A Long-Ago Planet Named Orpheus
Frosty’s parents stayed for another week. Through a consistent application of amiability I managed to break through Magdalena’s armor, causing her to leak a few embarrassing stories from her son’s childhood. One of them involved climbing bare nekkid to the roof of the carport at the tender age of two.
Mom and Pop soon headed south to the warmer climes of Huntington Beach (home of cousin Dixie), returning us to our couple’s paradise. If anything, thanks to Frosty’s solid, lovely family, my affections had grown deeper. (Alas, a peek at Jerry’s signature – after a meal at Gilda’s – failed to reveal their last name, as his penmanship was atrocious.)
This heightened feeling of union came with an unexpected by-product. Watching all these warm-blooded attachments made me long for my own family – most especially, my darling nieces. Lost in our little campsite hideaway, I managed to dodge the Christmas carols and Yuletide commercials, but December was getting old and my heart was pointing south. Then my sister phoned me at the hotel to pour on the guilt. (Perhaps the surrendering cry of “Uncle!” should be “Aunt!”) But how was I supposed to tell Frosty?
As if I weren’t being scrambled enough, the machinations of the cosmos had brought the moon closer to both the sun and Earth than it would be for another 133 years. It was due to turn full on the solstice. One immediate result was the lowest low tide I’d ever seen, turning Knickerbocker Beach into a junior Sahara and wiping any frosted glass clean off the slate.
Our afternoon hunts became useless meanders. At the peak of our boredom, we caught sight of a festival in the beach parking lot. After traversing the seemingly endless sand, we entered the Hirshfield Solstice Arts Festival, filled with all manner of benign wackiness. In this corner, a slim man in his late twenties juggling five white Frisbees, flicking one of them high into the air as he kept the others going. And here, a chunky man in his fifties performing dizzy revolutions on a skateboard. Lastly, a surly-looking septuagenarian keeping watch over a series of finely balanced stone piles, awaiting questions from his public.
The retail art was the usual collection of well-crafted dreck: ceramic sea otters and dolphins, color photos of inoffensive seascapes, kooky clocks framed by cartoon kitties. The exceptions were a woman who made wind chimes from antique silverware and a guy who assembled mosaics from cheesy collector plates (the same, in fact, who made the tables in Gilda’s).
The real find was the Hirshfield Art Center, which featured many-spangled creations from their glass-blowers, and a fascinating group project. They had decorated two thousand Japanese net floats (round glass bubbles that occasionally drifted all the way across the Pacific), and were going to spend New Year’s Day setting them afloat ten miles out to sea. Whatever came ashore was finders-keepers, no questions asked.
We got a basket of fried calamari and made our way back to the beach. As we neared the lighthouse, we found that the cliffs, which generally jutted into the sea, now sported a ten-foot collar of open sand! We took it, one wary eye to the water, and strolled around to our nudie-dorker cove.
We settled at the base of a caramel-colored boulder, my head on Frosty’s chest as he played with my hair. I watched the sun drifting behind the clouds, filtering a montage of salmons, roses and pinks through the overcast. This seemed like a good moment.
“I have something to tell you.”
“I know. You’ve been telegraphing.”
I curled sideways to watch his eyes. “Then…”
“You’re leaving. It’s Christmas. You have family.”
“Then… what do you… Oh shit, I don’t know – what do you think?”
Frosty nudged me out of his lap and stood, walking into the wake of sun.
“Sorry. If you want the truth from me, I have to be at least this far away. I have bad feelings about this. I’m really afraid that you have this terminal attraction to the city – the noise, the masses of people, the sense that things that happen there are more important. I saw it when we went to Portland.”
I tried to raise an objection. He stopped me with a look.
“I just want you to know that I will wait for you. But not forever. And you need to remember this: life and happiness are not constructed of popular opinion, or the achievements of corporations, or the gathering of money and approval. Happiness is a product you invent every day according to your own solitary definitions. This probably sounds strange, but…”
Frosty’s voice was shaking. He turned and stomped toward the cliffs, raising protests to an unseen goddess.
“Dammit! What’m I supposed to do? Fuck!”
I couldn’t bear not touching him. I raced across the sand and wrapped my arms around his chest. I was surprised to find him quaking, to feel a tear splash my wrist. He continued cursing under his breath, a pulse of consonants against my ribs. Looking over his shoulder I found a slice of light peering over the cliffs, the brightest moon in my lifetime.
“I read an article about the moon,” I said. “This new theory that a long-ago planet named Orpheus drifted into Earth’s gravity and collided with it. The impact was tremendous. Some of what used to be Orpheus became part of the Earth, while parts of both planets were sprayed into Earth’s orbit. The pieces eventually gathered together to form the moon.
“I may be going, Frosty, but I’m leaving a large piece of myself here.”
Frosty turned to me, tears streaking his face.
“Okay,” he said. “But you’re also taking part of me with you. So do well by me, dammit, because I want that piece back.”
I kissed his cheek, the tang of salt on my lips. “I will. I promise.”
Photo by MJV