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Original artwork by Katie M. Zeigler

Written in the Stars

Amie Heasley

They drove through the night, Mia’s four-year-old son dozing in the back seat. 

“Stars,” Orion said. “They’re like humans, wrapped in jewels.” 

His phrasing struck her. Until now, Orion hadn’t witnessed such vast and clear darkness. It was well past his bedtime, but well before he used to stretch and yell, “Daddy! Will you help me carry stuff?”

Jacob wouldn’t be carting Orion’s favorite blanket and stuffed animals from his bedroom to the living room floor, where their sleepy boy would plop and curl up surrounded by Lamb-Lambs and Tigey and Mr. Oinkers. 

Mia sipped her cold gas station coffee and hoped to quiet her mind. She hoped to beat back her tears. Maybe Jake’s leaving would be for the best. 

“Baby,” she said to her son. “That’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever heard.” 


Astronomers claim there are between one-hundred and four-hundred billion stars in the Milky Way. On the ceiling of Orion’s bedroom, there are exactly twenty-seven star stickers, their glow diminished by two nightlights. Jake has counted them while rubbing Orion’s back, willing his hand’s lazy circles to transport his little boy to what Mia calls Lily White’s Party.

A week ago, he told Mia he didn’t feel that spark anymore. He couldn’t find the path to happiness. He longed for the man who painted and camped alone, sleeping with nothing between him and the stars. 


“Poseidon gave Orion the power to walk on water,” Mia said. 

“Like Jesus,” Jake said. 

“Haha, very funny.” 

Mia was more of a non-practicing Buddhist, but looking down at their slumbering son in her arms, she thought, this is holy. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a boy named after a constellation? 


Jake broke Orion’s clavicle. 

Orion, almost two. Jake, closing in on thirty-nine. They’d been sledding Scout’s Hill, the steepest one in the center of the park in the middle of town. Climbing back up for another descent, Jake lost his balance and fell on top of Orion. Lightheaded from the sound of his son’s wailing, he saw stars. It was a freak accident in an otherwise storybook afternoon.  


Mia admired the morning’s coral brushstrokes. Bone tired, her legs ached from hours behind the wheel. Still, was there anything that held more promise than a sunrise? With any luck they’d be in Michigan by sundown. 

“Why is the sun so hot? Why is the sun a star? Why can’t I look at the sun?” 

Why, why, why. Orion, The Great and Curious. She fumbled for answers. Jake was the scientific one. He was the one good at almost anything—golf, skateboarding, cooking, making love, making small talk. A starving artist with an admirable talent for bullshitting. 

“Dick Clark is dead,” Mia insisted. It was the last New Year’s Eve the three of them had spent nestled together in front of the TV. Popcorn and blowouts and goofy paper hats.

“He had Parkinson’s.” 

“No,” Jake said. “I’m pretty sure he’s about to drop the ball on another year.”

Dick had, in fact, died five years earlier from a heart attack, but Jake had been quick to point out their mutual correctness. 

“See,” he said, triumphant after his Googling. He shoved his phone in Mia’s face. “The average life expectancy for somebody with Parkinson’s is about the same as somebody without it.” 


He told her he was broken. He added that he didn’t know who he was anymore. 

Mia said, “Spare me the ‘it isn’t you, it’s me crap.’”

Jake slammed the door and stepped barefoot into their backyard. He struggled to locate the Big Dipper. Too humid, too much Spanish moss, too much light pollution. Jake hated Florida’s weird species of grass, the sharp blades scratching the soles of his feet. When they’d first moved here, he praised their lawn for its low-maintenance appeal. Who had the time to mow every week anyway?  

Jake had nothing but time, though. He couldn’t recall when he’d last picked up a paintbrush. He hadn’t sold a single painting since they moved to this godforsaken suburban swamp. 


“Oh, for Christ’s sake, he’s just like your father.” The first thing her mom said when Mia told her the news. “He had a midlife crisis, too.”

Just once, Mia wished her mom would star as the role of mother. 


She remembered reading something about an orca who carried her dead calf for seventeen days. Mia guessed this was close to the same timeframe her body clung to its petri dish pregnancy.

Four years past advanced maternal age, eight years of trying with only miscarriages to show for it, three months after they’d thrown in the towel—Jake deadset against adoption—and poof, voila, what might as well have been immaculate conception. Sweet Orion, Their Savior. 

Stars and garters, a baby boy! Mia didn’t tell Jake she’d prayed for a miracle. 


Jake asked, “Where’s the joy?”

Orion sat at their secondhand kitchen table with the mismatched stools drawing green and brown blobs he called alien puppies. About every thirty seconds he erupted with the sounds of explosions. 

“Your life is far from over,” Mia said. “Find your muse and go back to painting.” 

Her heart was in the right place, but Jake no longer felt inspired by the thought of his wife posing naked on the lawn in the wee hours, the bright fixture of Polaris offering them reassurance. Her body was a beautiful but too familiar landscape. 

He watched Mia watch Orion, her expression a mixture of bliss and jet lag. Jake wondered if mothering filled her with delight. 


Mia had made sacrifices, too. 

Back when she was breastfeeding, she’d joked about the life being sucked out of her. Before her son, she’d never held a newborn. She’d never changed a single diaper before Orion’s. Mia indulged in co-sleeping despite the experts’ warnings. She fed Orion rice cereal before four months. Her guilty pleasure when he kept her up at night: Dancing with the Stars

Now she was a marketing specialist working for boring and demanding clients at a respected firm. Could she still check the box labeled “good mother”? Did men shoulder the same anvil of guilt?

There was still time for her true calling, though. There were plenty of days ahead of Mia to write that Great American Novel. If only she had more stamina after coming home from the office. 

But her Orion—worth his six pounds, eleven ounces in gold. 


Jake realized their family had never once sprawled out on a bed of grass, their eyes staring up into the black quilt pinpricked with diamonds. He had failed at so much, including pointing out his son’s namesake.

She could survive a few weeks living with her mother. Mia could find a new job in her old town, the same predictable place where she was born. Snow in winter. Fireflies in summer. Trees shades of fire in autumn. 

Disenchantment, the only season she and Jake had weathered in sunny Florida. She’d said she would follow him to the goddamn ends of the earth if it made him happy. The first time Mia saw him all those years ago, she’d been starstruck. She loved the hair his parents hated: long and dyed aquamarine, shaved on one side. 

Jake’s hair had thinned with age, the cyan yielding to browns and grays. The shaved hairs her fingertips had caressed during sex, long gone. 




When had they last kissed? How long had it been since Jake had touched her beyond a halfhearted, one-armed hug? 

Mia and Orion had just passed the birthplace of James Dean, symbol of freedom and lust and youth. Thank God they were less than an hour from crossing the Michigan line. 

Orion squealed, “Mommy, mommy, I gotta go potty!” 

They had pulled over thirty minutes ago. Mia yelled at him for repeatedly turning on the bathroom hand driers, then laughing and plugging his ears from their deafening sound. 

The air outside had cooled and the sky’s blue had softened. In the parking lot of the rest stop, Orion did something she and Jake had absolutely-positively forbidden him to do. He let go of Mommy or Daddy’s hand in a strange place full of strangers. 

Orion dropped his prized stuffed animal and ran ahead in a terrifying blur. Before she scooped up Lamb-Lambs and ran after him, Mia paused to shield her eyes from the dying sun. She didn’t like Jake and she also knew she’d never stop loving him. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put her heart back together again. 

From the sidewalk, enveloped by twilight, Mia saw her destiny. There her sweet Orion was, safe and sound, peeking at her from around the side of an out-of-order vending machine.

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