The Irony of Astronomy

Part I (March/April 2005 Newsletter)

LeeAnn put on her pretty pink lipstick, then pulled her smooth blonde hair into a bun. She examined her reflection, enjoying how she looked in her new white sheath with blue flowers, and did a little dance to the Shins music playing in the background. Just one more thing to add: her new pair of sapphire ear threads. There. Just right for her first date with the guy she’d just met. Hopefully it would be a hot date.

And just on time, the doorbell rang. LeeAnn stepped down the stairs and opened the door to see Juan. He was the epitome of tall, dark and handsome. Actually, really gorgeous. They had met on the beach in Rhode Island, where he had been buying soda at a beachside place, and LeeAnn had been there to use the bathroom. She had been wearing only a bikini top and a sarong; Jorge had been wearing a mesh shirt and long bathing suit. The shirt showed off his awesome abs to good effect. He obviously thought something similar about her bikini top. When they first met, the air around them could have made a child’s hair stand on end, it was so charged. They had hit it off on the beach, flirting for all they were worth. Juan had asked LeeAnn out within five minutes of meeting her.

Now it was the night of their first date. Juan hadn’t told LeeAnn where he was taking her, just told her to be ready at seven. All very mysterious in a fun way.

Part II (May 2005 Newsletter)

LeeAnn opened the door to see Juan looking better than ever in a tropical cotton shirt and pants. His broad white smile expanded into his cheeks and made laugh lines around his dark brown eyes. “You look terrific, LeeAnn. Shall we go?” he said. He took her arm and led her to his red sports convertible that was filling the air with the low tones of a Latin beat.

It was still sunny and warm on this early summer evening. The scent of summer blooms fed the air with weighty perfume. Juan held the door open for her as she got into the car.

“So where are we going?” LeeAnn smiled, feeling relaxed and nervous at the same time.

“It’s a surprise, gorgeous. Patience, all will be revealed in time.” His straight white teeth beamed from his face.

They pulled away from the curb and headed west on side streets. As they passed through neighborhoods increasingly unfamiliar to LeeAnn, the number of bathtub Madonnas increased, as did the number of children playing outside and loud music playing. The houses got closer together, and graffiti appeared more often.

Finally they turned onto a commercial street. “Almost there, babe,” Juan said.

Then, bam! A jarring bang jolted the rear of the car, and it started swerving.

Part III (September 2005 Newsletter)

Lee Ann ducked, reacting as if the bang were gunshot. Juan swore and pulled the car over. “Sorry, LeeAnn,” he said, face embarrassed. “Looks like we popped a flat. And I still haven’t got my spare repaired. Been meaning to do that.”

“So what do we do?” she asked.

“I guess call for road service.” He rummaged in his pocket. “Damn, that’s right, I left my cell phone home so we wouldn’t be bothered on our date.” He stopped and looked helpless.

LeeAnn realized she should offer her cell phone. “Oops. Double oops. Juan you won’t believe this, but my cell phone fell out of my purse yesterday and got run over by a car in the parking lot. I’m getting a replacement tomorrow. Who would have thought it would be such a big deal?”

Juan shrugged. “It’s okay. There must be a pay phone somewhere, right?”

They looked around at their seedy surroundings. A bunch of stores with metal shutters and padlocks in front of them. Litter on the streets. No pay phone in view.

The only incongruous sight was a colonial-style funeral home directly across the street. It stood immaculate and stately in white with black shutters, no sign of peeling paint or graffiti. “Bonzoni Funeral Home,” read the sign in gold lettering. A light inside gave the impression that they were open for business.

“ Should we try in there?” said LeeAnn.

“ Sure,” said Juan. “I’m not too happy leaving my hot car on this street, but it’ll just be for a minute, right?”

“ I’ll watch it,” LeeAnn offered.”

“ Oh no, you don’t. I’m not leaving you out here alone.” He put the top up, then he locked the car and they crossed the street. A couple of young, angry-looking teens were already eyeing the car. “Don’t even think about it,” Juan growled. They deigned to give him a hostile glance.

“ Let’s make this quick.” Juan hopped up the stairs two at a time. He opened the door, holding it for LeeAnn to enter.

Part IV (October 2005 Newsletter)

They entered a foyer smelling of furniture polish and dust. Classic antique-style furniture populated the room, but no people seemed to be around. “Hello?” Juan called. No answer.

They turned into what appeared to be a receiving room. It had a mahogany-look desk with a phone and computer on it.

“Screw it, I’ll just call,” he said. “I want to get back to the car.”

He picked up the phone and frowned. “Busy signal. That’s weird.” He toggled the handset, but the signal remained, and he hung up the phone. “Must be another phone off the hook somewhere around here.”

LeeAnn looked around. She had never liked the feel of funeral homes. Too much grief and death. “So what do we do now?”

“We need to find a phone, and this place is our best bet. I’m going to hunt down a person or the other extension.” He paused. “I’m really uncomfortable leaving my car alone out there, but I don’t like the idea of you being alone in it.”

“It’s okay. I want to get out of here anyway. This place is really creepy.”

“Worse than those thugs out there?”

LeeAnn shrugged. “Maybe not, but I might as well look after the car while you make a quick phone call.”

Juan said, “I really appreciate it, babe. I’ll walk you out there, and I’ll be quick when I come back in.”

The teens were still in the same place they had been earlier, looking hostile. But when they glanced toward the funeral home, LeeAnn thought she detected a look of fear.

Juan brought her to the car and left her the keys. He showed her where he kept his baseball bat under the seat. LeeAnn locked the doors and tuned the radio to an R & B station. She kept the volume low enough to hear any disturbances outside. She looked up in time to see a nice view of Juan’s rear as he reentered the building.

Part V (February 2006 Newsletter)

The sun was beginning to set in this balmy evening, casting pink tendrils across the sky. LeeAnn glanced at her watch; Juan had been gone twenty minutes already. The teens wandered off. Streetlights flickered on as she looked. As the evening darkened, neon signs glared their artificial happy light through barred windows into the desolate night, casting colored shadows upon the sidewalks: turquoise, pink, yellow. LeeAnn grooved to a tune from the car radio as she watched solitary cars drive up and down this nearly deserted street. The sky above shaded to the color found above smog-ridden towns, with city lights reflected in the dust particles until there is no such thing as true night anymore.

As she watched a car approach, she saw the streetlight behind it flicker out. The street beyond it became dark too. She thought nothing of it until she saw darkness like a wave overcome the stark flickering lights; as the car passed her, the lights near her car went out. In moments the street was dark as far as she could see.

LeeAnn thanked God that the car’s power came from batteries, not external power. What a time for the power to fail. Her prayer was stillborn, though, as the radio abruptly died. She tried turning the key; it was utterly dead. Not even a clicking from the starter motor.

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