At 5:00 am, Isaac is sleepless.
He tosses to the heartbeat of the angry gray sea, mumbles names of people he remembers but whom don’t recall him. His bedsheets lie in a crumpled mess, like tossed-out napkins, on the beechwood floor. Isaac remembers his mother tucking him in under star-woven nights, and it’s not like this. He trods over to the window, left slightly ajar to let in the Norfolk draft. Twilight beckons him like a birdsong and leaves its wintertide fingerprints on his skin.
When he was five, Isaac bought his first telescope. He spent hours dreaming amongst the constellations, his mouth twisted in the same ‘O’ shape as the ivory-dusted moon. What are you searching for? his mother asked. Isaac wasn’t sure. Ten billion stars in the universe, each one a divine manifestation of a person, a memory. A select few drifted every night over his roof, across his sky. Each painted a story. A distant moment from long ago, or a girl he’d spoken to once and whom reminded him of summertime dawns and ocean-speckled midnights. These things, Isaac realized, he could not explain into words. How the world was much too infinite and he was much too small. How the cosmic multitude, in all its glittering glory, was the only friend he had.
The restless sea spins a galaxy of thoughts across the vortex of Isaac’s mind. He thinks about indigo dusks and crystallized breaths and unspoken goodbyes. How everyone seems to steal slivers of light from his piece of the universe.
Isaac used to know a girl named Jasmine. On summer nights, when the sand was soft and silken and the air warm as a mother’s touch, they stargazed across miles of shoreline, high tide sundown kissing their bare ankles. Neither was fond of talking. Instead, they let silence and the lullaby of waves drown their sorrows in their peaceful harmony. As sunset’s watercolors melted into nightfall and faded into smoke and shadows, Isaac felt smaller than the last summer leaf drifting with the breeze. He exhaled, breaths floating across what seemed to be the edge of the world.
One night, as their stomachs made love to moonshine, Jasmine laced her fingers around Isaac’s, her supernova eyes lusting upon a newborn star for the first time. She pressed his mouth to hers at the edge of twilight, and he pushed away with the force of the ceaseless current. Isaac felt the weight of the world shift in his palms.
“What are you afraid of?” Jasmine’s heartbeat fluttered with the pulse of the sea.
Everything, he thought. “I don’t know.”
Jasmine’s body radiated heat, a flame of celestial mystique. Her lips beckoned him forward, but gravity lulled him in place. Only his mind had the strength to push it away. It’s the mind. It’s the mind that is much too weak and cautious.
When he was younger, Isaac discovered the toxic addiction of daydreams. How a dandelion in full verdancy, the essence of purity, stands moments before earth’s natural constant breezes by and smothers its flowered hope to dust, leaving a barren core of seed.
“I don’t understand.” Through the skinny river of moonlight, Jasmine looked as if she were about to cry. If Isaac were honest, he didn’t understand either.
“I’m sorry,” he breathed. They were an arm’s length apart but felt an ocean’s distance away. Amidst the relentless waves and estival heat, Isaac wished the day to be nothing more than a daydream.
In late autumn, when God painted sunshine and leaves hugged the gentle earth, and the English countryside was His canvas of verdant majesty, Isaac felt born again with the great bursts of petals and honeybees dancing abound in full blossom.
Years after Jasmine had left, Isaac moved to Essex, where rolling hills spilled into sunset ponds, and the verdure was infinite. Surrounded by patchwork valleys and ancient rivers, tranquil woodlands and winding roads, life in Essex fell into a restful solitude.
Isaac once knew a boy named Dorian. He had the red-brown eyes of a fall riverbed, a scent the mixture of brown ale and lumberjack beards, and a quiet smile as rare and dazzling as lightning - he could illuminate the universe with its warmth.
They met in the depths of the fall harvest, when the windmills and golden-leaved springs kissed the umber earth, and the North Sea danced to an aubade of eternal sunrise. With the rebirth of Mother Earth’s seedlings - as the trees undressed their garments of foliage, and the baby-skinned fawns of North Country gazed lust-eyed at the bridge between yesterday’s summer and tomorrow’s winter - Isaac thought of their pre-school legs dangling above the ledge of the River Lea, blueberry-stained fingers in resemblance of the stocky carrots of mother’s breakfast stew. That year, fall was dipped in endless shades of melancholia.
Dorian considered himself an artist above all. A brush clenched between teeth, pastels of youth and oils of wonder in his hand, he painted the trees and drew the clouds from his eye of perspective. The seasons blew by like hot dust, and yet the two of them remained friends. Dorian’s art was his constant hunger, and, riding through their rural wonderland of a home, the seasonal winds hugging the parched earth and their toddler lips, Isaac remembered how the colors of the pastures and gables were infinite, a million hues of virescent meadows. Their laughs and whispers stretched on for miles. They echoed off the walls of abandoned barns and spiraled into the indigo skies. Even the rainwater was pure. In those years, the sky was a color yet to be discovered by the adult eye.
As the years drove through the endless road of time, and Dorian and Isaac fled past the age of innocence, it was inevitable that their lives would diverge, and separate ways they’d part. For that is what life does: the winds of change stir the leaves of a tree during its most vital greenage. And the fickle glass of our hearts always shine with radiance moments before they break.
Isaac remembers the last night he saw Dorian. They were in Isaac’s backyard, lounged across a picnic blanket, a quintessential scene from a coming-of-age film. Amidst the frigid air and naked birch trees, Isaac’s eyes were trained on the constellations in the clouds, swollen with the things left unsaid. In two months, they’d head off to college, find new people to share dull conversations with. Dorian’s green eyes glimmered against the dead of night. Alas, his paintbrush made love to the moonlight and golden-kissed streetlamps illuminating the darkness.
Isaac sat by his kitchen window and stared off into the infinity of horizon. The sky, weary from the day’s languor, blushed clouds fire red and baby pink, spilling into each other to form the most artistic golden-hued waterfall. His lips curled with the taste of sun-scorched coffee. Isaac hadn’t had the drink in years – hated the bitter crunch of black beans, its acerbic aftertaste – but that one morning, he and Dorian had shared a cappuchino at the local café. It was funny, sometimes, what the mind remembered. How the heart holds on to seemingly insignificant details, discards others. There is no way to know which memories our souls decide to keep.
Isaac remembered that last conversation like the relentless sunrise pouring through his windows each morning.
“What are you drawing?” Isaac peered over Dorian’s shoulder. Their arms brushed for a nanosecond, a brief intersection of friends, if you thought of it in that light. Isaac heard the rise and fall of Dorian’s breaths as they twined into his stomach.
On Dorian’s sketchpad was a boy, with messy hair dark as midnight. His eyes the luminous green of nature, cheeks the pale hue of bone. A mysterious, tight-lipped smile, sadness hiding in his eyes..
“Who’s that?” Isaac drew in a breath.
Dorian ignored the question slithering in their minds. “What are you looking for?”
“Vega,” he mumbled. “The second brightest celestial star in the northern hemisphere.” He had these facts memorized, shuffled into file folders in the ducts of his brain. In all honesty, however, he wasn’t sure what exactly he was searching for.
In that moment, without any impulse or decisive nature, Dorian kissed him. It was messy, drunken with the night’s thoughts, reeking of desperation. Tongue against mouth, Isaac tasted saliva and panic against the rim of Dorian’s throat.
“What was that,” Isaac breathed. He pulled away like the waves of a wintertide storm on the North Coast. Isaac remembered those summertime sundowns, their mothers flirting with the sun, the sound of the sea and the hum of the tides, their child-sized footprints in the sand, marks of the glory days they’d never relive.
“I’m sorry,” Dorian stumbled. That was all he could say. The sound of silence haunted the air. Nothing but the low murmur of fireflies in the grass talked in those few seconds that warped into eternity. Amidst the December air and cracked concrete sidewalk, Isaac felt his childhood memories, the lifeblood of his sanity, fade into nothing.
That year was painted a dozen shades of yearning.
In hot-weathered October, Isaac sat by the kitchen window and watched a blackbird fly into the uninhabited highway. It seemed to stretch on for miles, a never-ending road of paddock and lea that disappeared into the horizon. How a blackbird could command its flight, but he could not control his own.
As the saplings in the meadows grew thick and weathered with age, and their temperament grew lifeless and dull, their metamorphosis became Isaac’s as well. He spent most days at the windowsill, staring into miles of vacant and quiet farmland and dreaming of a time long gone by, his body in the present but mind in the past. Perhaps that is what loneliness is – a virus to the mind disguised as a sedative, a flame that burns ever-so-slowly at the core of the human spirit until nothing young and golden remains.
Life passes like honey, slow and thick, but sweet in the end. Isaac crouches in the pebble-soaked sand and watches the waves roll by like tiny worlds. As the years flew by and the earth spun on itself and into his soul, Isaac realized that the world doesn’t stop for anyone. A minute buckles into a millenia, a second into a century. One could hold all the love in the beautiful and terrifying earth, and yet the world will still move on. We will all be forgotten, whether we want to or not, because the world will always move forward in its perpetual life, and at some point in time, it will forget ours. At night, when Isaac sits by his bedroom window, no longer in his youth, bones brittle and skin loose, he will look to the stars because some things never change. He will search for Jasmine and Isaac, and all the people who have come and gone into his world. Like storms, paradoxes of love and destruction. He will gaze upon the constellations, searching for their bright, familiar faces. So close, and yet a universe away. Isaac pours himself a mug of coffee and waits, for waiting is all one can do. He wishes he could have seen more of the brighter things in the world.
At 5:00 am, Isaac is sleepless.