I am standing in the front garden of a suburban home about five miles from the centre of Boise, Idaho, listening to my landlady’s son and his friends having a merry little late-night methamphetamine party in the garage
I was outside to watch a meteor storm. It was a scintillatingly frosty night, and the sky, black through clouds of frosted breath, was gloriously clear. And the meteors mindblowing. I’d not seen a meteor storm before.
I’d seen meteorite showers before. English meteor showers: a sort of theatre of disappointment. On the rare nights with good seeing conditions, my dad would go out with me into the garden, and we’d stand on the lawn and stamp about and stare at the sky, and I’d get a crick in my neck, and slowly my dreams of the heavens crashing with streaks of equinoctual fire were ruined. ‘Success’ seemed to mean maybe two shooting stars in a minute. If we were lucky.
What was happening above me, that late night in Boise, was a meteor storm. And I realised, as meteor followed meteor in long, scratched, scorched trajectories, sometimes as many as three a second — I stood out there for an hour — that these streaks of fire in the sky weren’t what was sending shivers down the spine. It was sublime for another reason: the sheer number of trails allowed your brain to see, distinctly, the precise area of black sky which was sending us these tiny specks of dust and dirt and ice. Space parallax! The sublime part of it was the way it it pointed outward, away from earth, to somewhere else, unimaginably distant. Made infinity visible.
My landlady’s son’s inexorable methamphetamined slide into psychosis was in full swing at this point. I was already having to hide my telemetry set. He had already asked me if I knew who had implanted homing devices in his teeth, and several times had asked me, urgently and sadly, how it was possible that people could steal your thoughts. Some part of him was rebelling against the craziness, knew that it wasn’t physically possible. But the overwhelming conviction that it was happening, that his thoughts were being stolen, was winning. Ghastly.
He’d heard me, or seen me, out there. And suddenly, he was out of the garage and walking up to me. His white face fixed me with a slightly uncomprehending, if intent, stare. I said, “Hello Mark”. There was a long pause.
“What are you doing out here” he finally said, with jumpy emphasis.
“I’m watching a meteor storm” I said.
“What?” he said.
“Look” I said, and pointed up. At that moment, three more streaked over, searing the sky with trails.
“It’s like the war” he said, amazed. “Guys! Guys!” And he went and got all his wasted friends and we all sat there, everyone but me wired to the gills, watching shooting stars. It was oddly companionable. “Cheers Helen” they said. “Let us know when it’s happening again, and we’ll go out to the desert and watch it. You can come too”.