What Are the Odds?
In the few days leading up to the meteor shower, all the newspapers and local weathermen had advice for best hours (between 1:00 and 3:00 AM) and direction (east) for watching the falling stars. People at work and in the aisles of the supermarkets were comparing their viewing plans. Google even replaced their doubles O’s with vague illustrations of tailed boulders, which everyone understood to be meteors.
I will often stay up until midnight but, for some reason, the additional hour before the start of the show seemed overwhelming. Around quarter to one, I went out into my backyard. The November air jolted me momentarily and I thought I would be able to stay awake after all. I walked over to the fence surrounding a sheep field, which borders my backyard, and gazed into the sky. I have never been proficient at locating constellations, but found Orion’s belt easily and I think I saw the Seven Sisters, though it may have just been that my eyes were getting blurry because I was tired. There was no moon but the sky was brilliant and clear as I waited. I could make out silhouettes of the sheep, sitting like butter sculptures, in the field.
Waiting for a meteor shower to begin is not the same as waiting for, say, fireworks on the Fourth of July. The scheduling is not exact and I soon realized that the recommended viewing times were an estimate. Each passing minute that did not include a falling star became endless. I’m not sure how long I remained in the backyard, leaning on the fencepost, but it was not long before I went back inside to bed. I considered setting my alarm to get up a few hours later to view the meteors, but it’s too complicated to change the setting and I didn’t want to oversleep in the morning.
There was no talk of the meteor shower on the morning news shows and I might have forgotten about it except for the view out my front window. While passing through the living room, I sensed a commotion outside. Stepping out onto my front stoop I saw that a house a little way down the block had been completely crushed by a meteor. An enormous chunk of space rock, larger than the house it had obliterated, sat in a pile of splintered wood. It looked like a colossal grey egg sitting in a bird’s nest.
There were groups of firefighters standing around, drinking coffee from Styrofoam cups, and staring at the smoldering timber. The local paperboy straddled his bicycle, gawking at the massive rock that had made the morning edition in his shoulder bag obsolete.
Although I didn’t know who lived in the flattened house, it was distressing. Numbly, I went back inside, continuing out to the back yard to gather myself. I found no comfort there, though, for from my porch I saw that another meteor, perhaps larger than the one in front, had landed in the sheep field. The sheep were strangely absent. I was not positive that they had been wiped out, but there was a pervasive smell, which inspired thoughts of mint jelly.
Off to one side stood a donkey, employed by the sheep owners to keep the coyotes away. I must say that since the donkey arrived, I have seen no signs of coyotes in the area, nor heard their plaintive howling at night. The donkey stood staring at the meteor.
I don’t want to anthropomorphize the brute, but he seemed defeated, as if guilty that he had not protected the sheep somehow. I have seen him at work; he has nothing to be ashamed of. How could he have known? What more could he have done?
Thomas O’Connell is a librarian living on the banks of the Hudson River in Beacon, NY, where he happened to be the 2015-2016 poet laureate. His poetry and short fiction has appeared in Elm Leaves Journal, Caketrain, The Los Angeles Review, Hobart (online), A-Minor, and Blink-Ink, as well as other print and online journals.
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Image: NPS Photo