reaching up from below – a skeletal hand, clothed in tattered robes. I try to run, but its aim is true. Bony fingers close around my ankle, and I’m pulled down, down. The soil tumbles in, sealing me forever from the sun.”
There was a long silence. Estelle coughed, to remind her listener she was still here.
“And what happens next?” asked Mr Nancy.
She shuffled, trying not to dislodge books on the crowded desktop where she perched. “That’s it.”
Mr Nancy finally looked up from his telescope with a thoughtful frown.
“I know I haven’t got the hang of horror…”
“You’ve got horror down, kid, what you don’t got is endings.” He stretched, his skinny body clicking and crunching in the ominous ways people of his age are accustomed to. He looked tiny next to the telescope. It was a titanic, unwieldy affair, taking up the vast majority of this odd room – so tiny in the functional sense, yet so high-ceilinged as to be cathedralesque, though lined with bookshelves and peeling wallpaper rather than religious frescoes. Quite why the library possessed this mess of ancient machinery Estelle had never fully understood, but Mr Nancy took great pleasure in scouring the skies, seemingly in lieu of doing his actual job.
“So how do you do endings?”
Mr Nancy chuckled. “I’m not sure it’s something I can impart. I’ve had a lot of endings in my time, I’ve just gotten the knack.”
Estelle made a sound of frustration.
“Okay, kid, I know that’s a nothing answer. There’s obvious things: bring threads to conclusion, themes to a point. But it’s more than that, it’s something that’s in us, that’s the key to all stories. We’re made of them, we just have to let them out.”
“That’s still a nothing answer!”
“Maybe.” Mr Nancy resumed peering into the eyepiece. He had a stillness that felt poised rather than inactive, like a hawk.
“Whatcha looking at up there?” she hazarded.
“Stars are beautiful this time of the evening. Wanna take a look, kid?”
With a half hearted affirmation, she shuffled over. The sky was… big. Dark. Largely empty, and yet so innumerably full of stars. Immense in a way that’s hard to comprehend, though at every point underwhelming compared to magazine covers and phone wallpapers from the Hubble space telescope.
Mr Nancy straightened his back again, becoming a presence larger than any 4’9” man had a right to be. “Have I ever told you the story of when I first arrived in England?”
“A true story?”
“All stories have an element of truth.”
Estelle rubbed the bridge of her nose irritably. “You know you can just answer questions?”
“When I got here from Ghana it was a shock in so many different ways. There was the rain – god, the rain – and the deathly cold, but more than that it was the culture shock – the drabness, the abuse – they were fairly open with their distaste for us back in the 70s, believe it or not.”
“Truly. But more than that it was the… melancholy. They’re isolated, the Brits. Keep to themselves. Don’t share in their stories. But when you’re running from things, you make do wherever you land, so I made it home.”
“You were running from something?”
“Everybody’s running from something, kid.” He offered a gentle smile. “You are too, or else you wouldn’t spend every other day after school hanging out with the cool old queer who works in the library, would you?”
Estelle fiddled with the telescope, saying nothing.
“So, yes, I was running. I bounced from place to place, getting work where it could be found, sleeping on hostel floors and street corners, and it all seemed… pointless. I was surviving, nothing more. I’d assumed, the way you do in youth, that I could make it alone, one man against the world, and I was disheartened to realise maybe I wasn’t so strong. That was until I landed in a hostel in Soho and found, at last, a.. kind of home.. I never knew existed.”
Estelle adjusted the telescope slightly, guessing at the controls, and was suddenly confronted with an expanding light, forming a strange ring. “The hell is that?” she muttered.
With surprising dexterity, Mr Nancy slid over to take back the helm, and uttered a little click of delight. “That, my dear, is a supernova.”
“The death of a star. A whole solar system burned away in an instant. Terrible, and yet so beautiful. Look-” He returned her the eyepiece, having brought it into focus. It was beautiful, despite being little more than a bright haloed oval. Beauty in death. There was poetry to that, if she could only dig it out. Even as she vowed to write that poem, she knew deep down that she’d never get around to it. “So, Soho, that’s home?” she asked, urging Mr Nancy on.
“Not the place, the people. When you find your people, your missing pieces, you feel foolish for trying to go it on your own. Stories only matter with an audience, y’know? We need people, our people, to give the madness meaning.”
He spoke distractedly as he scribbled notes. Even amateur astronomers had to report these things, she supposed. There’s a lot of night sky to look at, it wasn’t territory anyone could cover on their own. It was a nice thought – people working together, thousands of miles apart, spread across the whole world. There was poetry to that too. She yielded her seat and returned to her perch on the desk.
“How does the story end?”
He smiled. “That was the end.”
“That’s not an ending! What about tying up threads and themes? That was just more beginning!”
“That’s how life works, kid. Nothing ends, not really.” He sat up from his notes. “There’s a metaphor here about supernovas but I’m not gonna patronise you with it.”
“Supernovae,” she corrected him.
He put down his pen. “You still got time, kid. For beginnings and for endings. Try not to miss out on them.”
“You sound like a Hallmark card.”
“Doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
Estelle gazed up at the looming telescope and darkening sky beyond. She’d have to go home soon. As always, she was dreading it. There were some stories she felt she could never share. She sighed, and, in a moment of conviction, opened her phone to the notes app.
A resounding boom, unheard
A wave, a flash, a death
A thousand deaths
Before something beautiful
The cursor blinked tauntingly. She put her phone down, frustrated. She could find an ending in time. At least now she’d begun.