, I notice his attachment to this particular brand of blue energy drink. He drinks two cans during our session and takes out one more as he exits. In the library’s trashcan, more blue aluminum corpses. I ask him about it the next time.
“I thought we already covered that bright stars burn blue.” His bony fingers shake like an addict’s as he dumps the vile stuff into his throat, knuckles white with tension.
With more and more certainty I know that is true. I look at the heartbreaking blue in his eyes, the slate blue that bleeds into deep circles under them, the electric blue tainting his lips, and the protruding blue veins on his china-white wrists. He takes another swig. I stare.
“What? It keeps me awake. Alert. It’s my fuel. These days I barely sleep.”
“You should sleep.”
“I try, but I startle awake all the time. Besides, my house is too big, too empty. I’m a ghost haunting my own house.” A drop of blue catches on his collar.
“You should talk to your parents about it.”
“It’s too trivial for me to talk to them about it. Besides, they’ll be glad that I have more time to study.”
It saddens me that he is reduced to a machine. This boy, he’s so young, yet the weight of a solar system is upon his shoulders, and I don’t know how much longer he can hold it. He is the most hardworking, earnest, persevering person in the world, but I don’t think he knows that. He is the most hardworking, earnest, persevering person in the world, but I don’t think he will ever believe it.
To the sun, its light is never bright enough.
• • •
“Are you lonely?”
“There is a difference between being lonely and being alone.”
At the school talent show I watch him play the violin. He cuts an elegant figure, with his crisp white shirt, polished oxfords, and a tie ironed so straight it might as well be a sword.The Flight of the Bumblebee trills in the air, feverish. It’s like the bees have tarantism.
The last note is washed over by applause. They clap because he is the sun. I clap because I think I’m the only one to notice that God, his fingers are bleeding.
“I missed three notes.” He tells me as he wipes chapped fingertips on his shirt, smearing it with rouge.
“That was amazing, regardless.”
A tired smile blooms on his face.
His phone rings, Fur Elise slicing the space between us. He flashes a smile and hurries away. His words find their way back to me in the auditorium, airy, unnatural.
“Mum! How are you?”
“I’m sorry.” An angry silence. “Mother, how are you?”
“Of course I understand. You’re too busy.” To see your own son, I think.
“Not bad. I missed a couple of notes.”
“Yes, mother. I will do better next time.”
As he walks away, his gait is measured, deliberate, every echo of his footsteps proud and lonely
• • •
When a star supernovas, it does so without warning, in absolute silence.
When the news reaches me, it has already stunned the whole school into choked shock.
He fell asleep in a math class, and when they tried to wake him up at the end, he didn’t.
The clique of doctor wannabes is calling it “sleep apnea.”
It is a wonder he did not burn out quicker. The websites say sleep apnea sufferers have poor sleep and weak hearts.
The graveyard of blue cans was a testament to that.
• • •
At the assembly, his parents walk onstage, with the heavy tread of the guilty. They killed him.
Look at them! They remind me of old leather couches at garage sales that no one ever buys. They are hunched over, worn with age, their skin shriveled and cracked.
I remember what Solar told me seemingly eons ago, and I snort, making a thousand pairs of eyes glare daggers at me.
“What happens to the smaller, dimmer stars then?”
They are white dwarves: once stars in their own right, but never bright enough. No one remembers them, those burnt out bodies tucked away in black pockets of the universe, bitter and small.
So, they force-fed their dreams of stars and legacies to their son, a son who was stupid, who never disappointed them. I wonder what they saw in him, did they see a boy, or like everyone else except me, a star? Did they see a reflection of themselves?
They walk downstage, the mother minuscule against the monstrous bouquet of white roses the principal gives her.
I desperately want to scream at them, ask them if they are happy now, but I gather they haven’t been happy for a long time.
A girl makes a speech, her words graceful, sympathetic yet absolutely worthless. She talks about his perfect GPA, his perfect smile and his perfect manners.
Solar’s existence was pathetic, really. No one will remember him. They will remember the sun. He is the person everyone will lament about politely at the high school reunion. He’s the cautionary tale they will tell their friends and their children. He’s the picture they will stumble across in their faded yearbooks decades later, stare at, then cover with a turn of a page.
His parents will cry.
I will grieve.
• • •
I go online and search for Trembling Blue Stars’ concerts. If they are playing near me, I will buy two tickets, one for me and one for Solar.
They disbanded years ago.
• • •
We stand at his funeral. It is a gloomy, sunless day as if the universe mourns for him.
His parents sob, ugly in their oversized black suit and bloated dress.
They place white and pink flowers on his casket. I follow suit and gently lower a few strung together hydrangeas. They are blue, a last commemoration.
The last shovelfuls of dirt cover the dark isolated little world where he, the sun sleeps. I close my eyes. Something in me shudders, whimpers. With my exhale, the water streaming down my face dissipates into the dust and joins him.
Marie You is a ninth grader in a small Canadian town. She enjoys writing, drawing, eating an unseemly amount of chocolate, and listening to “It’s not a phase, Mom,” music. You can find her nesting in a library with Arthurian lore in hand, or plopped on a sofa typing up her newest ideas.