Discomfited by the whole idea of passing judgement, Cindy chose instead to sit back and watch, as the binary stars of Juliana and Scootie reflected light on each other. She did make some mulled wine, however, and helped Juliana prepare the telescope. Scootie heard conspiratorial giggles, and readied himself for some kind of female trickery.
Juliana motioned them to the concrete bench. It was a perfectly clear night, which on the coast meant ten degrees colder, and she was bundled up in a hunter’s jacket of red-and-white plaid. She smoothed her hands over her hair, which had begun to grow past her shoulders, feathering out over her collarbone.
“It’s so funny. Last month, I spoke to two hundred Rotarians, but I’m much more nervous now.” Cindy and Scootie responded with sympathetic laughter.
“The subject I’ve chosen is Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer. Ophiuchus is actually part of a two- or three-fold constellation, depending on how you look at it. One either side of him are the two halves of Serpens, the Serpent. He’s either wrapped the serpent around him, or ripped it in two. I prefer the former.”
Ophiuchus is identified also as Asclepius, the legendary healer and son of Apollo. Legend has it that Asclepius killed a snake one day, then watched in amazement as a second snake arrived with herbs and brought its companion back to life. Asclepius was also the ship’s surgeon on Jason’s Argo, and eventually became so good that Neptune persuaded him to resurrent the slain Hippolytus. I quote from King James...” She pulled an index card from her jacket, and flashed a pen light on it. “’After Hippolyte’s members were drawn in sunder by foure horses, Esculapius at Neptune’s request glewed them together and revived him.’”
“Ouch!” said Cindy.
“Ouch, indeed,” said Juliana. “But reviving the dead didn’t fly on Mount Olympus, so Zeus struck down Asclepius with the standard lightning bolt, then commemorated his skills by giving him a nice spot in the sky. Yes, Scootie?”
Scootie had been waving his hand like a third-grader. “What brought you to choose this particular constellation?”
“A nice old man told me about it. And I take it he heard the story from a nice young man?”
“I had my suspicions. So. On to the technical stuff. Ophiuchus is rather thin on bright stars, so I chose a globular cluster off the breast of Serpens Caput. Cindy, could I get you to reset the ‘scope?”
“Certainly,” said Cindy, fighting a smile. She nudged the tip a centimeter and adjusted the focus knob. “All set.”
Scootie rose and brought his eye to the viewfinder. But what he saw didn’t look right. It looked more like a young star, blue-white, surrounded by stellar dust.
“Um, Juli, I hate to be a Picky Nick, but this doesn’t look right.” He drew back and followed the wand of the telescope. “Wait a minute. Isn’t Serpens Caput out that way?”
Juliana smiled slyly. “Look again and I’ll tell you.”
Scootie shrugged his shoulders, planted his feet and heard Juliana’s voice emanating from the star.
“What you’re looking at is the star known as Merope, ‘the missing sister,’ the Pleiad who married a mortal and now hides her face in shame. One thing, though...”
She crouched to speak in his ear. “Merope didn’t marry just any mortal. She married the King of Corinth.”
Scootie turned to smile at his star – Merope, Alcyone, whoever she was – and kissed her. He heard Cindy at the southwest horizon, giggling a high stellar squeak.
Photo by MJV