This was a music video treatment for the song “This Year’s Love” by David Gray.
I decided rather than pitch a whole video idea I would write a short story as a starting point.
MAPS TO THE STARS
by DAVID SLADE
Monday 11am and John Gilmore Harris stood under a small dark cloud that poured out a thick deluge upon him. He looked up at the otherwise blue sky without surprise.
Drenched in the hot sun and shivering as people crossed the street to avoid him John looked down curiously at the flier that he’d just been handed.
He was curious on a number of counts:
Firstly he was curious because, though there were many people handing out all kinds of fliers in this part of downtown, this was the first time anyone had bothered to hand one to him.
Secondly he was curious because this was not an ordinary flier, it seemed that this flier was meant for him, or people like him. He could say this with certainty as the flier was sealed inside a zip lock bag, the kind you would put leftover food in.
Thirdly, it was handed out by a kid of about nine who didn’t seem to be accompanied by anyone and in this part of town that was curious, and more than a little dangerous.
“This is all odd”, he thought as he looked down at the kid. She was wearing yellow rubber gloves, a yellow plastic raincoat, and a yellow plastic souwester hat and at arms length she held up a small umbrella.
She seemed happy enough.
He turned the ziplock bag over, on one side it had numbers, on the other the word “hope”.
“This something religious?” he asked, his voice felt odd in his mouth and the words came out a little louder than he expected them to.
The kid was taken aback and shot him a scalding look, she said “maps…” her face twisted up like a young bulldog, “..maps to the stars”.
John looked back at the kid, focussing as best he could which was not so well with the constant rain. “You mean maps to the stars homes?”
“Nooohh!” the kid added an exaggerated pause, then elongating each word like she was talking to an idiot “…m-a-p-s t-o t-h-e s-t-a-r-s’. The kid waited for comprehension and when John showed no outward signs pointed to the side of the flier with numbers then explained “Latitude and longitude” John crouched down and looked her in the eye “oh! I see” he mouthed, responding to her pause with some exaggeration of his own.
The kid shook her head from side to side and John was going to say more but his vision shifted focus again and by the time things were back to normal she walked off around the corner.
The rain hammered down, just on John. Everywhere else was dry.
He had no idea if his sadness had brought the rain or the rain had brought his sadness, his memory didn’t seem to focus back more than a couple of weeks. These days the rain was always with him, a small cloud that hovered a few feet over his head hammering him with a down pour that seemed perpetual. He raised his eyes to the cloud and sighed out loud, it was still the only cloud in an otherwise blue sky.
John pocketed the flier and took a step to his left, the rain cloud shifted left with him. He took a step to the right and it drifted back. He walked slowly down the street, watched people dive out of the way to avoid him as he headed off home.
Monday 11pm - John reeled back and cursed as he took an electric shock off the light switch above his bed. He pulled on a rubber glove and switched it out. Long rays of soft moonlight poured in through his bedroom window, rain still hit him from the omnipresent cloud, just under his bedroom ceiling. His bed had a tarpaulin for a cover but tonight he didn’t bother to get under it as the darkness enveloped him he curled up under the cloud.
Tuesday 12noon, John picked up his food from a take away burger window, and as he sat on a downtown bench with rain rippling the surface of his coffee he pulled out the flier reading the numbers off the back out loud.
“Between 51.5 degrees and 55.5 north, and 5.5 degrees and 10.5 degrees west.”
Later he bought a map from a military surplus store; the kind that has a plastic coated surface and traced the co-ordinates.
The isolation hit John in starts and fit, he would go weeks without talking to anyone. When someone struck up conversation he was so grateful of the company that he would talk in excited bursts, that would usually scare off his potential companions. He got wise to this after a while.
Friday 10am it was raining. He loved the rain when it came from the wider heavens above, it allowed him to walk freely.
It was only in the general rain that he could get close enough to people in the street to initiate conversation. In Los Angeles it doesn’t rain, not for months and months and when it does it might just be for one day. After months of solitude he would be nervous of talking, he reasoned that without practice he might talk like a madman, and when you talk like a madman in downtown LA you guarantee an audience that consists largely of mad men.
But this day was different he had managed to strike up a conversation with a young woman sheltering in a doorway, it was all going well when the rain suddenly stopped. Johns cloud persisted and the girl made her excuses pretty soon.
He strolled a few blocks then stopped. He looked up for a second at the cloud and then set off running, the cloud drifted behind him, he ran for three blocks before he was out of breath and the rain cloud caught up.
Saturday 4pm - John brushed off the crazed young man with dreaded hair. Last month the crazed kid had talked to him in friendly tones, got him to accompany him to his car, he told him about a great view just over the wall, the dread head had climbed up on the car roof and asked him to join him.
“Up here man, you can see the whole of downtown just over this ridge” John climbed up on the roof of the car. There was no view; he had been taken for a ride, that was the last time he played the role of free car wash.
He made money though, it was tough getting to his job at first but after a while he sorted out a travel arrangement with a guy called Joe who had an open back pick up truck.
He worked on Thursdays and Wednesdays. He would arrive in a suburban neighbourhood, a place more affluent than downtown but not enough to have personal lawn sprinklers. This was his gig; he worked as many neighbourhoods as he could pacing grass lawns for ten dollars a time.
At first people would be unwilling to pay him, but as he explained that he was watering their lawn and that he was not prepared too do it for free, they would get a worried look about them and pay him the ten dollars. Sometimes they would give him the ten dollars as he arrived and he wouldn’t have to take more than a few strides about their lawns. They would say things like ”Please, just go” and didn’t seem to care about their lawns at all.
Soon he had regular customers, and after a while he earned enough to pay his rent and buy food, which was better than begging. He got the money in plastic ziplock bags which he would stash in his sodden pockets next to the crumpled flier and the military surplus map.
For the first week he expected to die from hypothermia, the thought terrified him and seldom left his mind. He thought of buying a wetsuit and wearing it under his clothes, but he couldn’t hope to earn that kind of money. After the first month he began to worry about it less and less. After the second month he thought about it once or twice and after the third month never gave it a second thought.
It was Billy that made him go to the co-ordinates, Billy would hang out in downtown alleys. John had struck up a few conversations with him in a recent rainy season, but John didn’t much like Billy, he was strange.
There were two strange things about Billy. The first was that he had bugs crawling all over him, at least that’s what he said, John never saw any evidence of this, but Billy was adamant. “Huge bugs the size of mice!” he would say. Another strange thing about Billy was that didn’t seem to mind the rain. John thought at first that Billy was after a free shower, to get rid of the bugs, but Billy never came that close to him.
Something worried John about Billy, he didn’t seem to notice the rain, and John didn’t seem to notice the bugs and something about this whole arrangement unsettled him.
He hitched a ride with Joe again. Joe wanted a lot more money than usual as the co-ordinates were way out past Vasquez in the middle of the dessert. John had to do a lot of suburban lawn walking to support the trip but eventually he had $100 cash in a wet ziplock, Joe took over half of it and didn’t even wait for him. As soon as John dismounted the tailgate of his truck Billy floored it and left him by the roadside.
John walked through the desert, leaving a wet trail that evaporated quickly in the hot sun. It took him three hours to find the co-ordinates; there in the desert was a small storm. There were others there, others like him, about six or seven people sitting at a point in the dessert all hammered by torrential rain, all with individual clouds of their own.
They greeted him as he approached, all of them happy to see him, and somehow he seemed to recognise some of them, there was a familiarity in their faces and it gladdened his heart. He saw all around there, that in this barren part of the world all kinds of flowers had sprung into being, small unusual plants, small desert flowers and beautiful flowering grass.
He sat in the blistering heat for hours and though he felt weak, for the first time in recent memory he felt the sadness begin to lift from him. Everyone was so nice to him. They told him that he shouldn’t worry about hypothermia and how they had all seen Billy’s bugs, they were huge “Like rats!” and as his melancholy lifted completely so did the rain clouds.
They lifted higher and higher and he wondered why when the rain was gone, was his vision still blurry?
But this didn’t worry him as his new friends explained it all. They told him not to worry about the weakness, it was to be expected after such a long period of sadness. Then they took him in their arms and told him the best thing for him right now was to lay down and rest.
So he lay back and as his breathing slowed in the blistering heat he realised that he couldn’t seem to work out when was now and how much was then, and that everything, even that very moment, seemed to have become the past.
And as everything became the past he looked up at the now darkening sky and stared as the stars came slowly closer and closer.
© David Slade / January 2001