Monday, April 24, 2017

Check out Dominick Domingo's life affirming short story 'The Distance Between Stars' on Amazon: MCB Quarterly Volume 7
Here's a sample:

The Distance between Stars

Next door to Brewer Street Theater stood a nondescript mid-rise brick building with misshapen windows. Their sills were tired and waterlogged, some spilling even wearier-looking succulents from corroded wrought iron planters. At night, the portals twinkled like slow-burning stars—marigold embers spangling an indifferent brick cosmos with signs of intelligent life. The ashen cinder  block building flanking the other side of the lanky theater house was identical, rendering both incognito.
Passersby mistook the facades for those of residential suites. But their skewed vertical windows told a different story, even when smoldering into the wee hours. Several floors of the derelict structure west of the theater had been leased as an annex by a reputable university outside London, designated as labs for the thesis projects of grad students. The idea was for the university to establish a presence in London proper, while providing students a connection to the hustle and bustle. A lifeline to the pulse of the real world that awaited them after graduation.
Maurice Steadman and Garret Milne were two such upper-term students, and more often than not the ones burning the midnight oil. They could be seen hunched over monitors or reading punch cards in the semi-dark, their high-tech (for its time) equipment incongruous amid soot-smattered brick, mortar, and chipping plaster. In their infancy, computers spanned entire rooms, spat out data on ridiculously large manila squares; such means were necessary to calculate—to convert all that abstract chaos into something meaningful. When not scrutinizing punch cards, the two young men could be seen on the building's roof, gazing at the cosmos through sophisticated telescopes mounted between corroded water towers and oxidized rain gutters. They'd been thrown together by faculty on a joint thesis: "Parallax: Alternative Methods for Measuring the Distance between Stars."  Their research entailed mathematical equations and axioms; even the most powerful telescope could not come close to validating the abstract data. Their research was theoretical.
Even now, Maurice’s olive skin furrowed between heavy brows as he squinted through the eyepiece of the tripod-mounted monstrosity they'd heaved up the fire escape. He let out a heavy sigh.
"You really can't see it?" Garret needled him incredulously, pushing blonde bangs from his own freckled brow.
Maurice squinted harder, every muscle tensing with his ocular mechanism. Then, all at once, his shoulders drooped in defeat.
"You're joking! To me, it's clear as day!" Garret bragged, nudging his partner aside and restationing himself before the eyepiece to the cosmos. "Looks like I could reach out and grab it!"
His hand swiped at nothing.
Their data had revealed the existence of a small, smoldering amber star—Jen 3.5, normally invisible to the naked eye. But the parallax shift that occurred between when they'd begun their thesis in the fall and now had revealed the small beauty to empirical evidence.
As though he'd failed at something vitally important, Maurice seated himself on a hooded vent that slumped in tandem with his spirit.
"I can't focus on it," he lamented, feeling the need to explain himself. "I'm trying, really. It's all those other heavenly bodies competing for my attention!"
Years later, when it became a thing, Maurice would be diagnosed with adult ADD. Garret would even provide a testimonial to help him get his diagnosis—and access to medication.
"Well, for the record, it's beautiful," Garret assured him. "Jen 3.5 may not be a nova or a supernova, but it's stunning. For me, everything else around it just disappears ...."
Garret seated himself beside his partner. The two were as different as night and day: Maurice dark and exotic, Garret familiar and blonde and—obvious in appearance. Gravity took hold of the boys' collective gaze, dragging it like an anchor into the more immediate sea of city lights that mirrored heaven. The lights twinkled incessantly, a reeling tide of possibilities. Some of the shimmering lights were large, some small, some near and others far. Some shone cold and fluorescent, others pulsed warm with incandescent welcoming. In the closer buildings, silhouettes could be distinguished, blocking the light: children running about past their bedtime, lovers kissing or throwing things about, loners gazing into the night in still silence. Without voicing the fact, both boys felt they were looking out at the myriad of possible lives that awaited them after graduation. Maybe administration had it right to let them dip a toe in the pool before diving in cold turkey. To minimize the shock.
Both young men had come from small villages in the country—one a farming community and one fishing. They'd bonded over a shared affinity for sunburned farmers (or fisherman) short on teeth, for John Deere tractors or schooners, for melancholy sunsets hanging over gently waving crops or choppy seas. Just as powerful a cement was their shared distaste for bible-thumping, ignorance, and sawed-off shotguns. That alone—the prospect of escaping the small-mindedness of provincial life—was enough to justify the other challenges that came along with city life.
Long before partnering on their thesis, the two had been thrown together as dorm mates by sheer chance. Their paths had first crossed on moving day when Garret's mattress collided with Maurice's hutch in the narrow dormitory hallway. Within a week, the congestion problem would be resolved—one bed instead of two. They'd shared a kiss that very first night, effortlessly—a goodnight peck that turned into an all-night affair of spooning and telling stories in the dark (Maurice saying he felt like a kid at camp again) and then melded into a brief interlude resembling sleep. Then they'd woke with stiffies and done it all again.
They were late for class that day.
Their arrangement would not have flown in the country; in London, no one batted an eye. The university's liberal mindset managed to trump the pervasive conservatism of the nineteen fifties; no one from the dorm monitor to the Dean of Students asked about the lumpy mattress that found itself slumped against an industrial dumpster in the alleyway behind the dormitory.
Still, the two refrained from holding hands in public—only on the couch at home, fingertips gently grazing, firing sparks from the universe confirming—anointing—their connection. Both knew the feeling was mutual, undeniable, a gift. All else followed effortlessly: the joint shopping sprees, the melding of tastes and habits—the formation of a household. Their temperaments and dispositions were blissfully copacetic; neither had ever felt so at home.
Some of what they built together came from mimicry, relationship models they'd seen; how could it be otherwise? But for the most part, their relationship was its own animal, a docile one requiring no handbook or training manual.
Despite their compatibility, despite the wellbeing and inner peace it brought, Garret couldn't help but sense, at times, there were corners of his lover's mind he would never know. Dark corners, like cigarette-burned borders vignetting an idyllic tableau. Maurice had spoken of abuse—horrific things he'd overcome. Garret did not have the life experience to know these were the things that reared their ugly heads over time, chipping away at bliss.
Oh,  part of him likely subscribed to the quaint notion that love conquers all. His own upbringing had been far from a fairy tale. But he'd repackaged it, thanking the good Lord he'd been raised with the good sense to make lemons of lemonade. Simply put, to compensate for any damage done by his alcoholic father, his mother had fitted him with rose-colored glasses. It would be painful when they were eventually torn off—they'd been surgically attached—but for the moment, the boy was glad he had tools to cope: ideals, ethics, morals. A productive thought process (some called it positive thinking) that allowed him to transform and renew, transform and renew. To cleanse the world.
It would not be enough.
After graduation, the couple moved into a small West End flat. Garret hit the ground running, continuing his research (only for a salary now) with the company where he'd interned during his undergrad studies. The work was an extension of what he'd specialized in at university; he quickly found himself at the forefront of Interstellar Parallax. Maurice found work with a rival research institute. Several of his studies were published in scientific journals. Still, his name did not ring synonymous with the cutting edge like his partner's.
It may have been professional jealousy at work, or simple pride: the feeling that he was the breadwinner's wife and not the breadwinner (men being socialized as they are), but whatever the case, resentment came to roost in Maurice Steadman’s heart.
It did not take long for the young man to stray. He took to long strolls at night, promenades that compelled him along the moonlit Thames, under Waterloo Bridge, to that nondescript underground pub with no sign above the door. The one you rang to enter, professing in a whisper to be a 'friend of Dorothy's,' the equivalent of a passcode.
The darkened den was a microcosm of the city—its seedy possibilities, its moral ambiguity, its endless options and overstimulation. In a small town it was easy to commit; one settled on whomever was in front of him. In the city, with so many prospects, one held out for whomever offered the most... advantage.
It was here among the myriad of swirling options that Maurice encountered Jack Pershing, an old acquaintance from the fishing village of Whimby. The man was not an old flame but a spark that had never been kindled. So much had changed: London's rules were different than those of Whimby's. Both men knew themselves better than before. Not to mention Jack had grown into a strapping, handsome man with a smart moustache. And his own law firm.
Maurice Steadman traded up.
Oh, Garret was no slouch; he was world-renowned. But he was devoted to research. And research did not pay, whereas chasing taxis did, and handsomely.
The day Maurice moved out, Garret saw him shed a tear for the first and last time ever. He himself was cried out.
"I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing," Maurice rasped from a damaged place. His brooding, heavy-lidded eyes flashed moist  in the darkened flat.
Years later, Garret would figure out it had all been a test. That on some unconscious level, his lover had hoped he'd fight for what they had. Fight for him. Save him from himself. But in the moment, Garret's ideals told him tests were emotional manipulation, that one cannot make another want to stay, and that the old adage was true: If you loved something, you set it free; if it came back to you, it was meant to be.
Garret finally understood that the dark cigar-burned corners of his lover's mind, the ones he could never know, spawned demons. They were rearing their ugly heads, blinding Maurice with superficiality to what truly mattered, driving him to sabotage the best thing that had ever happened to either of them. To forfeit a gift from the universe. Garret knew in his heart Maurice was sentencing them both.
That night, each of them acted on the thing that drove him: Maurice on visceral, mysterious, broken instinct and Garret on the heady ideals that had saved him thus far. That night both men made the most momentous error of their lives.
And nothing would ever be the same.
After his lover was gone for certain, the buckled wooden door having clicked shut with finality, fickle footsteps having faded with any hope of rewinding time, Garret remained paralyzed on the couch in nearly complete and utter darkness. The fluorescent glow of a computer screen flattened his expressionless features, the machine itself spitting needless punch cards from its gut.
Just then, with a thud, the lights went out.
The city's entire power grid.
Garret stumbled to the distorted window frame and gazed out at an unrecognizable London. Her skyline stood stark and wretched against the night sky, but any sign of life below was swallowed in unforgiving black. No twinkling, welcoming lights, no shadow puppets dancing or dirty laundry hanging, no sordid lives on display. By contrast, the heavens jumped forward, Milky Way flung from horizon to horizon incubating countless nebula, clusters of stars as old as time. Garret had never seen the city this way; normally the city lights obscured heaven altogether.
In that moment, nothing was what he'd presumed it to be.
Nothing made sense.

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