Journal of Writing & Environment

I made a more convincing boy than James did, somehow. My brother’s clothes, stolen from his wardrobe while he was on one of his weekend hikes near Mt. Rainier, seemed to fit me better than they did him. He was the one who slouched within them as if he hadn’t been invited, as if he were in disguise. He was maybe half a foot taller than me then—I had to triple-cuff the trousers and roll the sleeves to keep them from swallowing my hands. But the fabric felt like less than usual, not more. I was thirteen and didn’t yet have a woman’s body, but still James’s vest hugged me close at my waist and hips. I piled my hair at the crown of my head and pulled a flat-brimmed hat snug over it. The open air tickling my neck felt strange. Different. Good.

In his lectures on the development of life, reprinted in Century Magazine a few years before—issues I’d thumbed through countless times while my father humphed and spoke loudly of “Lowell’s nonsense”— Professor Lowell had noted that only fire and clothing had given man independence and power over his surroundings. That the toga allowed us to take possession of the Earth. I lifted my chin and regarded myself in the full-length mirror fixed to the back of my bedroom door. Everything that made me a plain girl—wide, square jaw, thick brows, thin lips and lashes—made me, I fancied, a believable and maybe even attractive boy. In James’s clothes, the power of the disguise, I believed Lowell more than ever. I felt beautiful in that outfit, turning in the mirror in the moments before I slipped out the window to search for Percival Lowell at the World’s Fair.


It was 1909 then, and my father had been lecturing on astronomy at the University of Washington since before I could remember. He filled the university halls with neatly spaced rows of young men gathering education about them like fuel for whatever sparked when their four years were up. Every now and then my father would have a student or two with a genuine interest in his lessons—the phases of the moon; the movement of celestial bodies. One man with earnest eyebrows and thin shoulders ate Christmas dinner with us when he couldn’t afford the trip home from Seattle to Chicago. When the year ended, he gave my father a card made of deep blue stock with stars punched through to form the constellation Orion, and an inscription of thanks in silver ink. My father read it once and folded it in a desk drawer. Mostly, though, his students had little interest in his classes. They were preparing to be bankers, lawyers, businessmen—not astronomers. He had to turn to our mother, to James and me, for more willing or at least unchanging students. My memories of my youth are full of clumsy star charts and simple models of the solar system, paint drying on newsprint by the fire.

I jackknifed myself out the window and felt for the grass with kicking feet—clumsy. I’d never done this before, and was in a borrowed body to boot. I slid across the sill, scraping my stomach, until my feet hit the ground, and I stumbled back a step. On instinct I glanced at the sky. It was mid-afternoon. Sunday. My father would still be several hours in his study, glowering at the scribbled diagrams that were meant to become a book on Mars and thinking about James. About James not going to college.

I had plenty of time.

I resettled my new clothes and took long strides toward the streetcar that would take me to the university campus. To the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific exposition, now near the end of its second month. To find Lowell and convince him to convince my father—about Mars; about me.


My father hated Lowell; he talked about him like a child with whom he was losing patience. “Why do they let him publish?” he’d scoffed whenever I passed him the copies of Century, dog-eared pages marking Lowell’s diagrams of Mars’s deserts and polar caps—and canals. The canals enraged my father most of all. “Everyone knows those aren’t canals,” he’d fumed, drumming his fingers arrhythmically on the tabletop until my mother reached out from behind her newspaper to still them. “Half of them, nobody can see but him. And they’re just shadows, barely anything. It’s not—” he’d shove the magazines across the table, a huff of hot breath as if that had propelled them. “It’s not a game,” he said. “It’s not a game.”

It’s not a game, I thought, swinging—alone!—onto the streetcar for the first test of my disguise. I raised my chin at the ticket-taker as I’d done in the mirror, fixing him with a defiant stare. He took my money, barely looking. I steadied myself and rattled north.

What my father didn’t like was Lowell’s theory that Mars was inhabited—or had been. Is, I thought, shifting my grip to avoid stumbling as the streetcar labored around a corner. Most of the field was skeptical—the year after the Century lectures, Alfred Russel Wallace had published the assertion that Mars was too cold, its atmospheric pressure too low, for liquid water. But Lowell saw evidence of an ancient civilization, dying slowly of thirst. Professor Lowell saw that Mars was Earth’s future, its prophet planet. It had once formed and cooled like our world; once been covered by massive seas which had incubated life—“as inevitable a phase of planetary evolution as is quartz or feldspar or nitrogenous soil.” The life had evolved into man, Martian man, and he had carried on growing and dominating his world—fire and clothing—while the oceans shrank, then disappeared. As ours will someday. Now Martian man must dig canals—geometric, enormous, phenomenally straight, said Lowell, visible through his telescope in Flagstaff and in his diagrams. Canals fetching water from the polar snows in their seasonal thaw. The canals were the semaphore of the Martians, their call to us across the void. “A world athirst,” all Sahara, its people millions of miles away but visible to us through the manifestation of their minds, their actions.

When Lowell had written the University’s astronomers to say that he’d be giving a lecture on his research in Japan at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Expo, my father had refused to read the letter all the way to the offer of consultation on their astronomical research. “Let the department heads put up with him,” he said. “I have too much work to do to entertain the fool.”

But my father’s work was failing. We were losing James, losing him to the woods and their industries of buzzing saws and heavy lifting. He meant to find work as a logger. My father was reeling, throwing himself into the Mars research he’d hoped James might someday help him with. I didn’t know why he was so dismissive of Lowell, the man who could have been his colleague. The man who was so enchanted by the cosmos my father struggled with, each academic paper a work of hard labor. I didn’t understand then that he and I saw science differently, that the same sentences, the same facts or lies or questions, could work different magic in our brains. My father was fraying, threatening to snap, and he was straining to see Mars but refusing to hear Professor Lowell. Refusing also to hear me—thirteen and wan, forming thoughts too carefully, too slowly to join or parry his rants. In his premature mourning for James’s life as he’d predicted it unfolding, my father had never once turned to encouraging me to take his place.

The campus was unbelievably changed for the fair—a whole city of buildings hastily erected where a few years ago there’d been only three structures and a forest. We’d gone as a family on the opening weekend, the month before. That day the grounds were mobbed, thousands of people in their Sunday best nearly crushing each other in their enthusiasm. I’d stayed close to my mother—the Japanese Tea Room; exhibits on the Klondike gold rush; a crowded stroll down the fair’s main avenue with Mt. Rainier in the distance. A brass band’s fanfare had echoed off every surface. We’d stayed away from the Pay Streak, with its rides and games. James and my father had walked it, though, and shelled out an extra fifty cents apiece for a glimpse of the human exhibits. James had told me about them in the hall between our bedrooms that night—Eskimeaux from Alaska’s Siberia, he’d said. Villagers from the Philippines who’d done a tribal dance James tried to imitate, careening between the narrow walls. We’d left after a few hours, all of us sapped by the heat and crowds, my father’s mouth set in a thin line at the trampling and ornamentation of the campus he saw as his.

On my second visit the entrance gate was much calmer as I approached it—a long, shallow fan of booths separated by white columns, each manned by a ticket-taker with ramrod posture and a bowler hat. “Enjoy yourself,” mine said as he took my money—my father’s money. He raised his eyebrows as if we shared a secret. I steeled myself against blushing. I’m a boy, I reminded myself. Today, I’ve earned this.

I entered the fair just after four o’clock, with still an hour to go before Professor Lowell’s lecture. I paused for a moment just past the entrance, an awkward rock interrupting the flow of people heading toward the Japan exhibit, the Alaska buildings, the food stalls. I can do anything, I thought, and started for the Pay Streak.

I didn’t pay to see the Eskimeaux or Pacific Islanders or other human exhibits. I was saving my money, and I knew about them from James. But there was something gripping about the roped and curtained areas that housed the exhibits. I heard the loud, booming barks of sled dogs, the beat of drums. Sounds escaping—they couldn’t charge me for listening. I sat on a bench where the baying of the dogs mingled with the bouncy tune from an orchestra assembled around the corner, and studied the posted advertisement—a woman in a fur parka and laced hide boots, impractically sporting short sleeves. She had one foot raised and resting on a sledge, leather traces harnessing dogs that had been painted with bright, happy eyes and lolling tongues. The woman seemed to stare back at me—dark eyes, dark hair, dark skin. “See Alaska’s Siberian Eskimeaux!” the poster urged me. “50 cents per adult.”

I wondered if there were Martian Eskimeaux—if anyone lived at the poles of that red planet, wore the furs of some otherworldly creatures. Rode sledges pulled by alien dogs whose calls I couldn’t imagine. My father would have curdled at the thought. But here was evidence of such a people on Earth, which seemed no less fantastic to me. No more likely that a civilization could flourish in the Klondike and Yukon and by our North Pole. No more believable that we had explored there and lived to tell about it—sent a gold rush’s worth of desperate American miners north from Seattle, with few provisions and not a dime to spare after their steamship passage was paid. Was it any more nonsensical, to suppose Mars was inhabited? To suppose someone from our world could get there? I’d seen men walking the streets of Seattle who had made their fortunes in the Klondike territory—found gold, found peace, found purpose. There was a certain kind of mind that needed frontier to sharpen itself. I felt, listening to strange dogs and imagining their masters, that Earth’s corners were almost all filled in. It was time to look elsewhere.

Someone sat down heavily beside me on the bench, and I jumped a little. It was a woman in a worn lilac dress, laughing and pulling a young man down to sit beside her. Something wrapped in wax paper crinkled in her other hand; the smell of fried dough wafted from it as she flailed it near me. “That’s better!” the woman said, stretching her legs like a man’s. Her boots crept from under her dress, resting on the spikes of their heels. She took a bite from her wax-wrapped pastry, her chewing a wet mulching sound. She dusted sugar from her cheeks and caught me staring. “Hello there,” she said. Her—husband? Brother?—sat forward beside her, seeming to appear out of thin air. They both looked at me as though I had colonized their bench and not the other way around. There was something unfocused about them. “Which country’re you from?” the man asked abruptly, and the woman laughed, spraying crumbs.

They’re drunk, I realized, the thrill and fear of it spreading across my shoulders. I’d seen this kind of glassy flush before, on my parents and their friends at holiday parties. Once James had crashed accidentally into my room instead of his, sneaking in late from a night out. Smelling like a naturalist’s lab, he’d asked me in a sloppy whisper not to tell on him. I hadn’t. And now these strangers. But how? The campus was dry. The fair was dry. They must have come in drunk. Or else—

“I said,” the man began again, good natured, “which country—”

“Yours,” I interrupted.

He smiled. This was the first time I’d spoken in my disguise. Apparently my voice was deep enough. “I believe it,” he said. “I mean, I believe it.” He appraised me, hat to shoe. I wondered if he could tell. If he’d think I was a hermaphrodite, a freak escaped from a tent up the Streak.

After a moment he ducked a fist into his coat pocket and reached out to shake my hand. “Ben!” the woman scolded. “He’s a baby!” But she was laughing.

I was proud to have earned my first handshake, and scandalized to touch him. But in the rough warmth of it, I found myself palming a metal flask, hot from his pocket. He widened his eyes at me, encouraging. I felt his attention as a woman, I felt his respect as a man—and the combined thrill of it felt like a champagne christening. It was double-power I’d never felt before. I spun the cap of the flask almost brazenly. The woman shushed me as though the gesture had been a sound. She turned me sideways and shielded me with her body, so I took my swigs behind a screen of flowery perfume and lilac muslin. My first drink was experimental and timid, with a little sputtering as the liquor—I couldn’t name it yet, though now I know it was gin—burned at the back of my throat. But I learned fast, and the second pull was deeper.

“Thank you,” I gasped a little, passing it back. It was a Sunday; we were almost within sight of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union booth. These facts made me flutter and float sooner and more than I might have on liquor alone.

“Have you seen the incubator babies?” the woman asked, as if continuing a conversation.

“No,” I said. I blinked to clear water from my eyes. “I’m saving my—”

“Oh, take his card,” she said, reaching a hand toward the man—Ben—and beckoning with her fingers. “He won’t go again; we haven’t been in ages, and David bought us season passes.” She didn’t explain who David was. Ben fumbled in his pockets and produced a worn card, which he handed to me. “Baby Incubator, A.Y.P. Exposition Season Pass, for Benjamin Rose. Positively Not Transferrable, Taken Up and Destroyed if Used by any Other Person.”

“They won’t make you sign for it,” the woman assured me as my face fell. “He hasn’t used it in ages, and they’re just mobbed.”

I studied the signature anyway, trying to decide if I could trace it. “Alright,” I said slowly, fuzzily. When I looked up, they were gone.

The Baby Incubator Exhibit was between the Temple of Palmistry and the Gold Camps of Alaska. The ticket was only twenty-five cents; I could have paid it. But it felt important just then to trick someone. I was feeling light, a kind of rushing in my ears (or behind them) that made me feel like I was thinking faster, moving more deliberately than anyone else. I put Ben’s card on the ticket table like I owned it, like I was on the fair’s executive committee. I stared at the clerks, buzzing. They waved me in.

A slow-moving line filed into the exhibit. I wondered if I had the time to wait, then waited. It felt easy for my body to spend the time, like my brain couldn’t make my limbs understand its urgency. I kept my eyes fixed on the shoulders of the man in front of me as the tweed pattern of his coat began to swim, undulating gently.

Inside the building was open and sparsely furnished—clean wood floors, light streaming in from transom windows. The ceiling was stenciled with a pattern of ivy vines. Nonsensically, the far wall was lined with live palm trees in tiny pots. The columns in the middle of the room had been wrapped in brown cloth and studded with waxy false palm fronds. I leaned to rest my hand against one, blinking at the solid scratch of the fibers. I wondered what time it was. It took me a moment to see the incubators, staggered between the live trees against the wall. They were square, raised to eye-level, with glass fronts. Nurses, or women in nurses’ uniforms, stood between them and kept a bored watch. I moved forward. I gripped the brass handrail and breathed through my mouth. I leaned toward the nearest incubator.

The baby was incredibly tiny. I didn’t know if this was because it was premature or something common to all infants. Its face was soft and fragile, ugly in a sweet way. It was asleep, or seemed to be. Tiny knuckles nearly grazed the glass. It was impossible to see that fist—small as a single joint on one of my fingers—and not imagine it being hurt, crushed. The baby looked too small to be a person, too small to be alive. James has been that small, I thought. I have been that small. Our parents have been that helpless, that incapable. I almost couldn’t imagine it—until, unbidden, a new part of my brain unlocked itself and said, its father doesn’t care it’s here, either.

I leaned so far forward that my breath fogged the glass. My brain tilted, dangerously. I was drawn in; I was repulsed. Bodies shuffled by behind me, rows and rows of paying customers. I stared. I wondered if this was how we would get to Mars—these glass bubbles, this plush lining, us swaddled and pathetic in a void we didn’t understand. I swallowed. I hoped the Martians would have better answers than I did, when their breath fogged our glass. I’d bring them water, carried in tiny fists. Once Lowell convinced him that his way, my way, was science too, my father and I would—I stumbled back: Lowell’s lecture. How long had I been there? The light through the transoms was dimming. I listed to the left as I ran for the exit, overcorrected and caught my hip painfully against the doorjamb. “Careful, young man!” a nurse called as I left.

I tried to take the Pay Streak in a panicked sprint, but my feet caught themselves and tripped me until I had to slow my pace. I got lost, twice. Then three times, turned around and retracing my own steps past the garish exhibits. I cupped my hands over my ears against the crowd’s noise and heard the roar of the ocean. The roar of rocket fuel.


“No,” was all I could think to say at first when the attendant told me the lecture was full, that it was halfway over anyway. “No.” I moved as if to pass him, to breeze by as easily as I had the entrance gates, the incubator exhibit. But my disguise had no power here. The attendant caught my arm and held me back, placing himself between me and the red-cedar doors to the exhibition hall. He was strong, with calluses I could feel through James’s sleeve. It seemed like he belonged on the Midway, barking prizes or pulling levers on a carousel, not guarding a lecture hall. “Listen, kid,” he said. He wasn’t much older than I was, I thought. Taller, though. Much taller. “There’s plenty else to do. You like Japan? Where’s your map, let me show you where there’s—”

I shook my head. “No map,” I said, my voice muffled in my own ears. “And not Japan. Mars.”

His face blanked and reset. He studied me, hard. “Oh,” he said. “Lowell.” He glanced up at someone over my shoulder. “Hey, Carson,” he said. “Keep a watch for second while I help this kid?”

“Wait,” I said, my mouth sandy, as he started to lead me away. “Wait, I’ll talk to him when he comes out.”

The attendant stared. “Lowell?”

I nodded.

“Talk to him about what?”

I spread my palms, then decided—after a long blink, too long—that they looked too delicate. I stuffed my hands into my pockets. “Mars,” I repeated, barely any breath behind the sound.

“Okay,” the attendant said carefully. “Well, they’ll be at it for another half an hour. Let me show you something in the meantime.”

It wasn’t far, or I might not have followed him. We just crossed the nearest dirt track, now half-lit in dusk, and teetered on the very edge of the Pay Streak. “You have any money?” the attendant asked me.

“I’m saving—”

He held up a blocky hand; I stared at his fingers. “It’s fine,” he said. “This way.”

He led me down the dark aisles behind the Pay Streak booths—from this angle, we passed one, two, three unpainted wooden buildings and heard the muffled sales pitches of the ringmasters within—and rapped his knuckles on the door of the fourth. The door was raised a few feet off the ground, the temporary building’s pre-set foundation a poor match for the low hill it rested on. “We got an astronomy enthusiast,” the attendant said when the door opened, laughter in his tone that might have been mocking. “C’mere,” he said, and with no further warning he boosted me through the door with hands curled around my waist. I started to cry out and swallowed it. He hoisted himself into the building after me. “Here,” he said, with a carnie’s sweeping gesture.

The space was packed close, a backstage cubby with a curtained door through to the Pay Streak’s front promenade. A brick of a man in a straining red vest filled my field of vision. “Yeah?” he rasped. “That’s sweet. Lucky you, we’re between shows. What’d you do to get on Oscar’s good side?” His leer frightened me and I was grateful when he fell aside, hacking laughter.

Then I saw her, sitting cross-legged in a corner and dragging on a cigarette threatening to drop a full inch of ash. She was maybe twenty, I thought, and had blonde hair that had been dusted an uneven silver. It made her look older, in patches. She had on what looked like a kind of bathing costume with a high cowl neck, a gap in the fabric to show the space between her breasts. A short skirt over her thighs. It was all made of the same iridescent material, green shimmering purple in the light like a beetle’s casing. Her skin—all of it—was painted a silvery green, which made her look ill. Her eyes were lined in thick pencil and shadowed pink and blue. They looked enormous, dark and wet. Maybe smoke-stung. “Hey,” she said, and hollowed her cheeks around the cigarette.

“There you have her, ladies and gentlemen,” the man in the red vest said. The attendant—Oscar—guffawed behind me. I glanced back in a panic and saw the exhibit’s hand-lettered sign: THE GIRL FROM MARS.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” the girl from Mars asked. “You shy all of a sudden? Listen, this shit’ll come off if you touch me, but you want—” she quirked her lips around her cigarette, shrugged with just her face somehow— “I don’t know, an autograph or something?” She had a local accent. She sounded like me.

Tears pricked my eyes. “I just—” I gulped. “No, thank you. I just wanted to talk to—”

“Hey, whoa,” Oscar’s voice sounded guilty. “Take it easy. It’s just a joke.”

My fingers were trembling as I raised them to crush my brother’s cap onto my head more firmly. Both things happened at the same moment: the feeling, like a ghost brushing by, of one of my frizzed curls escaping to fall against my neck and shoulders. And, so close it was like the sound of my hair itself, a strangled noise from Oscar. There was an arc of thought in it, gathering itself—not a scream, but a kind of wordless sentence. Before he could figure how to express it better I bolted from the building, throwing myself through the raised doorway and falling hard onto my hands and knees. Gravel bit into the heels of my palms, and I felt my skin and James’s trousers tear as one. I ran back toward Lowell’s lecture hall, stuffing my escaped hair back under the cap. It pulled painfully at my scalp.

Less than halfway there I realized my idea was terrible, that the lecture hall was the worst place to escape and the first Oscar would check. I was desperate—crying now, a little. My stomach was hot and churning with the gin I’d long stopped enjoying; my mind cotton-fuzzed with dehydration. None of it seemed like my body’s fault at the time. It was a hostile world attacking me, an alien accustomed to a different atmosphere.

There was a crowd flooding from the hall—the lecture was out. I hesitated for a moment, then plunged into it for camouflage. I scanned for Lowell, tearing at my fingernails as I tried to picture his face in my mind. I’d seen his picture before, with an author’s biography printed beneath it. Head bald, eyes sad or concerned or flashing some other emotion that pinned me in place, struck. He’d had his hand curled under his chin, index finger extended along his jawline. Thinking. A push-broom moustache and a clean-shaven chin.

I pressed through the crowd, searching faces shadowed under broad-brimmed hats. It was truly dark now. I had no idea what time it was. Twice I glanced back, tingling with fears of being followed. I had the thought like a heavy stone falling into a well somewhere deep in me that I’d be missed at home by now. I must have been called for dinner. And it wasn’t just because everything had gone wrong—I’d miscalculated from the beginning. The lecture was only just letting out. Everything had taken more time than I’d thought.

I wove between the bodies more determinedly. I needed to find him. If I could just talk to him—about his books, and my father’s; about me instead of James. If I could just ask him to help my father see, Mars, me—it would have been for something.

By the time I saw the moustache he was across the main square, turning back for a last look before vanishing into the Pay Streak. “Professor!” I said, nowhere near loudly enough. Several people near me turned to stare. I ran after the figure as he retreated into the shadowy space between the avenue of exhibits and the Pay Streak.

I rehearsed my speech to Lowell as I gained on him—I was still moving too slowly, stiff-kneed from my fall and painfully tipsy. I just needed him to understand that we needed him. I needed him to explain the Martian canals so my father could understand them. He could come to the campus when the fair ended in October—or come to our house tonight, I thought. Before James slips away and my father burns his manuscript rather than let me help and I’m disowned for this gamble, for playing at mastery.

I had almost followed him onto the Ferris wheel before I realized that it wasn’t Lowell. I touched his shoulder and he turned, lowering his gaze to mine. “You’re not…Professor Lowell?” I said.

He looked like he might have responded, awkwardly, but he was rescued by Oscar—who clamped a blocky hand on my arm. “Hey!” Oscar said. His wind was terrible, his face flushed. He seemed to lean on me for support as much as hold me down. I took advantage of it, twisting away and running the only place left: after not-Lowell onto the Ferris wheel. “Are you—” Oscar said as I leapt away. The attendant barely caught the coins I threw him—my streetcar fare home.

Not-Lowell and I were in a compartment together. He sat uncomfortably on the metal seat opposite me, staring determinedly out at the fair until I reminded myself who he was—wasn’t—and stopped looking at him. “I’m sorry, sir,” I said. “I thought you were someone else.” He made a polite noise of dismissal, but shifted in his seat like he wished he could walk away. I understood. I wondered what kind of day he’d had at the fair—how he’d ended up alone on the Ferris wheel, defenseless against a desperate stranger.

As the wheel made its labored ascent, I scanned the crowds below for Oscar. I couldn’t see him, but I knew that if he wanted to find me, he would. This was his fair, his world, and he knew my secrets. I’d picked the worst kind of escape—trapped, orbiting, on a funhouse ride.

I breathed deep and steeled myself, trying to return to the power of the clothes I wore. The cool breeze higher up stung my scrapes and brought a kind of clarity. I resigned myself: my parents would be furious. James would leave and I would not replace him. Whatever answers Lowell might have had, I would not learn them. The wheel would make its circuits, and then I would face Oscar if I had to. I would take off the cap, beat him with the only real weapon his sex had given mine—shame. I would let my hair down and find an attendant and cry, project fragility like that incubator baby until Oscar and my father and every other man would be afraid to come near me, afraid I’d break. Helplessness would be my best disguise.

The resignation was familiar, and helped me raise my head. It was a kind of marvel, to see the fair spread beneath us. Regular lines and clusters of lights—they spangled the ground. I could see people moving like ants, in crowds and files. Calliope and brass band music wafted up to us, mingled with the yells of carnie barkers. Somewhere close by, I knew the Girl from Mars was dancing or singing or signing autographs for the kind of men who toured the human exhibits after dark. Behind us, there were the educational houses on Japan and Canada and the Klondike Territory. There was a machine that butchered salmon automatically. There was a replica of every European monument. There was everything.

We were nearing the apex of our second turn when, suddenly, the lights went out. The Pay Streak darkened, the music silenced. I could see pockets of light far across the fairgrounds, but everything near was erased. My seatmate gasped; I gripped the guardrail as the compartment swung, halted in its progress around the wheel.

“What’s happened?” the man who wasn’t Lowell asked. Then, answering his own question: “A generator must have blown downtown.” He peered over the side.

I felt purely irrational relief wash over me, more pleasant by far than the gin I’d drunk. I lay back across the bench and soaked the cold of the evening into myself through my brother’s shirt.

“They’re going to pull it around,” not-Lowell said in the darkness.

I felt the vibrations even before I heard the sounds—the irregular clang and shaking of someone sent up with a rope, climbing the spokes of the wheel.

I stared skyward. Without the light cast up by the fair I could see stars, pick out constellations. I looked for a muddy red star among the others. I tried to feel the vastness of it, the weight of the void like an object on my chest.