We live in a small town, where old wives sit and gossip on the porch, and the corn stalks sway in the Tennessee whiskey wind. I’m out picking cornflowers with Clara Sweetwaters, the town homecoming queen, but secretly as big a nerd as I am. Where I am curves, she is petite and doll-like, as tiny and bird-boned as any dream of Aphrodite could be, us blondes tearing up this one stoplight town with our collections of manga, dreaming over men far away nine upon nine kingdoms over, and collecting iron shoes that travel ten leagues.
Clara and I are part of the two-sophomore novel writing club, and as the boys lust after her in the high school hallways, I feel invisible as a ghost. Ma is alone and has been for years – we live in a ramshackle dilapidated ranch house but horses are our pride and joy, and we are humble salt of the earth folk, farmers as my mother’s mother’s mother’s people were and have been down the generations. Clara is the town honey, daughter of the mayor, the only bit of wealth in this Dust Bowl amnesia of haunted hills. So many shops are boarding up, so Clara and I go to the husks of abandoned buildings and write our novels in ink-stained paper there. I pen a poem on the perfect man, ink getting all over my hands, and she is writing a romance novel as only a 15 year old can envision the perfect man. We climb to the rafters of the collapsed, dilapidated iron mill and monkey bar across the roof, not afraid of falling, never afraid of falling, for sparrows always fall starward.
The iron mill is out in the country of nowhere, by tall redbuds and abandoned corn fields in this valley town. We stay up there til midnight with smuggled wine from the Sweetwaters cupboard, looking out an old rosette window at the swaying grasses that have replaced the corn in time.
A star shines so bright, Venus, and I wonder at it.
“What is that, Clara?” I ask, pointing my thumb and forefinger at the Venusian figure that grows ever brighter. “It looks like it’s coming towards us, huh?”
“Oh, maybe it’s a satellite or a comet! Let’s go watch it,” Clara responds, scrambling to put her notebook in her backpack and climbing down the unfortunate iron mill stairs that are missing in places. I am hot on her heels. We scrabble onto our bikes and bike up the hill to a glade to watch the comet.
It’s white heat grows brighter and brighter, until suddenly, the falling star crashlands in the field of grass and corn. We scream.
“What the hell was that?” I yell, looking at Clara for answers, but she has none.
“I… don’t know? Maybe some debris from a satellite in orbit?” Clara says nervously, her plump pink lips a curlicue of confusion. “Should we… go see it?”
The incineration of the comet’s path has set the field up in flames.
Illuminated against the swaying buckwheat is a white halo of a man, rising from the crater.
We look at each other for trepidation. “Isn’t your character an alien prince in your novel?” Clara ventures with penetrating fear, exploring my face for answers. We hold each others hands and gaze at the alien visitor who is flexing his naked body fiercely. Luckily, the corn stalks and grasses veil his god-given manhood – if God even exists for a Bowiesque Starman.
“Um… yeah, in that really old novel I gave up on in sixth grade?” I stutter, investigating her clear blue pools of eyes for any clue things will be okay.
Flaming azure eyes look at us. Blonde brass hair, muscles like a lion, abs and jawline that could cut glass.
“Alci?” comes a deep voice, across the fields, enticing and questioning. “Finally, after three years! It’s been too long.”
“Star?” I echo, confused as hell, afraid my walking muse will suddenly manifest wings and lion fangs and destroy the planet.
He smiles like molasses. “Remember me? My spaceship got in a bit of a scuff with some enemies. I had no choice but to abort the mission and crash land here. I was hoping you could help me out.”
The fires have subsided, and I notice the alienness of him – rugged chin too large, beautiful eyes, pointed ears, hair that is so bright gold it is almost translucent like a polar bear’s filaments, way too tall, different musculature that is bulkier than a bodybuilder yet still slender, eyes so cerulean like a summer sky they glow. He almost looks like a teenage He-Man, yet slenderer and more elegant. Perfection, like a Watcher angel of old. One that seduces women and leaves no victims behind.
“I… what do you need?” I ask hesitantly, fearful, scared to the Lord, and I squeeze Clara’s hand.
“What can we give you?” Clara calls, entranced by him yet also frightful. “We… would be happy to help.”
“I need shelter, a place to heal, a place to live.” He smiles charmingly. “You think you could put me up.”
“I can, ma wouldn’t mind – I’ll pretend you’re an exchange student – but if that happens, you’ll have to go to high school…” I say before I can think, also bespelled by the beautiful alien. “You’re… real?”
“When you were talking to the galaxy, writing those novels, of course it was me, Alci,” Star says, smiling like Irish cream.
Clara’s eyes are sparklers. “He’s beautiful,” she whispers to me, shy. “Let’s take him home.”
“Here!” I yell, tossing him my jacket. He ties it around his waist to veil his nudity.
“Thanks Alci,” the Eros figure says, my alien prince, walking out of the grasses and husks of corn, towering over us, his golden skin like an elegy. He looks like one of those Nordic aliens UFOlogists go on about that I based my silly 11 year old space opera on. He’s right – it has been three years since I wrote it.
Maybe it’s not all in my head?
He looks no older than 18, and he smiles at us like sunlight.
“So… what do you plan on calling yourself?” I ask, entranced. Clara has starlit eyes.
“Star is good.”
We find some clothes for him in a boarded up men’s store off the main joint of Main Street that are dusty and old, jeans torn, and a red nondescript t-shirt.
“Hey, I like these clothes. My suit burned up upon incineration in the stratosphere,” Star says, examining himself in the mirror.
“Star, do you have a girlfriend?” Clara blurts, then blushes like a radish.
“What’s a girl friend?” Star asks in confusion. “I have a lot of friends of the opposite sex.”
“Never mind,” Clara mutters, kicking some dust.
And so we take the alien prince home. Ma doesn’t ask. Ma never asks. She’s seen enough strangeness around my 15 years than people ever see in a lifetime.
“An exchange student from Norway, eh?” Ma muses, smoking like a chimney in her rocking chair. “Sure he can stay, he’s a might handsome.”
Clara and Star and I celebrate.
He integrates quickly into school, soon becoming king of the little fiefdom of the Tennessee teenagers. We go to the carnival on Main Street. We go to the harvest festival. We explore the Smoky Mountains as he takes time to heal and, at night, sneaks out to the iron mill to rebuild a spaceship out of scrap metal and salvaged parts. One night, he asks for gold from a motherboard. I give him my dad’s old golden ring, the bastard that abandoned ma. He thanks me as if I have given him the Tree of Life.
Clara is enamored, Clara is in love, and she always tries to get him alone. But he is my creation, and Star clings to me, and one day, we kiss.
“I didn’t know you liked me,” I say afterwards, breathless, clinging to his waist.
“Of course I do.”
Clara cries that night.
We become boyfriend and girlfriend, and Clara roots us on. Prom comes, and the three of us dance up a hailstorm. Clara has found a boyfriend of her own now, made peace with her crush on Star and traded up for a cute brunette soccer player.
Star decides not to leave.
And so high school unfolds, college comes quicker, and Star and Clara and I grow. Clara goes to a Seven Sisters school and we drift apart, but we write each other perfumed letters every week. Star follows me to an engineering school. He looks fierce now, and he subtly weaves in his alien knowledge of electronics into fantastical electronics.
One day, his spaceship is complete. And he invites me off to the galaxy.
And I send Clara a final letter, with the keys to my apartment, and like a sparrow, I fall starwards.