by Dan Davis
Her lips were cold, wet, and tasteless. Her name as Betsy, but Steve wasn't confident enough to say it out loud. So instead of whispering something smooth and pulling away from her, he kissed her more deeply, then let his mouth slide off, until he was looking up at the sky.
She nuzzled his neck, then settled her head against his shoulder. Her hair tickled.
"I like the way you kiss," she said. Her voice was soft and slurred; her breath didn't smell of beer, but it sounded of it.
They were in the bed of his truck, in a break in a cornfield his older brother had told him about a few years back. Told him about it before he could even use it, in fact; but when he'd gotten his license at sixteen, the spot was still there. The farmer who owned the land didn't alternate crops every year, like most others; Steve couldn't remember anything other than corn growing there.
The stalks were high, but the break in the field was wide enough that he could see a wide swath of sky. There were clouds to the southwest, he knew a storm was coming in tomorrow, most likely. But here, in the small section they could see, there was nothing but stars. Not even any moon. Steve wasn't one for romance, but he couldn't deny the view's charm.
Perhaps Betsy was the same way, because she'd given up trying to kiss him. She had been a spur-of-the-moment thing at Terry's party; she'd clearly been into him, and he'd been getting over Jessica, and had invited her on a drive. He hadn't even heard her last name, nor she his. He recognized her as a couple years younger than himself, a sophomore perhaps, possibly even a freshman. He was sure he'd seen her around school, at any rate. Which was good; Terry had once hooked up with an eighth grader, and had spent the following week expecting the law to come down on him. It hadn't no eighth grader who goes to high school parties is going to go around bragging to her folks about it—but it was still good for a laugh or two (at least, from everyone but Terry), and served as a convincing, if mostly allegorical, cautionary tale.
"I grew up under the stars," Betsy said. Steve was momentarily taken aback; his mind immediately pictured her in a cabin on the prairie, in some nineteenth century setting, like in the novels that got shoved down his throat in English class. A young girl—thinner than she was now, because all of those people had been thin from overwork—in a plain sundress, twirling beneath a night sky amidst grass that came up past her shoulders.
After a few seconds, he still couldn't think of anything more logical, so he asked her what she meant. She said, "I had a skylight in my room. Until I was twelve. Then we moved here."
He nodded, feeling that he should say something but not finding anything handy.
"I always stared up at the stars," she said. "I know all the constellations." She raised a chubby finger and gestured too emphatically at the patch of sky. "That's Cygnus, the swan. From Greek mythology. Zeus's rape of Leda. And Ovid's Metamorphoses."
Again, Steve nodded, though he wondered what a swan had to do with rape and a giant cockroach. Surely nothing worth naming a constellation after.
Her finger traced a cross against the sky. He blinked, trying to focus on the stars, but he couldn't look past her finger. It moved so expertly, outlining shape after shape, that he couldn't keep track. Eventually, he gave up trying. She kept it up for a minute or two, signing the sky, then dropped her hand. It landed casually in his lap, but neither took any notice.
"I always wondered what was on the other side," Betsy said. He could tell by her voice that she was mostly talking to herself more accurately, talking her-self to sleep. He could feel her weight sagging against him. She felt comfortable, and provided a nice contrast to the truck bed's lining that dug into his shoulders.
"The other side of what?" he asked after a while. His voice was louder than he'd intended; he was genuinely curious.
"The sky," she whispered. "What's up there?"
"Space," she said. "Space is there. But what is space?"
"Space is just space," he said, though he didn't need Mr. Wilson's Astronomy class to tell him that wasn't so. You can't define space; space was empty, but there had to be something there to give it shape. Space was a vacuum, whatever that meant, but hadn't he been told that true vacuums don't exist in nature? Was space even nature, or was that just for things on Earth?
"I think," she said, her mouth falling against his shoulder, her words barely intelligible, "space is where our dreams go. When you dream, your dream goes into space. That's what's up there. Dreams."
She mumbled something else, for about a minute, then began to snore lightly. Steve let her. He stared up at the stars, finally seeing something that could be a cross, though there didn't seem to be anything religious about it. It was just a shape up there, a shape amongst countless other shapes, all of them waiting to be outlined, traced, created.
Space is where our dreams go. He didn't believe that for a minute. But, he decided, as he finally let himself drift off as well, that if there was even a chance Betsy was right, then there was no better place to fall asleep than right where he was.
Dan Davis was born and raised in Central Illinois. His work has
appeared in various online and print journals. You can find him at