The Star Buyer
The cop told me it was a Hollywood myth that you only get one phone call after being arrested. He said I could call anyone I wanted, even a lawyer. But I only needed one call. I called my son and asked him to put my granddaughter on the line. He did, and I told her to go outside and look at the stars.
A few weeks ago, I bought a bunch of stars at fifty bucks a pop. After reading a few science articles on space travel and Dyson spheres, I calculated how many greats were needed until humanity left planet Earth behind. I’ll never be rich, not on a bus driver’s wage, but my great-great-great-great-grandchildren could be.
The stars showed up yesterday in the mail. Well, their locations showed up, written on filigreed certificates. You get to name the stars you buy, so I named them not after people I know, but after people I want to know, my future grandchildren. I read each name aloud and placed the certificates in a Folgers coffee can. With the can in one hand and a shovel in the other, I walked outside to bury the stars in my backyard as a sort of celestial inheritance.
My next-door neighbor, Frank, raised his head over our shared fence and asked if I was digging for treasure. I shook my head and told him I was burying it, told him about my not-so-quick get-rich scheme. In a few hundred years, what would be the difference?
“Oh, Bridget and I saw the same infomercial,” he said, pointing at the ground, a gesture I took as stay there.
Frank disappeared into his house, which looked exactly like mine, like everyone else’s on the block, and returned carrying a picture frame. He turned the frame, revealing a star named after his grandson, George.
“His birthday is coming up, and we wanted to get him something special,” Frank said.
His star’s location seemed familiar, so I opened the coffee can, and, sure enough, Frank’s star matched one of mine. Frank scratched his chin like, How do you have my grandson’s star?
I went in and dialed the infomercial number. A man answered, and I explained the situation.
“Stars are really big,” the man said. “Can’t you share?”
I imagined my future relatives traveling light years in stasis only to wake to a flashing sign reading: Welcome to George, the Brightest Star in the Universe. I said no, I couldn’t share. I said I wanted my money returned, and the man hung up. When I called back, no one answered.
Online, I looked up the address of the star-selling company and scribbled it on a Post-it note. I got in my car and drove. I wanted a refund, or else a different star. I imagined the man on the phone searching star maps for a replacement, imagined him describing the light each star gave off. I wanted to make it right. I wanted my future grandchildren to point at their stars and say, “Boy, my great-great-great-great-grandfather sure was a savvy guy to make such a smart investment.” I wanted them to look at their stars and think of me.
Driving down the highway, I considered light, how it takes millions of years for the light of a star to reach us, how, by the time it does, the star might not be alive, how the light might be nothing more than a memory. Red and blue stars pulsed behind me, and I thought about light, about going so fast I stretched for millions and millions of years.
I imagined my future relatives basking in my light, saying to one another, “Can’t you share? Can’t you share?” And me, by then no more than a bundle of particles and photons, replying, “No need. Don’t you see all this light? Look at all these stars I bought you, and for only fifty bucks a pop.”
“Pull over,” came the voice over a speaker.
In my rearview, I counted half a dozen cop cars. My speedometer read 110 miles an hour. Not quite the speed of light. A line of yellow barrels protected the median. Swerving, I bumped one, then grazed the side of a police car, and, boom, I went supernova, exploding into a burst of glittery stardust.
Guns drawn, the cops approached my car and ordered me out of my vehicle. I did as they said, and they cuffed me before bringing me here. Now, I sit beneath humming florescent bulbs, telling my granddaughter to look up, look up, to never stop looking, to remember that, one day, the light of those stars will light her children’s children’s children’s children’s way.