The White Dwarf
by Jan Kaneen
It’s months into lockdown, and Clayton’s showing Thelma how to train their new state-of-the-art telescope onto the crow-black Tennessee sky. He twists the eyepiece to trap the distant white glow from a small dying star, but it’s tricky capturing the faint luminosity emitted by degenerate-electron matter, and he doesn’t want to seem unfocussed in front of his wife, so he bends to the lens and tries real hard to sharpen the image – sees the old wooden swing on his granddaddy’s porch, a curl of Thelma’s once corn-coloured hair, remnants of his long-passed mamma’s last apple pie, a Thanksgiving turkey, Uncle Sam’s stern white face, flickering footage of Neil Armstrong taking one giant leap, a bucket of hot chicken, Johnny Cash singing Ring of Fire, a bottle of Jack, his old CB radio, the penultimate episode of Dukes of Hazzard, Resisting Arrest as a black-and-white headline, a nest of wasps, the Twin Towers tumbling, his Smith and Wesson, that Ku Klux Klan robe and hood he saw years ago in Uncle Frank’s drycleaners hanging up under a see-through plastic covering, the faces of three little kids in an SUV watching their daddy get shot six times in the back, a manacled captive under an officer’s knee pleading for his mamma and his life gasping I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.
Clayton looks away, straightens himself up, stares out into the unfathomable sheet of night-time sky – the vast blackness of it – then asks Thelma if she’d care to take her turn.
‘You okay, Honey?’ she says, taking-in his blanched white cheeks and tight, thin lips.
‘I’m fine,’ he drawls, ‘Ain’t nothing. Then he gazes into her blue-sky eyes and creases his face into half a smile. ‘Leastwise nothing for us to worry about.’