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from Variorum

From their rooftop observatory, Dale and Dominick scanned heavenly ikons: Pegasus the horsey poem on stilts, Pices the drained martini glass, Cygnus soaring. Breeze-purged of haze and cloud, moonless October sky magnified a vibrancy of stars.

"A word for this," she said, "other than the cliches sublime and awesome."

He nodded. "'Some' is less than enough. The word should mean 'ful of awe'." He placed a linen doily on her knee.

Dominick had established an oasis among the rooftop ventilators and riser-pipes. Here was a table, a bench, the checkered cloth he now unfurled. Up came an oil lamp for which he gave her matches then produced a picnic basket, from it Fiestaware plates, goblets, then two sesame bagels, a deep-dish of zucchini ratatouille, and a Czech pint of Pilsner Urquell.

"This is awful," she said.

"Agree. And because we remain on the premises, there's no back-charge for meal break. Not with my agency. Yours?"

"I'll check." She broke off a piece of bagel, nibbled then put it down. He raised the Pilsner.


They sipped musky beer beneath the countless possibilities.

"I'm flying through this sky," she said, "back to Tuckhannock."

"Not Kansas I presume."

"Pennsylvania. On the Susquehanna, where Swale Brook comes down from Osterhaut Mountain. We slept outside on starry nights like this, would-be astronauts wishing ourselves into spacesuits with flags on our shoulders. My friend Liolya was our Cosmonaut. Now she has her doctorate in astrophysics and teaches astronomy at a college too small to own a telescope, although thanks to the Internet she's out there in her head."

"Where outer space exists."

From his pocket he drew a cell-phone and placed it in her hand: familiar enough, warm, just another phone.

"Company perk. Toll-free anywhere."

Dale punched up a friend in Singapore. They chatted vintage Seinfeld, how Elaine plays in Chinese. The friend bore news of a mutual acquaintance who'd returned to Hong Kong. He was living with his widowed millionaire mother; she had an extra room and he'd inherited a parking space.


Dominick poured the last of the pilsner. She sipped, the phone quiescent between them.

"Hong Kong was Dad's home" he said. "My parents met at Cal State, very political. I was conceived at a rally they keep trying to remember was either about peace or saving whales. Parentially they're dear but mad with change. Yours?"

She gazed the universe, found King Cepheus, his multiple stars.

"Farm family, though Dad's the last. Mom sells real-estate. There's a fortune in subdivision if you trust Zeno. I was the first college-kid, got started reading and couldn't stop, nor stay home." Now I'm a midnight editor."

There: the star-clusters of Queen Cassiopeia. He began putting things away. She started to help, did not. She watched his hands.

"The good thing," he said, "about being a temp is that we're close to innovation, the spin-off opportunities. Natural as mitosis. It might be good for us to work together for a while."

What she'd been thinking exactly, up to a point. He ventured beyond.

"I'm signed for ninety days. After that my agency owes me, so there's five weeks more to plan the move. Server-access and time-sharing would necessitate starting out with a good cash-flow account, either that or wire our shop into one like this. Elsie would go for it, although she's married to the board. We could submit a bid to provide services."

"Publishing?" She found the spiral in Andromeda (M31).

"Processing, Dale. We sub-contract, set up an e-text clearing house for on-demand printer-binders. World-wide.


"Big computer box, roll of paper the diameter of a Conestoga wagon wheel, continuous web of pages-to-be. See how it works? One order, one printing. No returns, no warehouse space needed, no unsold books to remainder. No union truckers. "Awfully logical."

Thus would he reach for his star while she, pursuing a traditional situation, languished betwixt acquisitions and marketing in a calm, possibly windowed office. Meanwhile, like his nice hands, capitalistic plural pronouns had slipped into his contemplations. She stood up fast. The chunk of bagel she'd forgotten in the crux of her lap popped out and boinged off the beer bottle although Dominick, folding the tablecloth, didn't notice. They went down, back to the job.