His wife’s shrieking voice circumnavigated their tiny home planet. There was no escaping it. He could be on the other side of the world and still hear:
“Harold! I need you to—”
“Yes, dear,” he said, sighing and stubbing out his unfinished cigarette on an ash stained rock.
He walked home.
“There you are,” his wife said. “What were you doing?”
Before he could answer: “I need you to clean the gutters. They’re clogged with stardust again.”
Harold slowly retrieved his ladder from the shed and propped it against the side of their house. He looked at the stars above, wondering how long he’d been married and whether things had always been like this. He couldn’t remember. There had always been the wife. There had always been their planet.
Her voice pierced him. “Yes, dear?”
“Are you going to stand there, or are you going to clean the gutters?”
“Clean the gutters,” he said.
He went up the ladder and peered into the gutters. They were indeed clogged with stardust. Must be from the last starshower, he thought. It had been a powerful one.
His wife watched with her hands on her hips.
Harold got to work.
“Harold?” his wife said after a while.
If there was one good thing about cleaning the gutters, it was that his wife’s voice sounded a little quieter up here. “Yes, dear?”
“How is it going?”
“When will you be done?”
He wasn’t sure. “Perhaps in an hour or two,” he said.
“Dinner will be ready in thirty minutes, but don’t come down until you’re done.”
He wouldn’t have dared.
Three hours later, he was done. The gutters were clean and the sticky stardust had been collected into several containers. He carried each carefully down the ladder, and went inside for dinner.
After eating, he reclined in his favourite armchair and went to light his pipe—
“Have you disposed of the stardust?”
He put the pipe down. “Not yet.”
His hand hovered, dreading the words he knew were coming. He was so comfortable in his armchair.
“You should dispose of the stardust, Harold.”
He emptied the stardust from each container onto a wheelbarrow, and pushed the wheelbarrow to the other side of the world.
He gazed longingly at the ash stained rock.
He had a cigarette in his pocket.
There was no way she—
“Yes, dear?” he yelled.
“How is it going?”
His usual way of disposing of stardust was to dig a hole and bury it. However, in his haste he had forgotten his shovel. He pondered whether to go back and get it, but decided that there would be no harm in simply depositing the stardust on the ground and burying it later.
He tipped the wheelbarrow forward and the stardust poured out.
It twinkled beautifully in the starlight, and Harold touched it with his hand. It was malleable but firm. He took a bunch and shaped it into a ball. Then he threw the ball. The stardust kept its shape. Next Harold sat and began forming other shapes of the stardust, and those shapes became castles and the castles became more complex and—
“Are you finished?”
Harold went to kick down his stardust castle to destroy the evidence of his play time only to find that he couldn’t. The construction was too solid. Something in the stardust had changed.
He bent down and a took a little unshaped stardust into his hand, then spread it across his palm until he could make out the individual grains.
Then he took one grain and placed it carefully next to another.
He added a third and fourth.
But for the first time since he could rememeber, Harold ignored his wife.
He was too busy adding grains of stardust together until they were not grains but a strand, and a stiff strand at that.
Once he’d made the strand long enough, it became effectively a stick.
He thrust the stick angrily into the ground—
And it stayed.
“Harold, answer me!”
He pushed the stick, but it was firmly planted. Every time he made it lean in any direction, it rebounded as soon as he stopped applying pressure, wobbled and came eventually to rest in its starting position.
He kept adding grains to the top of the stick until it was too high to reach.
“Harold, don’t make me come out there. Do you hear?”
Harold stuffed stardust into his pockets and began to climb the impossibly thin tower he had built. It was surprisngly easy. The stickiness of the stardust provided ample grip.
As he climbed, he added grains.
“Harold! Come here this instant! I’m warning you. If I have to go out there to find you…”
His wife’s voice sounded a little more remote from up here, and with every grain added and further distance ascended, more and more remote.
Soon Harold was so far off the ground he could see his own house, and his wife trudging angrily away from it. “Harold,” she was saying distantly. “Harold, that’s it. Today you have a crossed a line. You are a bad husband, Harold. A lazy, good for nothing—”
She had spotted Harold’s stardust tower and was heading for it. Harold looked up at the stars and realized that soon he would be among them.
Not far now.
He saw his wife reach the base of the tower, but if she was saying something, he could no longer hear it.
He had peace at last.
He hugged the stardust and basked in the silence.
Suddenly the tower began to sway—to wobble—
Harold held on.
He saw far below the tiny figure of his wife violently shaking the tower.
There became a resonance.
Then a sound, but this was not the sound of his wife. It was far grander and more spatial—
Somewhere in the universe a new particle vibrated into existence.