Do Stars Have Eyes?
“Did you volunteer, or were you forced to be here?” The stranger asks me, and I shrug. I don’t know what to say or perhaps I don’t want to spell it out for the flag-wearing stranger next to me.
“I’m not sure.”
“I volunteered,” the stranger claims almost proudly. “I am doing it for my country.” Ah, the patriotic one, I thought. My third cousin, a worker at one of these testing facilities across the country said that the volunteers fell into three different categories: the patriotic ones, the poetic ones, and then the paranoid ones.
The paranoid volunteers wander around with wide eyes, radars and wires bugging out from their pockets, a hand always on the walkie-talkie strapped to their shoulder. The patriotic ones wear flags or maybe their uncle’s army uniform or, in some cases, a speaker boosted on their shoulders that crackles out the national anthem.
“And will you teach your children the same?” I prompt after a heartbeat. He looks startled for a minute before launching into a lengthy explanation of why he decided to have a vasectomy because his wife is so incompetent that he thinks she could hardly make three people dinner, let alone two.
While the stranger drones on and on, I take a minute to survey the clinic waiting room. Plastic chairs wrap around the walls, each two feet apart. I know this tactic - they don’t want you to establish personal connections before you enter the testing facilities. There are two doors in the whole waiting room - one that enters the testing area, one that allows people to enter - but not leave. On another day, maybe a few weeks ago or even yesterday, it might have made me claustrophobic. Now, I feel passive in my restraint.
I recall yesterday, my wife yelling at me through blind tears. I miss her, despite my attempts at not thinking about her. Soon, they will come in and inject me with a sedative and not thinking about her will be easier. Right now, though, I can’t help but think of her blue eyes. I fell in love with her through her blue eyes. They made me want to go learn French or write a poem or kiss her while standing waist deep in a gentle ocean. They made me want to love her.
Those blue eyes have hated me since two weeks ago. I told her that I was going to volunteer to be one of the testing subjects for the cure. She doesn’t get it, get my reasons or anything.
“How about you and your kids?” The stranger burps and crumples the plastic water bottle he has been drinking from, throwing it at the trash can, and missing. He doesn’t go pick it up.
“I don’t have kids,” I lie. He tries to high five me, but because our seats are so far apart, he can’t make it.
“I literally cannot wait.”
“Like, I just am so excited.” He tucks his meaty thumbs into the waistband of his jeans and smirks knowingly. I can’t imagine why he might be excited. The media tries to portray the testing as brave and courageous, but there are only so many ways to disguise this suicide mission.
Trials for the cure began last September. They used it on dogs and rats at first, but it was ineffective and caused a huge media stir. Then, they opened the testing up for humans. For the first few weeks, the flood of volunteers was never ending. Soon, however, families and friends and neighbors noticed that the volunteers weren’t coming home.
People began to grow upset. They protested the testing and for weeks, the clinics were empty. The government, with it’s stinking bureaucratic breath, ruled that all young men of ages fifteen to forty must sign their name on a roster and thus enter themselves for testing. It was like war recruiting, except that the odds were even more bleak for these selected individuals.
I pick up a newspaper on a table next to me. It is censored and tasteless, but I flip through it anyways. There is a column on the universe, and then a poem titled Do Stars Have Eyes?
I wonder if stars have eyes.
If they see the destruction
Blinking of fate and time
Meddled with a wooden spoon
Trying to figure
The spreadsheets and the numbers
The things we stop to close
The things we try to find.
I wonder if stars have eyes.
If they ever stop to see.
It doesn’t make sense to me, but I think my wife might be able to interpret it. She loved the nonsensical poems, consuming words and phrases like nothing else. I used to bring home little snippets from a newspaper or magazine, watching her rearrange the pictures and letters into a dialect I could understand or begin to.
She was pregnant. We found that out after I had been selected. She told me that she wasn’t going to keep the baby, but I reminded her that it was the last piece of us she had. I will miss raising the baby.
They are bringing out the sedative now. It’s a small, round pill. I wanted to take it so bad, to forget everything until the end, but now, I’m not so sure. They mandate that we take it, and a doctor watches as I place it in my mouth and swallow. She nods and moves on. The pill, stuck in the back of gums, leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, and I am careful not to let any of it trail down my throat. When the doctors in their sterile white robes and fixed smiles leave, I quickly spit it out into my hand, rubbing it underneath the plastic chair.
The countdown begins. I feel light headed. We have seven minutes tops until the doctors come in and lead all five of us to our individual rooms, where they will test the cure. I am lucky. They developed a new batch, so maybe I won’t die from it. The odds are slim, and I don’t want to get my hopes up.
She tried to volunteer. They wouldn’t accept a pregnant woman though, for liability issues. She refused to talk to me for the last two days, she was so angry. It’s complicated because I wasn’t required to sacrifice myself. They requested that I did because I’m the great grandson of someone important, and my father threw a fit demanding I have the choice. In the end, it wasn’t really my choice. I knew it was me or a fifteen year old boy or a new father or a man with a beard and a wife and a particular love for chicken pot pies and watching Jeopardy rewinds.
Honestly, I know it’s hardest on my wife. I’ll go quickly. She will have to live with herself for many more years to come. I’ve left her enough life insurance, and I have this whole letter planned out to give her. It involves a lot of random thoughts and poetry and moments that I still haven’t forgotten, like when she bought me ice cream and then realized that it was actually sour cream or when I proposed and she couldn’t stop crying for four hours. I remembered the little moments but also the big ones.
I wish I took the sedative. I feel like I am going to be sick. Even patriotic man looks a bit paler. He isn’t talking anymore. Suddenly, I want to call my wife. They took my phone when I entered, so I walk over to the small desk at reception.
“Can I have my phone? I just need to call someone.” The receptionist stares at me blandly and shakes her head. I see my phone back there, peeking out of a cardboard box, glimmering defiantly at me. Its screen is black, and I know she hasn’t called. She told me she wouldn’t. I wish she wasn’t so angry with me.
I should want to scream, right? Or cry or eat a cake or do something with my last thirty seconds. Instead, I just want to sleep. I sit back down. Someone’s crying, but I can’t tell who. I close my eyes, and I can almost catch the end.
I wish I told her how much I loved her. And if the stars have eyes, they must have ears, so will you please deliver my wife a message?
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.