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The Stars (only) at Night

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Julian’s eyes flick open. The desert sky unfolds before him, pure blue reaching out into eternity to touch the golden sands of the Sahara. The sky is cloudless, shades of blue bleeding into each other like shifting waves, and the moon loiters near the horizon, almost set, while the sun is new in the sky. A pair of vultures spiral in the distance, but otherwise his view is empty of visible life.

He is sitting on top of a sand dune, first rays of the morning stretching out to greet him, as if he and the sun were great friends, parted for more than just the span of the night. Even when it is high in the sky, it’s heat will not trouble him, protected as he is by a long blue robe, and he knows that underneath, on the skin only his wife may see, his body is coloured faintly blue by the indigo dye leaching slowly into his skin.

He wets his mouth under the veil he wears, and the sweep of the fabric against his skin as he turns his head should be annoying, but he is used to it after long years of wear. The wind picks up, ruffling the hair of his eye brows, and a chill races down his spine, even as he feels the sun, suddenly not so new anymore, begins to pound his brow, baking his skin even darker.

Beside him, Nura has her feet burrowed into the sand, and her black robe billows and swirls around her like a vortex. Her face is covered with veil made heavy and still by lines of ancient coins sewn into it. From above the thick red embroidery around the hem, her eyes peek out, serene and watching. Her husband sits next to her, and Julian can only make out his white clothed shoulder, and a long leg that trails down the sand dune.

The wind quiets and abruptly, he can hear: the faint clinking of Nura’s veil, and the gusty whispers of her husband speaking Bedawi, so rapidly, his ears, attuned to Tuareg, are struggling to make out every word. He is reciting the Koran, it all clicks into place for Julian, and he no longer needs to hear him: the words reverberate from deep with in his memory.

The laughing of his children, and that of his nieces and nephews brings a smile to his worn face, and he can feel it crinkling like tissue paper. It makes no matter, each line in earned, like the callouses on his gnarled and thick hands. He feels his age in his knees when he extends his legs, feels it when he pokes his tongue through holes where teeth once were, or when his arms, still hard and strong, ache when he lifts his growing children.

His eyes search for them, for the children, but they must be behind him, or a dune over, because all he finds is the dark form of his wife, sitting farther down the dune, working on something with busy hands. He wants to tell her to stop, to come and sit with them, and that he will make a fire for tea. He begins to shiver, even though the wind has stopped, and when he rubs his fingers together he finds they have lost feeling.

He knows that under her dark cowl, her dark hair is oiled and held in dozens of tight, Medusoid braids. She is wearing the thick silver bracelets that he gave her on their wedding day, and he likes the way they reflect light onto her warm, dark skin. She has strong hands with thick knuckles from lifting pots and children, but the rest of her is delicate, doe like, and when they are alone he calls her ghazal, because it makes her smile when he speaks Arabic, and because he can never catch her, even now, after so many years, he knows she is leaping bounds ahead of him.

“Um Mohammed!” Nura’s husband pauses his recitation, calling out to Julian’s wife, “Um Mohammed!”

The shivering is worsening and Julian’s entire body is wracked with them, the fabric of this thobe twitches and shakes and he when he looks down at his hands, he sees that his nails are blue. He is freezing, breathing icy air, even as the sun burns the exposed skin of his face.

He turns to Nura, the wind has stopped, but her clothing is still whirling around her, more violently by the second, like it is about to be torn from her body.

Her husband is unconcerned, and keeps calling to Julian’s wife. The words of the Koran, the words he is no longer saying, continue to pound through Julian’s head like marching soldiers. His teeth are chattering so loudly he can no longer hear the children, though Nura’s husband’s calls of “Um Mohammed!” reverberate through his skull.

His wife finally turns, and he cannot see her face, though she does not wear a veil.

“Yes, yes!” She says in a voice that is one thousand voices, like the voice of the Borg ship. She is walking up the dune with no effort, her steps are light and careful, and she continues in her multitude of voices, “I am working, Abu Anas. Can you not leave a woman to her work?”

She holds up her hands and a tiny galaxy rests above them, planets orbiting lazily, with moons zipping around them. At the centre there is a black void, and he knows that she was working on the sun.

“It’s alright, I mean that it’s fine,” she says, and she is almost upon them. Julian is shaking in earnest now, rocking back and forth like one possessed. “I need just one thing to finish. Imagine, that a woman’s work should be finished?”

She stands before Julian and he knows, knows instantly what she needs, and his breathing is rattling, shaking through his chest. He looks up and under her cowl there is nothing but space: the universe, and thousands and millions of stars winking back at him.

She starts to laugh, a sound at once shrill and joyful, bitter and booming. As the wind starts up again, she throws back her cowl and the universe under it begins to expand, eating up the quiet desert day until he floats alone in eternity.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Julian woke with a start so hard he pitched himself off the couch and onto the floor. He lay there, breathing heavily, listening for footsteps, and the swish of opening doors, but hearing none. Thank God, if Nura saw him like this she would probably make good on her threat to move to DS9. Or drag him back to Libya. Either way, he'd probably end up married to a girl with a uni-brow.