My younger sister was pregnant at eighteen. It was no surprise. Airy-fairy, dopey Stella was innocent but deluded. She refused to tell anyone who put the baby in her belly. When Astrea was born, I said, “Come on, Stell. You can trust me. Who’s the daddy?” She shook her head and turned away. She was a frightened kid, so I didn’t press it.
She was too gullible to take care of herself, and the father, whoever and wherever he was, didn’t offer, so I did. We’d been brought up in a council care home and we had no other family, so I was lumbered. I was around while Astrea was growing up; growing teeth; growing curious; and I was around when she asked the big question: "Mummy, where did I come from? How did I get here?”
Stella pulled a clean-ish handkerchief out of her pocket and wiped the snot from her six-year-old daughter’s face. “Okay, baby,” she said. “This is a magical story, but it’s true.” I guessed we were about to be fed a stomach full of trippy-hippy candyfloss. “About fourteen billion years ago, which is not such a long time, the whole universe was packed inside a tiny speck, smaller than your fingernail.” Here comes the cosmology lesson, I thought. “Then it exploded, sending a shower of dust flying out into the darkness.” She waved her arms around in a fair-to-middling demonstration of the Big Bang. “It made the sun, moon, planets and every star in the sky. When one of them blows up, more dust flies out. We’re all made from it, even you. You come from stardust.”
Pass the sick bucket. I wanted to scream, “Tell the child who fathered her,” but the little girl gave us a gap-toothed grin, and appeared to be well impressed.
When Stella was twenty-eight she disappeared, leaving me to raise her ten-year old speck of cosmic debris. The police came up with nothing. They said if she chose to run off and abandon her daughter there was nothing that they could do. We’d have to suck it up.
Astrea’s a young woman now. She spends a lot of time gazing out of the window at the night sky, playing Stella’s album collection and singing along with The Doors and Joni Mitchell. She’s stardust and she’s looking for the garden. I wish she could feel at home on earth, but she has no anchorage.
“Close the curtains on outer space, Astrea,” I say. “You won’t find Eden up there. You belong here, stardust or not.”
“Nothing here is real,” she says. “Flesh is an illusion. I’m trapped in flesh but I’m more than that. I was sired by a star.”
“You sound like your mother”
“I don’t look like her though. Do I?”
She stares into her mirror, searching for her lineage in the contours of her own face. I can’t bring myself to say it, but although he was long dead when she was conceived, she looks a lot like Jim Morrison.
* UK-based Maureen Bowden describes herself as "Just an old fashioned girl who writes stories." She's now had over 60 poems and stories accepted by paying markets and last year Silver Pen publishers nominated one of her stories for the 2015 international Pushcart Prize.