we drive to the new bridge that separates starwood from greenville, the nearest town. the twinkling lights of greenville shine in the distance, beckoning us to indulge in its numerous casinos, bars and nightclubs. behind us, starwood lay quiet and silent, brooding in the cold winter night.
starwood’s claim to fame is being the one town in america where you can see the most stars in the night sky. first, it’s graced with clear night skies on most days. also, our town fathers have tried to hold on to this distinction by reducing light pollution, forsaking modern streetlights for soft oil lamps, and prohibiting the use of lights above 40 watts throughout the town. at night, anybody can step outside their door and see the whole sky lit brilliantly with millions of stars, sometimes interrupted by the twinkle of a passing airplane.
the epicentre of star-gazing, however, is the old bridge, which hasn’t been rebuilt since it collapsed in a storm twelve years ago. set about 2 miles outside the town, it’s a short road that ends abruptly and drops into the nothingness below. it’s become the prime tourist area during the season and the most intimate lover’s lane in the off-season.
rachel knocks on my door at seven pm and tells me she wants to go on a drive. we haven’t been too close since we came to high school, our interests having diverged in the past two two years. but tonight she’s strangely subdued, and says she wants my company. i don’t argue.
we drive out to the new bridge, which is her idea. i don’t mind, because the crowd at the old bridge is sometimes a bit too much to bear. we park by the bridge and sit on the railings, letting our legs dangle over the treacherous depths to the river deep down below. although its winter and prime stargazing season, the bridge is empty – all the tourists having flooded in to the old bridge area and the town before sunset.
by 9 pm the tourists will reverse their journey over the bridge, seeking refuge for the night in the comfortable lights of greenville instead of in our single lonely and mostly empty motel. i’ve noticed that most tourists can’t take too much of the dim lights of starwood for any period of time – rather, they prefer the constant stream of comfortable 80 watt bulbs that greenville offers.
rachel, bathed in the glow of distant neon emanating from greenville, tells me she hates starwood, and wants to get out. she’s been thinking about living amongst the lights, she says, and can’t wait to graduate from high school and get out of here.
i’ve thought about it too, but i’ve come to realize that the lights are not for me. greenville always seems a little too bright. in spite of the multiple attractions, there’s always just a bit too much light. the one time i went to a restaurant in greenville, i got a severe headache, and my eyes had a really hard time focusing. i had to be driven home because i couldn’t see well enough to drive myself.
i ask rachel why she suddenly wants to leave. not too many people ever actually end up leaving starwood, probably for the same reasons. they work in other places, in the big cities and the factories and the banks and everything, but every night, before nightfall, they make sure they are back home in the confines of starwood.
rachel says nothing. she doesn’t stare at greenville; rather, she stares down at the river coursing below us. she’s quiet, but i think i see a tear running softly down her cheek, quietly refracting the distant neon of greenville. we haven’t spoken to each other much in the past two years, and, to be honest, i didn’t think we ever would. i had come to terms with us having drifted apart, and had moved on myself. but clearly something had drawn her back to her childhood friend. i know rachel well enough to know that she would eventually tell me what was bothering her, when she felt comfortable enough to, and that no amount of goading would get it out of her.
we sit silently on the bridge railings, listening to the river softly flow below us. the only other sound is the hum of greenville’s lights, which, on still nights, can seem so loud as to seem like some giant insect buzzing just outside our town.
another tear slides down rachel’s cheek. i don’t know if i’m brave enough to reach over and wipe it off, and don’t even have the courage to try.
rachel tells me about how she was raped one evening on the edge of town. she tells me how she couldn’t identify her attacker because it was too dark to see him, and how he grabbed her mouth and held her down. she tells me about how she tried to fight him off, but how he was too heavy.
rachel tells me about how every dark shadow cast by the oil street lamps scares her, and how she fears another attack. she tells me how the dark shapes of pedestrians walking the streets all look to her like the attacker himself, returning for more. she tells me how she’s now afraid of even the shadows cast by the dim light in her house, and how she savors every moment of daylight like it’s her last day on earth. she tells me how she’s going to run away soon, into the comforting arms of the bright lights of greenville.
rachel becomes strangely quiet after pouring her heart out to me. we listen to the river and the lights for a little while more before i drive her home again. we’re both quiet in the car on the drive back. i say good night to her, but i know it’s more of a goodbye.
all of a sudden, greenville’s lights don’t seem that bright anymore, and i can no longer hear their persistent buzz.
a very rough draft, but, by golly, it’s the first story i’ve written in a year and a half! comments etc. highly appreciated.