It was Lily’s idea. She was the one who had the ideas about life. Gabe used to have the ideas about art, but they had dried up like acrylic paint with the top left off.
So here they were, lying in their green webbed lawn chairs in the middle of the night in some farmer’s field on top of West Hill, with Lily all excited about shooting stars.
“Bang!” she said, in a cheerful voice.
“No bangs,” Gabe said. “Not even a whimper.”
“I think it’s inspiring, seeing something happening light years away!”
Inspiration is randomly generated, Gabe thought. Like shooting stars. Like life.
Lily was still irritatingly chipper. “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight."
“Superstition,” he said, knowing that he sounded grumpy, not caring.
“It's just like horoscopes. You always read your horoscope. Even though you don’t believe in it. They can be inspiring.
If she said that word again, he’d leave. Take the car, leave her out here with her inspiring stars. “Inspire, expire,” he said.
“In with the good air, out with the bad air!” And she actually took a deep, sighing breath, like when she did her yoga in the living room.
“Is that what happens with our last breath?” he asked. “No more bad air?”
That finally got to her. “Please don’t be morbid,” she said. “I know you’ll find your way to painting again.”
He had nothing to say to that. She went back to pointing out the falling stars, like he couldn’t see them for himself.
Over the past few weeks, he had found himself thinking about the novel “Flowers for Algernon,” where a mentally retarded man got some kind of drug to make him wise, but it wore off and the poor guy could feel himself slipping.
“I’ve slipped,” he said, without meaning to say it out loud.
Lily stopped staring at the sky and frowned at him. “You’re in the studio every day,” she told him, like he didn’t know.
“I paint crap, paint it out, paint crap, paint it out. I’m running out of white paint for painting out the crap. I’m a shooting star. An evanescent little streak. Disappearing into the night.”
Finally, she stopped with the cheerleading. “Don’t do that,” she said. “You told me that you’d stop being so morbid if we could find something distracting.”
“Okay, I’ll cope,” he told her. “I’ll enter the land of coping. Where they saw a hole out from under you, and, like Wile E. Coyote, you fall into it.”
She got out of the lawn chair and paced around it. “I don’t know what else to do,” she said. “You are not coping. You are miserable. Moping around, never talking.”
At least she was taking this seriously, although it didn’t really matter whether she frowned at him or got all excited about stars. “You’ve done your best,” he told her. “It was your idea to find me new inspiration. I’m happy just coping.”
She did another one of those deep yoga breaths, sat down, and stared up at the black sky, where clouds had begun to blur the stars.
Gabe didn’t really want to leave Lily out here by herself, but he couldn’t sit still. He stood up, stretched, walked a little way into the field. Stiff grass crunched under his feet. He hoped the farmer was sleeping, instead of discovering a couple of suburban idiots with lawn chairs squashing his pasture.
Something was glowing out in the taller grass. He went to look at it.
It was about as large as a softball. He leaned down and put a tentative finger on it. The thing was cool to the touch. It was perfectly round, gleaming quietly. It fit comfortably in his hand.
“If you turn on a flashlight we won’t be able to see the stars,” Lily said, still staring at the sky.
He brought it over to her. “Not a flashlight,” he said. “It was lying right over there.”
“Oh, very funny,” she said. “Did you get that at the Dollar Store?”
He ignored her. The orb kept shining gently.
Lily began to fold her lawn chair. “It’s a toy. Someone dropped it out here. Other people come out here to watch the stars, bring their kids.”
Colors slid around the sphere, colors he’d never seen, or even thought about. Holding it up to eye level, he watched the iridescence.
“It’s just some kind of glow light thing,” Lily said. “Look, let’s take it home and have some coping cocoa and put it in a dark room and see if it keeps glowing.”
“I never saw colors like the,” he murmured, more to the orb than to Lily. “The patterns. Like its alive.”
Her voice snapped the thread. “You don’t have to pretend to be inspired, Gabe.” She flipped open the trunk of the car and tossed her chair into it with a bang. “I’m sorry I said you moped. You’ll figure it out, you’ll be fine, let’s just put the chairs in the car and go home.”
Something clicked inside him. “This is inspiring, and you don’t like it,” he told her.
Lily stayed next to the car, like it would protect her. “It’s just that, I mean we don’t know what it is, if it’s dangerous or what.”
He walked toward her, holding out the orb, until her back was against the passenger door. “You said it’s just a kid’s toy. You haven’t even touched it. Or looked at it.” And he tossed it to Lily, who caught it, juggled it from one hand to the other like it was hot, and tossed it back.
“Don’t!” she cried, as he made as if to throw it again.
“It’s just a kid’s toy!” he said, in the cheery tone she had used earlier
“What if it’s not? Not a toy?” She was really afraid of it. “What if it’s radioactive or something?”
“It’s a dangerous glow-in-the dark radioactive children’s toy. Like all good art,” he said.
Slipping the orb into his jacket pocket, Gabe tipped his head back to look at the stars.