Vernon’s Equinox – A short story

Vernon’s Equinox by bob投注平台

Nominitive determinism had failed Vernon Carpenter. He was an office clerk. No one could say precisely what it was this 63-year old office clerk did day to day, so it was odd that the memo arrived offering redundancy with immediate effect.

If nominative determinism had passed him by so had the boom of the baby boom generation of which he was purportedly a member. But, such is life, hyperbole is rarely tangential with the mundane and everyday. If he’d been a poetry reader, Vernon would have known only too well of the life of J Alfred Prufrock. He would in his seventh decade have knowing he should be raging, raging, I tell you, raging against the dying of the light.

There was a flicker, an ember, not a dying ember, a slow burn that might rekindle a fire that had yet to be lit. Vernon, the papers might have told you, if it had turned out he was a serial killer, was a quiet, unassuming man, who, according to neighbours “kept himself to himself”, a classic cliché of journalese. He did. Vernon did keep himself to himself for what he lacked in carpentry skills he made up for in an altogether different area of skill. Vernon looked to the stars. Every clear night. He had a half-decent telescope locked securely away in his garden shed. A shed that had a nice big skylight, that could be pushed open and out of the way with the broom exposing the universe to his all-seeing eye and his telescope to any thief who figured the door was locked but the roof not.

Vernon hoped that his nocturnal commissions would one day bring him fame and fortune. He was forever on the lookout for a supernova, an exploding star in the depths of space that no one else had spotted at the time and place he happened to be pointing his reflector. That said, he wasn’t particularly bothered by the two effs, he had enough to fulfil his simple dietary requirements and when it came to it, he’d rather not be famous. Nobody wants to be recognised in the supermarket aisle stockpiling tins of spaghetti hoops and baked beans, after all.

It was late March when the memo arrived. Mars had been very close to the moon in the night sky, although that kind of coincidence did not interest Vernon. It was new points of light in the sky he was after. He had a feeling that his time at Maitliss and Warner probably wouldn’t last much longer and had been musing on how to fill his days when his nights were so clearly taken.

He couldn’t bear the idea of joining a club, all those people with their weird hobbies and their weird smells. No. He’d find something solitary to do with his newly released nine-to-fives. Gardening? Definitely not! He couldn’t risk all that mud and muck near his telescope. Birdwatching? Again, a real no-no…he really couldn’t picture himself wasting his time staring at elusive and distant objects through a pair of binoculars. The irony was not lost on Vernon. He had snorted at the thought as it flitted through his mind. Maybe he could undertake a DIY project, make that skylight more secure, perhaps add a motor to raise and lower it rather than poking it with a broom…maybe not.

It was still light by the time Vernon was at his doorstep and turning the key in the lock for what may well have been something like the 16425th time in his adult life. The nights were drawing out, which to Vernon meant only one thing: longer to wait before telescope time, and things would only get worse with the imminent switch to British Summer Time. There was a waxing gibbous moon set to rise this evening, better than a full moon for stargazing. The sky was clear and the forecast fair. Orion would still be wearing his sword for a few weeks more. It was also one of only two nights in the year when the period either side of sunrise and sunset is equal. The Equinox.

Vernon’s pan was on. Baked beans this evening. No toast. He’d set the gas a little high and the glutinous orange mass was bubbling and beginning to catch. He extinguished the flame with a twist of the knob and scooped the beans and their so-called tomato sauce on to a China plate, grabbed a fork from the draining board and set off for the shed. The key was on a ring on a chain with all his others secreted in the left pocket of his office trousers. He set the beans down on the upturned crate by the shed door, quickly unlocked, grabbed the plate set it down again on the workbench to be forgotten until the wee, small hours, and cleanly removed the protective dust sheet from his telescope. Pushed open the skylight with the broom.

Was it an expensive telescope? Well, it had absorbed the best part of Vernon’s inheritance, but no matter. It was a relatively simple affair with minimal controls but a maximal tripod and the biggest, most perfectly polished mirror. The best his money could buy, Vernon would reflect. His notebooks were piled high on the workbench, dust had gathered for months on the uppermost, the solitary ballpoint pen with which they were so closely acquainted having run unbearably dry months ago. Vernon had no need of notebooks, of logging dates and times of sketching planetary trajectories. He had sufficient memory to keep tabs on what he saw each clear night. Anyway, there would be no notebook worthy of the discovery he hoped to make one of these nights.

Vernon set the telescope just east of Lyra and glued himself to the eyepiece, focusing along the way micron by micron to span lightyears of distant, ancient space.

It is the Equinox. What a night for a major find. Unwanted but not unwarranted fame and fortune might await the amateur astronomer who catches a glimpse of the first particles of light to reach planet Earth from the burst of energy ejected by a dying star. Photons that would shed light on our understanding of the life and death of a distant star.

The beans cooled and congealed on their China plate. Vernon stared and scanned, ignoring the ache in his shoulder, the chilled air pouring down on him through the skylight. Clouds were gathering slowly from the northwest. They covered the moon. The veiled Orion’s shoulders as the hunter ducked below the horizon to carry on with his stalking of the night on the dark side of the world. A blackbird shocked to wake for another day began its chorus.

The equinox was over. Vernon disengaged himself from his dreams, scooped a few dollops of the cold baked beans into his mouth, swallowing them with barely a nudge from his teeth, and pulled the skylight shut once more with the broom. He might catch forty winks before work. Work…