The mysterious O looks to the stars and into her coffee mug. Fiction by Sasha Martinez.
BEFORE HER DAY BEGINS IN EARNEST, OUR CHARACTER O.— milkily complected, a waterfall of thick hair that ends in an abrupt line just above her shoulders, clear-browed, bow-lipped, in possession of too many pairs of earrings that never seem to match—sits down at her desk at home and checks her fortune.
She knows it is silly to look to the stars, forever overhead they may be. She knows this. And yet here she is, our character O.—mostly clothed, save for the shoes that stand expectant by her front door, because she hates shoes, hates the confinement of them, the forced civility of them, she always saved her shoes for the very last, as though they could not be helped, mostly because they could not be helped—bending over the newspaper that landed on her welcome mat at dawn. She’s foregone the caricature of government on the front page, the gore of modern living on the rest of the newsprint, the neatly ordered sections detailing one preoccupation and another. There, above the comic strips and an insert detailing bits of trivia she either already knows or highly doubts—today’s are: An ant can lift fifty times its own weight; Thomas Edison was afraid of the dark; According to an Old English system of time units, a moment is one and a half minutes—are the horoscopes.
She will run through the constellations, the line of the zodiac long made arbitrary by lore and history and culture. Aries is advised to listen to a mentor regarding a career move; the Sun spends its last day in their domain, filling them with vividness. Taurus is encouraged to discuss their financial lives with a trusted elder; tomorrow, they must embrace solitude. Gemini is cautioned to return to their social lives one last time, as the Sun approaches their house dedicated to lonesomeness.
She understands very little of the astronomical filigree of these horoscopes—the houses and the positions of the planets and the amble of the Sun and the Moon through it all. She has never picked up the obscure mathematics of the celestial bodies. When Libra is soothed by the knowledge that Sun spends its last day in Aries, their complementary sign, O. knows to wait for the mundanity: Time with the one you love will linger like a breeze from the ocean; it is a perfect time to negotiate about living arrangements. When Scorpio is cheered on by today’s Sun-Saturn link, O. is informed that they must use their talents to show expertise in their industry; tomorrow, Scorpio must go to the gym.
Her coffee will cool in this enumeration; this is by design. College in a university town with its crowded cafes and waves of over-moneyed undergraduates have taught her to nurse a beverage that apparently dies in its cup within thirty minutes. A peek at the stars in the early morning is more than enough time for the sweetness to scatter and soak through the brew.
Her coffee, until now, even years and years and years later, is a compromise between her gut-stubborn tastes that run to the treacly and saccharine and the by-principle preference of a boy she loved: Pitch black, strong, full, threaded through with enough sugar that she will feel the rasp of the sweetness against her tongue even hours later.
He taught her how to make coffee the right way, he’d teased, the better way, beyond simply spilling packets of indecipherable powder into tepid water. Grinding coffee beans by hand, the unevenness of the debris that results, the measuring of this very debris by spoonfuls, flat or heaping. The water at just the right temperature. The paraphernalia—French presses encased in brass, steel little pots, one assemblage that involved blue flame and glass orbs, all this detritus the perpetual motion machine of her mornings. It was pomp and it was circumstance, and it was all part of a ceremony that she’d been alternately amused at and mystified by. And hadn’t that been so many mornings with this boy? Head perched on her hands, her wide mouth still slack from the evening, gazing with wonder at him and his hair that glinted brown against the sunlight. Coffee was one of his few conceits, and she’d tended to tell him she loved him his silliness, the solemnity of him. Isn’t there always a boy our characters Xs and Ys once loved? Room-temperature coffee; he’d teased her about that. It had been good-natured. No one will take your seat if you drink your coffee right away, he’d say. That’s what you’re afraid of. You get used to holding the fort, and you think you should guard that drink for as long as you need to stay.
She’d liked that. Being described. She’d thought she hadn’t been described enough, until this boy. She’d enjoyed having someone articulate what she was, what she could be—the announcement of her.
(When she was much younger, O. was loved by a boy who unfurled his mornings through the ceremony of coffee, the deliberateness of it, the care he took with it. The small furrow that formed between his eyebrows when he measured, when he adjusted flame. One morning, this boy shared a daydream our O. would steal years later until it finally became her own: I want to live in another country whose language I do not speak. I’ll live in a small apartment and talk to no one for most days. With a dictionary, I’ll write astrology for a local paper I can’t read. I’ll be fluent in faux prophecy. They’ll read like love letters. Aries: You are sound and fury by default, and you’re in danger of drowning out everything else. Listen to the softer parts of you, the gentler parts of you, the more quiet parts of you. Taurus: How brightly must the horizon flash and flicker until you are compelled to listen to the rustles within you that ask you to rush headlong toward that light? Gemini: Pepper your home with flowers; take someone’s hand in yours. Cancer: Raise your voice as high as it can go, as loudly, as encompassing—pour into your wailing all the hurts and all the betrayals and all the things that should have made sense but didn’t and all the times you’ve woken up to a morning that still persisted in spite
of everything and all the mid-afternoon moments you looked at screens and found nothing but blinks. Leo: The heavens will croon back to you, sweetheart, and this is a promise. Virgo: This week, remind yourself that the bud of a fire-tree bloom cares not for the risks it takes to blossom in the heat of high summer. This week, remember that you were once told that you were a fucking supernova. This week, understand that there is a conflagration in you, and all it needs is your leave to rage. And that once you’ve set it loose: Know you’ll cast into the shadows even this fearsome sun beating against your aching skin. You will be loud and you will be lyrical and you will be bright and you will be blinding—and you will singe what needs to be singed. Libra: Remember the value of a preface when you reach for a kiss: Everything I am right now, everything that has led to me standing here with my breath mingling with yours, you can keep it in your pocket, you can keep it in that dip below your lower lip. Scorpio: This week, too, you will be asked by these heavens to remember how, one milky-way evening, you told your most favorite person in the world— the same one that compels auroras to branch out of the midnight blue overhead—that nuclear fires last. Sagittarius, Aquarius, Capricorn, Pisces, and down the line again, over and over, as needed, as need be, as it must: There remains weight against your spine, I know; you can feel how it has settled in the expanse between your shoulder blades. The line of your back bears it hardest, this longing to drink someone in.)
Virgo: Have a talk with you financial advisor about long-term security. Incremental progress will matter as Mercury, Virgo’s ruler, joins the Sun. One step forward will take you exactly where you need to be.
By the time she’s gone down that line, by the time she’s read everyone’s fortunes at her desk—uncluttered except for a teaspoon staining the surface with sugar—her coffee will have cooled, and she could drink it all in, one breathless wince down her throat. Our character O. can now make her slow amble throw her house toward her front door, slip her feet into her expectant shoes, and she’ll consider if there is something she has forgotten, for aren’t there always things our characters Xs and Ys have ceased to hold close? Not, say, the weight of another’s jaw against the crown of her head when she’s eased enough to rest, to burrow. No. Nothing like the warmth of another’s torso in the middle of the night, a certain warmth, a specific warmth. Her keys, perhaps. The back door unlocked, the water heater still switched on? Not like this missing in the quiet. Maybe the lights in the bathroom, an open window? Not like certain points within the trajectory of a caress: How the fingertips, more often than not, linger against her skin at the close of a sweep of a hand down her brittling spine; that hand’s protracted pause in the air before it rests against the curve where the waist meets hip. Her used coffee cup to place in the sink, perhaps, and not how black hair can glint the warmest brown against morning light. Not the old sorrows.