The Fixed Sign
‘I’m terribly sorry,’ he said. ‘I don’t quite know how I managed—‘
‘Hush, Taurus,’ I said. ‘It’s all right.’
‘It’s not all right. It’s embarrassing.’ He pawed at the ground furiously. ‘I can just imagine how that damned crab will be, Aquarius.’
Curious, I turned to him. ‘How so?’
‘Please can you hurry? It’s awfully hard on this—this—‘
‘Ground,’ I say. ‘That’s what they call it. And I can’t help you until Orion gets here, so you’d do best to humour me. I don’t like being down here any more than you, you know.’
‘You could have sent Sirius,’ he said.
‘I’ve told you,’ I snapped. ‘Sirius simply can’t come down here. Do you know how bright he already shines? Why, he’d scorch the Earth.’ I fixed my dress – simple, Grecian, as I preferred – and tutted.
‘It’s already scorched,’ it retorted. ‘Look around you.’
‘This is a desert,’ I said. ‘All Earth would look like a desert if we all came too close. And anyway, you were telling me about the crab.’
‘You know how that crab is,’ it snorted.
‘I don’t know him terribly well. Neptune demands an awful lot of my attention—‘
‘Aye, I’ve heard of his little storms,’ said Taurus. He tossed his head. ‘Anyway, I was speaking of the crab. I don’t know why I got lumbered with him. We don’t even get on well. He’s so emotional and you know how I feel about emotions.’
‘I have an inkling,’ I said, ‘though I don’t care so much for bullishness.’
He scowled. ‘How very coquettish of you. Anyway, all it means is that he gets me into these terrible tempers and then there’s just no peace, and then Leo, he’s the worst of the lot, isn’t he?’
‘Don’t talk to me of Leo,’ I said coldly. ‘He’s always trying to tell me what to do.’
Taurus nodded sagely. ‘It’s hell up there in the heavens, sometimes.’ He looked around the desert which surrounded us once more, and lowed softly. ‘I don’t like it here, Aquarius. There’s something so worldly about it.’
‘It’s a hard place,’ I agreed. ‘It’s never been to my liking. It makes one feel rooted.’
‘Yes,’ he said. He struggled to sit up, but managed to move with a groan. ‘That fall hurt me, hard. I haven’t been down here for so long.’ He shuddered. ‘I wonder where Orion is?’
‘I don’t know,’ I admitted. ‘He disappeared from the heavens some time ago, so he must be on his way.’
‘Maybe the asteroid shook him out of place, too.’
‘No,’ I said, heat rising to my cheeks. ‘He’d never run.’
‘I didn’t run!’ snapped Taurus.
His damnable temper. I forgot I had to dance around that. ‘Hush,’ I said. ‘I meant nothing by it.’
‘You’d better not.’
‘Now, what have we here?’ a voice from behind interrupted mercifully.
‘Orion!’ said Taurus, struggling once again and finally managing to sit up properly.
‘The very same,’ he said.
Every step Orion took caused silvery light to splay along the ground. It happened with us, too, but we cringed when it happened because it marked us as so different. Orion positively reveled in it; he wore his luminous beauty well, and the soft blue night flattered him immensely. He’d been mortal once, as we had never been, and it showed. He was sure of the warm earth beneath his feet, walking with a hunter’s gait.
I’ve always loved and hated him for that, his self-assured ways. He died a hard death, I know that. But it was so long ago! He’s had so many years of being venerated – they had a cult down here for him, you know. He liked to take up his club and mantle sometimes and walk amongst those people, thrilling them and giving them fantastical tales that they passed down to one another through word of mouth, and then excitedly told Herodotus about the great hunter while he raised a brow and wrote down every word. It flattered Orion immensely; he doesn’t care for modern children on this young planet. He says they’ve forgot their way, that there’s no magic here anymore.
He’s wrong, of course. There’s magic everywhere; it makes the night heavy. I’ve always been able to sense such things.
He stopped in front of me and gave me a lazy smile. I don’t see him as often as I would like, and it makes me fond of him. Well, fonder. ‘Aquarius, my lady,’ he said. ‘Where have you been these nights?’
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Neptune—‘
‘I know how it is.’ He took my hand and kissed it. ‘Where is your jug?’
‘Where is your urn?’
I shrugged. ‘I left it behind. Too heavy. And I had to help Taurus here—‘
He put his hands on hips. ‘So I heard. I suppose these modern children will be excited about it all, searching for our friend here.’
‘I can speak, you know,’ said Taurus testily.
‘They’ll be too busy scanning the skies for that asteroid to look for a bolted bull,’ I said.
‘I didn’t bolt! I fell!’
Orion hefted his great club. He gazed down at Taurus, thinking. ‘I can’t carry him,’ he said finally.
‘What!’ I said.
‘Then what – why did you come down here?’ snapped Taurus.
Orion smirked. ‘I was told to. Leo, you know how he is.’ He turned to me. ‘You’ll have to carry him.’
‘Why should I?’
‘He won’t be any heavier than your great ju—urn. Just pick him up.’
‘And how do you expect me to reach the heavens carrying him?’ I asked.
‘I’ll swing my club around and then we shall fly up with him.’
I sighed. It was all we could do. Dawn was coming on this planet soon and we did not want to have to face Helios and his wretched hysteria if he found us here. I hefted Taurus up on my shoulders; he finally gave way to weariness and shut up for the first time that night. I staggered towards Orion. He caught me tight about the waist and spun us around and around. I was growing dizzy, wavering under the great weight of the bull, when Orion released his hold on Earth and we were sent soaring thundering hurtling right up amongst our own kind, the stars.
At some point, Taurus pulled loose from me, and with renewed energy, kicked his way along the skies and took up his rightful place in the heavens, while Orion’s dogs snarled at him and commenced battle once more.
I could see Helios cresting over the Earth as we neared our home, and I was thankful that he would not know what had occurred while he had been warming the other side of his favourite planet. He didn’t care for Neptune; we all knew it. And as his consort, I was forever bound to his cold and lonely ways.
Orion grasped me about the waist tighter. I ran my hands up along his strong chest and let them linger there for a moment. ‘Orion,’ I said. ‘It’s time for me to go. The bull is back where he belongs.’
‘Can’t you tarry a little while longer?’ he whispered.
I’d do anything to stay with him, anything, and there was no use in him asking for it could not be. He drew me into a lingering kiss, then released me abruptly and was gone to hold off his dogs. I returned to my corner of the heavens, where Pisces and Pegasus placated me with their good, simple chatter, and where I waited for Neptune to pass by once more and fancy that he could hold my own wondering thoughts.
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