“Stars fell on Alabama, last night.”
Jim laughed at himself for thinking of those lyrics, lying here in rural Calhoun County, Alabama. This field, those stars.
“No stars falling tonight,” he smiled. “But at least I have a good view of them.”
Jim lay in the field, staring at the stars. This far from any city, the heavens offered a splendid view. Here, he could look at the stars, and think about his life, his day, where he’s going, where he’s been.
“Promise me you’ll always wear a helmet,” his mother said when he brought home his motorcycle. “I wish you wouldn’t ride that thing; it makes me nervous.”
“I will, Mom,” he replied. “You worry too much.”
He drove off that day, excited to feel the wind in his face, the power racing through his body, the sense of freedom he felt. Nothing could compare to that.
Of course, he didn’t always keep his promise. What his mother didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, he reasoned. And with good reason. She was always worrying about this or that. But, that’s what moms did, he reckoned. If they weren’t worrying about something real, they’d make up something, just so they could do some worrying.
Southern moms were the worst. He saw his grandmother do it, and he heard tales about his ancestors before that. Then there was the time he came home from his first date, and his mom and grandmother met him at the door, asking him a thousand questions, just because he was a few minutes late.
“You better not get that girl pregnant,” his mom said.
Pregnant? He hadn’t even worked up the courage to kiss her. He just got lost in the moment, talking and flirting, and -- strangely enough -- seeing this girl flirt with him. It didn’t feel real.
“I wonder where that girl is now,” he mused, lying there on the hill, his head elevated just so to give him a panoramic view of the night sky. Stars on the right, stars on left, stars in front, stars overhead. Stars stars stars.
“We lived our drama/We kissed in a field of white/And stars fell on Alabama/Last night”
That song again. Why that song? Probably because they had their drama, all right. She was a jealous one. She seemed to enjoy picking a fight, too. Not much peace and joy in their relationship. But she loved the bike.
“Will you take me on the motorcycle?” she asked not long after he showed it to her.
He knew her dad wouldn’t approve, so they had to meet after school in a secret place. The Burger King parking lot worked just fine. Probably the only time they weren’t fighting was when she was holding onto him and he was guiding the bike through the country roads. You could go pretty fast out here, as long as you remembered where the speed traps were. They probably passed this field a few dozen times back then, never paying much attention to it.
After graduation, they lost touch. She had gone off to school in north Alabama; he did the community college route before transferring to the University of South Alabama in Mobile. After college, he moved back home. He always wanted to live far away, but home called.
His life wasn’t all that bad, really. He met a girl, and he was in love with her. Also in love with her daughter. Actually, the couple knew each other in high school, but nothing clicked. A few weeks after moving home from college, he walked into the department store where she worked, and “bam.” Dating a single mom was a challenge, but one he loved. The little girl seemed to enjoy him being around, and she always seemed excited about his bike. Of course, he wouldn’t let her ride on it yet, but one day, he promised, he’d teach her how to ride it.
“I’m guessing that won’t happen now,” he thought to himself. “Her mom wouldn’t have wanted it anyway, but the bike’s definitely messed up for good.”
He was pretty sure his riding days were over anyway. He tried again to move his arms, but no luck. Legs, either. At least he wasn’t hurting. But maybe that would pass.
“I took a wrong turn at pants and ended up in cosmetics,” he later told his parents. “There she was. I remembered her from high school, but we never really interacted. But when I saw her tonight, everything clicked.”
“I never planned in my imagination/A situation so heavenly/A fairy land where no one else could enter/And in the center just you and me.”
That was their relationship ever since they met again for the first time. She made everything different. Nothing was the same anymore. Even when he thought in redundancy, things were different.
Suddenly it hit him. “Stars Fell on Alabama” was the song playing over the Muzak in the department store that night.
Another verse stole into his mind.
“I can't forget the glamor/Your eyes held a tender light.”
Her eyes definitely held the light. He never saw such eyes as hers. He thought back to what seemed days ago, but had probably been just a few minutes.
“Be careful,” she said to him with a smile.
Dinner was great, and the fried apple pie with vanilla ice cream was a perfect dessert. The little one snickered as he grabbed a second piece. He winked at her. It was their secret.
But he had to be back at work in the morning, so he got on his bike and drove home, thinking about the woman and the girl, who suddenly meant everything to him. He had left his helment at home again, but he barely missed it.
“And stars fractured 'Bama/Last night.”
“Fractured, huh? Interesting turn of phrase,” Jim said to himself.
Maybe he had been thinking about the girl, maybe the other driver wasn’t paying attention. He couldn’t tell; it all happened too fast anyway.
Headlights, crashing, the world spinning, the other car disappearing, the thud of mud and cow manure in the pasture, the stars. Oh, those stars.
“They sure are pretty,” he said.
It had been long enough, he figured the other car hadn’t stopped.
“Maybe he thought I was a deer,” he thought, giving the other driver a bit of grace.
The road was lonely, the bike black, and the hill guarded the view. He was alone, and he probably would be that way. He gave up hope of discovery, so he didn’t worry.
He started getting sleepy. He knew he needed to stay awake, but it was getting really hard now. If he could feel, he’d be pretty cold by now, he figured.
“Just keep looking at those stars,” he told himself.
He kept his gaze on the stars, forever staring at the night sky.