The boy is 27, an age that qualifies him to be called a man, but he isn't one yet, and he's not sure why. He earns his own money and lives with his girlfriend. They're getting married soon. He can take a punch and he knows how to work hard and act fast when it's needed. He's alternated between idealism and disillusion so many times that he doesn't take either of them seriously. Maybe the reason he isn't a man is that that word doesn't mean what it once did.

When he steps into the cold night air outside the kitchen door, he sees the most beautiful sky, and his first thought is to call her to come and see it with him. A huge, curving swoosh of cloud crosses the black from the roofs of the neighbouring houses all the way overhead, and tiny lights glitter throughout its length. He turns off the kitchen light, and she pads through from the bedroom in her socks to stand beside him. She leans her head on his shoulder, and they watch together.


When the boy was small he showed a fascination with the stars and planets. He discovered that there were things in the sky that could not be explained. The little lights had nothing to do with him, or his life, or this world. They didn't produce rain or wind, they weren't needed for food and life, and they didn't seem to move in relation to each other. They were like the houselights of another country, foreign and unanswerable, their existence like a magnet drawing him beyond what he knew. "What are those?" "Those are the stars." "What are they for?" "They're not for anything. They're just stars."

He worked his way out from the fringes of the Earth's atmosphere, the last and thinnest of the cold blue, into the deeper universe. The planets and the sun came first - names and pictures, sizes and distances, moons and orbital lengths. His parents, delighted at their gifted child, bought him books and posters, brought him to observatories and exhibitions outside school hours. They took him to the radio tower on Mount Kippure to try to catch a glimpse of Halley's comet through binoculars, shivering and passing around tea in a thermos flask lid. They bought him Space Lego, and his father affixed a single plastic star to the ceiling of his playroom, hanging from a thin piece of thread. He drew pictures in pencil and crayon of the solar system and stuck them on the walls of his bedroom. All the colours were right - he knew that Uranus is green and Neptune is blue, Jupiter has striped bands of thick, stormy cloud and a crazy red eye, and Saturn shimmers yellow-white beneath rings of broken moons.


Little noises from the main street, the sound of a cat in the garbage further down the alleyway. He's staring at the cloud and the stars, his arms folded, feeling the silence and the coldness. They kiss each other a few times, huddling together a little when the breeze picks up. It's March, and the air is still wintry even thought the daffodils and bluebells are blooming in the urban parks.


Once his interest passed the edges of the solar system, the universe became stranger and wider, the objects lonelier and further away from each other. The books talked about nebulas, star clusters, pulsars and black holes. It was hard for the boy to understand the distances and temperatures and forces involved - hard to feel the scale, the immensity of empty space between one star and the next. The millions of years of a single meteor passing between suns. He imagined himself on the meteor, streaking along at hundreds of miles per second while the constellations hung unmoving all around him, like rain frozen on a black curtain.

In his nightmares he lost the Earth - he left it too far behind, on a journey to some galaxy he only knew by letters and numbers, and he knew he would never find his way home again. The gagging, horrible realization of an astronaut in a tiny cockpit, emerging from a dust cloud to see a dead star and dead moons. To become a particle, a piece of debris never to be found again. A small child lost in a department store, crying because he thinks he'll never see his mother again.


She asks him what he's thinking, and he searches his mind for the answer. There's nothing there. They're looking straight up, to where the cloud sweeps around to the right like an old, spreading jetstream, and his gaze wanders off to the left for no reason, no reason at all, and he sees the bright trail of a meteor begin at the cloud's edge.


When he was 16 he drank a third of a bottle of Smirnoff Red Label Vodka in a Gaelic football pitch in Stillorgan at night, with fifteen or twenty of his classmates from school. It was cold and the ground was hard, but that didn't matter after he'd drunk enough, and he found himself lying flat on his back, spread-eagled, staring at the stars. He started to speak poetry that came from nowhere. The words and the voice were his but he didn't so much control them as just let them loose. He didn't care if anyone heard him, and they did, and ten years later his best friend will still talk about that night. "Remember the night you were so drunk you started reciting poetry to the sky?"

He wasn't trying to impress anyone or be anything he wasn't. The vodka was roaring in his ears and his brain. He thought there was a mind, some kind of awareness in the sky that would hear him and understand. He was still talking when the security guards from the football club caught him by the arm, took his bottle and marched him up to the clubhouse to call his parents. He hadn't even noticed his friends running away, and they hadn't warned him in their panic. Inexplicably, before he could finish dialling his home number, the security guards changed their minds, and let him go. He ran, sobered up a little but still joyfully drunk, grinning madly at the strange stars.


He watches the shooting star for a couple of seconds and amazingly it still hasn't burnt out, so he nudges her, "Look!" and she sees the final couple of seconds as it flares brightly and disappears. They both stare at the empty air where it passed, as if expecting the sky to split open like skin under a scalpel blade, and pour out all the treasures of the other world like candy. Supernova crunch supreme. Black hole jam on white dwarf crackers. Star sugar and planet popcorn. They whisper to each other about the meteor, just to make it seem more real - how long it lasted, how the light fizzed like a line of sherbet. Just a little piece of cosmic dust, travelling for a million years to give them this one moment together.


When the boy was twenty-one, he and his mother and sister were moving out of the house they had lived in for fourteen years. The house was large, dark, and haunted by quiet, sad spirits who never let themselves be seen, only felt. There was an abandoned brown bedroom across the landing from his, with a floor-to-ceiling smoked mirror that spooked him. He slept in that room one night, and woke up cold after weird, anxious dreams. He thought there was a being living there who had no other place to go in the world. He wasn't scared of it, but he'd never felt welcome there.

Now the room was empty and still. All the dolls and old clothes were packed away and waiting in boxes in the garage for the removal men to take them to their new home. The carpet was vacuumed and the mirror polished, and there was no cluttered corner for a spirit to hide. The boy stood in the middle of the room with his arms folded, staring at the mirror. "We're leaving now," he said, wondering if he was crazy. "I don't know if you can come with us. I don't think you should, but I'm sorry we're leaving. I know this was your home." Silence. It was twilight, and the air was getting dimmer and a little cold. He knew he wasn't crazy, but he knew that the line was very thin, and he prayed always to be able to find it.

Later that night, with his mother and sister chatting in the kitchen as they packed away the crockery and utensils, he took a slow, contemplative walk around the garden. He wandered down to the wooded part at the bottom, where once, in a dream, he had met Samuel Beckett, who had told him that he had a strong heart. He kicked at the long grass and the weeds, running his fingers along the deeply cracked bark of the massive fir trees. He knew no one could see him, dressed in black clothes in the shadow of the trees and the high hedge, and he crouched down to the ground, feeling the soft, wet blades under his palms. Breathing deeply, he felt like a wolf - physically felt like one, the muscles in his back and shoulders rounding and bunching, his limbs loosening and filling with a relaxed energy, his mouth opening slightly. He heard tiny sounds everywhere - a robin moving in the undergrowth of the broken laurel tree, a distant car braking, his family's voices carrying from the open door. He ran from the bottom of the garden to the trees near the side of the road, his arms hanging down low and his back curved. Countless dreams of running on all fours came back to him, and he rested his palms on a sycamore trunk, feeling wild and intense. He heard a man's footsteps on the path outside, and followed him under cover of the hedge until he was gone.

He returned to the grass and stood up straight, looking at the stars. The night was utterly clear, and behind the individual points of light he could see the misty glow of the Milky Way. It fascinated him - stars so distant and so close together that only their combined glow could be seen, like a memory of their existence. He wondered how many there were, how many with planets, how many with planets that supported life. He wondered if somewhere out there in the spray above him, there was another boy on another world, in a strange body, staring back.

He named stars, planets, moons and constellations in his mind, like the words of a spell. Vega, Callisto, Europa, Orion. Capella, Rigel, Antares, Io, Deimos, Jupiter. So many alien spheres, all curving on their own orbits in a gigantic dance. He hungered to understand that dance - to stand on a cold asteroid at the very centre of the universe and see it all at once, the billions of spiralling, flowery galaxies, weaving among each other, each one a trillion-bodied creature of fire and noise and heat careening through the insulated emptiness.

He wanted to understand, and he knew in this moment that he never would. He felt like crying. I am so small, he thought, and I can't leave this world, but my imagination is so huge. If I can dream about the stars, why can't I go there? Who did this to me? Will anyone tell me what it all meant, after I'm dead?

He knew that he could die today, or tomorrow, and no one would have explained anything to him. It would be a short, dark time of forgetfulness, and then another, stranger life. No explanation, only mystery. Chains of stars strung through the night, their existence an unanswerable question.

He felt something inside him move in despair - his heart or his guts, tightening and twisting. He didn't know what he was supposed to do with his life, why he was even here, why he could think these thoughts. Looking into the sky, he felt a presence, an awareness, as if some being made of all the stars and the space they floated in was awake there.

"I know you can hear me," he said, fighting with the desire to end his own life. He didn't want to kill himself; he just wanted the endless wondering of his life to end. He wanted the story to be over. "I give up," he said. It felt good to say it. He decided to try it again, and opened his arms, tilting his head back to take in the whole heavens.

"I give up," he repeated quietly. "Make me an instrument of your purpose."

Nothing, anywhere, said anything. The boy didn't know why he'd thought the sky was awake. In his mind he said to himself: "Flower of the Spirit." He thought it was his name, but he didn't know for sure. He didn't know anything for sure.


A couple of minutes after the meteor, she kisses his cheek and hugs him and goes indoors. He says softly to her that he's going to stay out a while longer, and she closes the door behind her, quietly. He turns again to look at the huge swoosh of fiery cloud, half-hoping to see another star falling. He breathes slowly, enjoying the empty balance of his own mind.


Lying on his bed in the new house, the boy watched the reflected light from the reservoir create tiny ripples that swam across his ceiling. It was after 2 am, and he had been trying to get Velvet, one of their cats, to come in from outside, but she was nowhere to be found. His mother and sister were both in their bedrooms - his sister fast asleep, and his mother reading by her bedside light, which she would probably do until she fell asleep an hour or two later, the pages of the book separated by her thumb, the light still on in the early morning when she would wake for a glass of water.

He could see the reservoir in his mind, dark and viscous-looking under the halogens. He closed his eyes and watched the water from above. Looking left he saw his house, his bedroom window, his own face caught in a strip of moonlight that crossed the pillow. He looked around, and saw the whole estate and the industrial complex on the other side of the water. He rose higher, and saw the main suburban roads trailing from the city centre like the stingers of a jellyfish, glimmering red and white and orange. He kept rising through layers of dark and lighter cloud, until he saw the outline of Ireland where it met the sea. He saw England, and the coast of France further across the water to the South.

He smiled in his bed and let go, soaring out of the atmosphere until he could see the continents displayed beneath him as neatly as an atlas. Then he saw the Earth like a shrinking button, with its delicate circling moon. He turned his gaze forwards.

Venus swept past, its stratosphere gleaming slickly. The sun blazed brighter and whiter with every moment, and he turned to watch Mercury's tiny shadow flicker across it. He tried to orbit the sun, but its gravity had caught him and he found himself plunging towards its boiling surface. Its brightness overwhelmed him. A plume of solar fire leapt up to swallow him, and he sank beneath the hydrogen sea.

There was no pain. He came to rest in the sun's core, where no force was pulling on him any more. Gradually his awareness expanded out from that point, until he started to feel that the sun was his body. On his bed at home, he felt energy pulsing in his hands, which were linked over his belly. A sphere of heat grew from his navel and crept over his whole body, until he had no sensation of arms and legs, head and neck - just a glowing ball of a body, moving through space.

He watched the planets orbiting him, and felt his own motion, speeding with the arm of the galaxy as it flailed around the centre. His body felt blissful and radiant, and he lost all awareness of up or down, left or right. He felt infinite distance in every direction, and floated in it like a seed in a river.

Gradually the vision faded in his imagination, and his awareness returned fully to his body in the bed, even though, in a way, it had never left it. He lay still for a few minutes, feeling the warm pulse of his own blood in his arms and legs.

He had an idle thought of Velvet at the front of the housed, and greeted her as if in daydream, telling her to come around the back to be let in. As he lay still for another moment, he heard a miaow from under his window. He stretched slowly, sat up, and leaned over to see her on the kitchen windowsill, looking up at him with wide green eyes and huge pupils. He wandered downstairs and let her in, breathing deeply in the cold draught of the window. He fed her and went back to bed, falling asleep almost immediately.


The sugary cloud flows and changes, and he's still waiting for an answer. It's strange, he thinks, how the same realization can come over and over, until finally it becomes part of you for good. Where does it come from? Why does it seem like everything good and new comes from outside?

The star trail becomes a glowing thought, the cloud throbs in our brain like an erotic rush. The boy reaches up to brush his fingers along the stubble of his upper lip, and he doesn't know where the urge, the intention comes from to lift his hand. He can't find the motivating force, the first cause. It's always in the past, before his attention can fix on the action. Like the words in his mind under the cold garden sky, he doesn't know where it comes from, who moves him. Dust becomes fire, fire becomes thought, thought becomes action.

He's thinking, thinking, thinking. The flight of a piece of space dust is the result of blind action, the crashing of meteors, an inhumanly patient journey across geological stretches of time and light years of space to burn white in the atmosphere of a tiny planet. Even his own sight of it is blind, in a way - the eyes take in data and it registers in the brain in a certain way. However, what happens next is where there is real magic in the world. The sight of the shooting star becomes a thought in the mind, a meditation on the sky, a conflux of memories and perceptions and interpretations that leaves the boy a little wiser and more conscious than before. That thought, that conflux, becomes action - the action of calling his girlfriend from the bedroom to come look at the sky with him. Action has resulted in action, but because of its passage through the realm of the mind, its determinism has been broken, to be replaced by something fresh, something amazing - an act with no apparent cause, arising in the workings of consciousness.

Dust becomes fire, fire becomes thought, thought becomes action. The boy knows now why he talked to the sky. He isn't really the speaker or the listener at all, but the medium, witnessing and combining and making new everything that passes through him.

Yawning, smiling, returning to join her in the bedroom.

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