“Why so late, Cindy?”
“Some of us have to work in the morning.”
“Hah! I happen to know you Fetzle types drag in at all hours of the morning.”
“And how would you know that?”
Cindy smiled and drew a finger along her telescope.
“There’s a stand of eucalyptus along my south ridge,” she said, waving a finger at the dark hills. “If you focus through a twenty-foot gap in the center, you can see the front drive and employee parking lot.”
“There are laws about this kind of thing, Mrs. Parker.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone about that two-hour lunch you took Monday. Meanwhile, tonight’s subject is work-related, anyhow, because it’s Cygnus.”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it.”
“Anyway, we had to wait this long till our subject cleared the north hills. He’s more of a summer bird. Now, grab yourself a beverage while I line ‘er up.”
Scootie twisted the cap of Cindy’s Thermos and poured out its dark, fragrant liquid.
“Say, this is different.”
“Mulled wine,” said Cindy. “I thought it would be a nice change. Ready?”
Scootie sat on their stargazing bench and crossed his legs. Cindy put a hand to her forehead, sorting her presentation.
“Okay. Cygnus is a constellation of nine primary stars, mostly seen along the Milky Way in summer. The stars that outline the wide wings, stubby tail and long neck of a swan in flight also resemble a cross, often referred to as the Northern Cross.
“There are several Greek myths surrounding Cygnus, but here’s my favorite. Cygnus was a musician-king who had a friend names Phaethon, son of the sun-god Apollo. Phaethon talked his dad into giving him the keys to the chariot one day, and – as teenagers are wont to do – lost control of the horses, wreaking havoc across the sky. Zeus was watching all this and, fearing for the safety of Heaven and Earth, zapped the kid with a lightning bolt, killing him instantly. Phaethon’s charred body fell into the river Eridanus, and Cygnus plunged in afterward, diving again and again in a desperate attempt to pull his friend from the water.
“The grief-stricken father, Apollo, was very touched by this, and it occurred to him that Cygnus looked like a swan searching for food. He rewarded the young man’s devotion by turning him into a swan and immortalizing him in the stars. It’s also said that Cygnus’s wails of mourning, as he searched for his friend, inspired the legend that swans sing songs before they die, giving birth to the expression ‘swan song.’”
“Beautiful,” said Scootie.
“Yes,” said Cindy. “Very sad and sweet. Now here, take my binoculars and check out the beak of the swan, which appears to be a single star of three-point-one magnitude.”
“No keep an eye on that while I nudge ol’ Lenny... Okay. Now give me the binoculars and take a gander.”
“Wrong species,” said Scootie. He rubbed his eyes and lowered them to the viewer. He saw not one star but two, one large and golden, the other smaller and blue.
“That’s Albireo,” said Cindy. “A double star: an amber of magnitude three-point-two, and a blue-green of five-point-three.”
“Two-thirds of a traffic light,” said Scootie. “And a lovely couple.” He looked for a while longer, studying the way the two stars intermingled their lights, then ceded the ‘scope to his teacher.
Cindy leaned over with her expert squint and gave Albireo another look. “Oh yeah, I forgot,” she said. “Cygnus also represents Zeus in disguise, on the way to one of his adulterous affairs.”
Scootie was getting a refill from Cindy’s Thermos. “Zat so?”
Cindy turned from the telescope. “Seems that Zeus had the hots for a nymph named Nemesis. She kept rebuffing him, so he pretended to be a swan escaping from an eagle, and she offered him sanctuary. Only after she fell asleep with the swan in her lap did she discover her mistake. Poor Nemesis eventually produced an egg, of all things, and out of the egg hatched Helen of Troy.”
“The duckling who launched a thousand ships,” said Scootie.
“Hey, I don’t write this stuff,” said Cindy. She returned to the telescope while Scootie followed the flight of Cygnus along the coastal hills, envisioning Helen pecking her perfect nose through the shell.
“Have you ever had an affair, Cindy?”
Cindy straightened up from the eyepiece, not sure how to take this sudden bluntness. She sensed the sincerity of the question, however, and straddled the stargazing bench, placing her palms flat on its surface. “Once. It was an odd thing. George and I married awfully young, and about four years along we were both having our doubts. I think we felt like we had given away our lives too early. We sort of had a mutual vacation that got out of hand. George started spending a lot of nights with his surfing buddies, drinking a lot of beer, and I buried myself in my job. I was a loan officer at a bank in Capitola, looking to get into management. At least, that’s what I told myself. A career can be a very enticing thing.
“I was also feeling very unattractive. I had gained a lot of weight, and the way we lost our romance for each other, it was like a small death, this heavy thing we dragged around but never talked about.
“Then the bank hired a college student named Ted. Ted and I became instant companions. From the moment I met him, I felt like I could tell him anything. One day we were having lunch, and I was ocmplaining about me and George, and how I didn’t feel wanted, and Ted suggested we go to his apartment after work and, you know, have a session.
“That might seem crude, but that was the kind of friends we were – we could say things like that. At first I agreed, but as the day wore on, I realized I was making a mistake. When I met Ted at his apartment, he said he was having second thoughts, too, so we didn’t do it.
“But you know – it was almost as if he had slept with me, anyway. Just the thought that this beautiful, sweet man had wanted me, it sent my chemicals whirling, made me feel young and horny and desirable. And it didn’t detract from our friendship at all – in fact, quite the opposite. We continued our little counseling sessions until I gathered enough strength to take on my problems. I fought George tooth-and-nail until he joined A.A. and went with me to a counselor. Within a year, I had saved my marriage and started to fall in love with him all over again.
“A little later, I took Ted out to lunch on his birthday. I told him how much I appreciated his hours and hours of listening and putting up with my complaints, and then I had a startling idea. ‘Ted,’ I told him. ‘Do you think we owe something to ourselves?’ He had no idea what I was talking about. Then I said, ‘Let’s go to your apartment right now.’
“No!” said Scootie.
“Yes,” said Cindy, her eyes wide with scandal. “That was the only time I cheated on my husband – to reward myself for saving my marriage.”
“Therapeutic adultery,” said Scootie. “Have you ever told George?”
“I think... it would lose a little in the translation. In fact, you’re the only one I’ve ever told.”
“It goes no further,” Scootie promised.
“I know. That’s why I told you.”
“So where’s Ted now?”
“He’s in the state assembly, representing Soledad. He’s also Joshua’s godfather.”
Photo by MJV