Muddy Stars

This is a response to the writing prompt Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Title And Write on Chuck Wendig's Terribleminds blog. 


Edison always got out of bed when Derek's alarm went off even though his husband inevitably hit the snooze at least twice. Having spent the first thirty years of his life only seeing a sunrise when the party went a little late, Edison was now a born-again morning person. It was a source of pride to him to get up before Derek, even though it was Derek who had a ninety minute commute ahead of him.

Getting up early let Edison get the coffee started. Even though they owned a machine which would grind and make the coffee at a set time, Edison insisted that the machine's version of coffee didn't do justice to the beans they had flown in from the Caribbean, so he ground them himself in a spice mill and put the water to pour over the grounds on the stove. It pleased Edison whenever Derek told him how good the coffee was that Derek always made an effort to mention it.

When Derek left for work, Edison gave him a quick, but not at all rote, kiss. Now alone, he changed into his cycling clothes. Early morning, just as the sun came up, was his favorite time to get on the bike and get his workout in. His morning rides gave his tall, slender frame a tautness that nearly countered the less-careful years of his youth. As such, he looked good for his age, but he didn't look young for it.

He timed his rides so that he would get home shortly before Derek arrived at his office. Edison asked Derek to call when he got to work, just to make sure the trip was a safe one. Even though a text would have served the same purpose, they always spoke, even if just briefly. It was going to be a long day for Derek. He was a vice president at a company which expanded and contracted with regularity. Today, Derek would meet with a client whose continued business was required to avoid a contraction and the layoffs that went with it. The outcome of the meeting was far from certain. It was a wonder that Derek could sleep at all. Some night he didn't.

Edison showered, regarded the thinning peninsula of jet black hair in the center of his scalp with the eyes of an executioner who was trying to decide “when,” not “if.” He decided “not yet.” Still in his bathrobe, he went upstairs and locked himself in to his studio.

Edison and Derek lived in one of those modern homes built on a lot too small to contain it. There were no curves in the design, just blocks stacked up blocks. The third story, a loft which was probably meant to be a bedroom, was where Edison made his films.

Edison came to film making relatively late in life. He'd always wanted to do it, but to do it right, the way he wanted to do it, it took time and money. He was working for a marketing firm when he and Derek met. It wasn't precisely love at first sight, as the two of them were strong personalities who had little tolerance for drama. Their courtship had some of the characteristics of a negotiation, but however they got there, they arrived in a place of almost cloyingly romantic devotion. Derek wanted to give Edison what he'd always wanted the most, so Edison resigned from the firm and started working on his studio.

The next step in Edison's routine, and a routine it was, was to put on some instrumental music to put him in the right mood. He checked his mail, skimming past the usual spam and not-quite-spam-but-not-worth-reading messages. The only message was from Sharon, one of his oldest and best friends, and one of the few people Edison regarded as a peer. Sharon was checking in to make sure they were still on for lunch today. Sharon possessed apparently limitless resources, surprising amounts of free time for someone who held a full time job, and a taste for bleeding-edge technology. The fact that she'd sent an email was a concession to Edison's preferences which Sharon regarded as kind of quaint.

Now that the lunch plans were firmed up, Edison had only a few hours to kill, not nearly enough to do any serious work. It was, however, just enough time to check out the Moroccan film he found last week, mis-categorized, in an obscure corner of Amazon. A big part of making films was seeing as many, from as many sources, as possible. Most weeks, he saw as many as eight, sometimes ten movies. It was time-consuming, but Edison felt it was a critical part of the job. This one struck Edison as a competent re-telling of the Walter Mitty story, but with better music.

The lunch was at a place within walking distance of Edison's house. The movie ran a little long, so Sharon had already been there for fifteen minutes before Edison arrived. He'd ordered drinks for both of them. The restaurant was famous for two things: Having the best sausage supplier in town, and having access to rum of the sort that a little neighborhood restaurant shouldn't be expected to have. Neither Sharon nor Edison ever missed out on sampling at both.

Sharon waved to Edison, who had already seen her since she was the only other customer in the restaurant at 11:15. Not that it was difficult to pick Sharon out in a crowd. Sharon looked more like Sharon than anyone else on the planet. She wore her hair, and had always worn her hare, in a page boy cut which had probably been in style when she was twelve. She was very slightly cross-eyed, and she wore thick glasses a little too big for her face. Somehow, no matter what she wore, she looked like she was dressed “business casual,” even when she wasn't.

Sharon painted whenever she wasn't working or having drinks with Edison's circle of friend. She was good, too. Not terribly original, but her work was too good to be explained by having all the best supplies available to her. If she'd had lessons, and she almost certainly had, she never let on. She was such an engaging conversationalist that people seldom noticed how little she'd say about herself.

She asked Edison about his progress on his third film. It was going slowly, much more so than the first two. He had pushed back his completion date to a full two years from today and he regarded that as optimistic. Sharon suggested, not for the first time, that he consider released it on the web in segments. Edison didn't even try to hide his contempt. Not only was this film meant to be seen as a whole, but it was meant to be seen in a proper theater.

Edison was adamant about this. He made animated movies on his computer and then filmed them using 35mm because he felt it added an element of warmth and authenticity he couldn't get from computer animation alone. His films were dense, recursive, and difficult to digest in one sitting. They were not made for YouTube.

The first film had been a transparently fictionalized account of his own life, so it was much easier for him to make. The second was a story from the recent past, thirty years ago. It was a film of portents for the future, of unheeded cautionary tales. Neither had found a distributor or had even received a showing at a major film festival. The new film was a synthesis of the first two, set in the near future, full of references to its predecessors. Edison felt the quality of his craftsmanship and storytelling had improved greatly over the last decade and had high hopes that the new film would be the one that got him noticed.

Sharon suggested that he contact her friend Carson and see if he could drum up some interest in the new work. Carson had connections. A lot of Sharon's friends had connections. Sharon was about to jet off to the east coast to spend the weekend with the kind of artists whose work you'd recognize even if you didn't know their names.

Edison took this, correctly, to mean that it was time to wrap up lunch. Their waitress brought the check to the table and accidentally pulled a notebook, a Moleskine knock off, out of her apron and dropped it on the table. The waitress looked mortified. Sharon handed it back to her, but not before Edison caught a glimpse of cursive formatted in a way that just screamed “poetry!” He half-chuckled and shook his head. Sharon picked up the tab. It's not that Edison couldn't have afforded it, but Sharon always picked up the tab and there was no point in fighting it.

A little buzzed, Edison walked home and thought about the sad little notebook. The difference between people like her and people like himself was, he noted, that he committed to his art. No half-measures. No day jobs. He made films because he had to make films and he couldn't serve two masters. He considered her a dilettante who wrote just enough that she could call herself a writer without actually writing anything.

Home again, Edison fixed himself some more coffee and locked himself back in the studio. Today's task was to re-write a scene lampooning millennials for their lack of work ethic and sense of entitlement. He was struggling with finding the right satirical tone. If it was too funny, people might miss the point, but if the point was too salient, it would come across as pedantic and dull.

After a couple of hours of wrestling with the scene, gave up and went down to the kitchen to start dinner. He had planned to go to the grocery store to pick up some heavy whipping cream and a couple of eggs, but he didn't feel like he was in any condition to drive, so he left a message with Derek to pick them up on his way home.

When Derek finally made it to the house, he was exhausted. Edison gave him a slightly sloppy kiss, handed him a glass of wine, took the egg and cream, and finished up making dinner. It was rich, hearty and delicious, but it had no name as this was an Edison original. The workday slowly melted away from Derek's face as Edison recounted his afternoon.

Edison cleared the table and did the dishes and Derek put one of those comedy news programs on the television. Edison couldn't see the appeal of them, but they made Derek happy. This one was already half over. The interview segment was with an astronomer who was talking about trying to find habitable, earth-like planets in other solar systems.

Edison could think of few less-engaging topics, but the astronomer was really into it and it was hard to ignore. He was talking about how most of the stars in the sky are brown dwarf stars. Brown dwarfs are stars that didn't quite have what it took to become full-blown stars. They give off a little light and a little heat, but they never burn brightly like a true star.

It was at this point that Edison thought of the waitress and her notebook again. Like most “aspiring artists,” she just wasn't going to make it. She didn't have “it,” the thing that turned people who want to be artists into artists. She was a muddy star that would never fully shine. Edison smiled at his insight and looked around for somewhere to make a note of it, but couldn't find anything at hand. Edison had a slightly perplexed, nervous look on his face.

Derek, noticing this, told Edison that he was working too hard and ought to take a break tomorrow. Edison caught himself smiling, wondering what he'd done to deserve this life.