Chris vomited a universe of stars onto the pavement. They swirled around him as he contemplated the cause of their existence. The stars were similar to the stars he had eaten as a child—the ones that came from Campbell soup cans his mom had given him. The stars were probably leftovers from earlier years, he thought: a present perhaps from his younger self, even though they reeked of vodka.
His friend patted him on the shoulder and asked, “Are you all right?”
He couldn’t answer for a moment. His eyes were still transfixed on the stars, surrounded by chunks of bread, and the smell. They were majestic, he thought. He tried standing up but collapsed onto the sidewalk.
“Chris…” he heard his friend say. But his head was still swimming in the noises of the street. He heard others approaching, laughing. He felt alienated from the people and their world.
“Oh Chris, are you okay?” He felt arms wrap around him and indigestion rise again, he wondered briefly what his mouth would emit–if it still held the stars of cheap canned soup and his youth, or perhaps the sounds of his brothers playing in the yard. Beth hugged him, squeezed him until he spat out yet another of the universes in his mouth. This time, however, no stars went forth; all that was left was the thin slime of a night’s confusion.
“I’m sorry baby…I didn’t mean…”
“Goddamn it, Beth. Can’t you see Chris is sick?”
“I’m sorry Chris…I’m sorry….”
Chris looked beyond the slime and tried to find the stars. The slime was thick with nebulas clouds that blocked out the night sky and the universes beyond. Chris became desperate to find those stars. They were important, he told himself over and over again, although he couldn’t remember why.
His friends led him back into the hotel. Chris was too weak and dizzy to put up a fight. They were still drinking and laughing. They put him in a stool at the bar. All he could think about was getting back to the pavement and looking for soupy, vodka-ridden stars, whose presence might prove the existence of a God.
Beth was crying, and Chris was reminded of the times when he and his mother had talked about things during lunch: you shouldn’t play with those boys, they’re trouble; when you grow up you’re going to marry a nice girl Chris; finish your dinner and then you can go outside.
Somewhere Chris thought he heard an orchestra playing, but it was only a single pianist. The rest he remembered from a concert he had attended when he was in high school. He had gone with his first girlfriend, who played the flute. The pianist reminded him of her.
He looked at the pianist for a long time while Beth was crying and tried to figure out why the man had such a heavenly face. He decided he must be on a threshold, closer to death than life. The pianist played a symphony with his hands and looked Chris’s way.
“What are you looking at Chris?” a distant voice asked, over the crying Beth.
“He’s staring at the pianist,” another voice said.
The person’s voice reeked of that otherworldly smell, which could not reach the pianist, who smiled at Chris and nodded.
He and the pianist conversed on a landscape of soupy stars.
“Don’t lose heart kid. Some people are born kings. They eat their stars with a silver spoon, while others chase them down with vodka.”
“Play me a song, pianist.”
The pianist played a song Chris had never heard before. In the background, Beth’s crying had turned to a whimper, and her voice took him away from the pianist, whose hands created a symphony of universes, which Chris vomited again and again in his mind.