By Matthew Hennessey
He first saw Orion on a night visit to the Little Store in 1977. He was four. It was the fall. Life was normal.
There were endless hours of just the boy and his mother, running errands, splashing puddles in the rain. It was idyllic, surely, but if it was paradise, he didn’t know it.
He had a baby brother then, born only a few months earlier. An older child, it is often said, will harbor jealousy toward a new baby. He didn’t register that feeling. He couldn’t have been capable of it.
But babies are disruptive, and it was hard for the mother. After a few months, she wanted time with the older boy. Parents worry about fairness, about equality. They make dates to compensate. They say, “You. Yes, you. Big boy. Come with me to the Little Store.”
And you walk together, a little hand inside of a big hand, and you look up at the night sky, and you talk about the stars. And you see Orion, three stars in a row. That’s his belt. He is a hunter. Can you see his broad shoulders? Do you see his sword? Although you are only little, you realize that it is truly a wonderful world, and that mothers are marvelous teachers of boys who want to grow up to be broad-shouldered hunters.
His whole world was little then. Its population was small. There were his parents, the big sisters and the new baby, a few close aunts and uncles, and a few far ones, nana and grandpa—only one set, the others long dead. Even the landscape was little: backyard, backseat, bathtub, bed.
The Little Store was actually a delicatessen. It sold things like milk, bread, and Oh Henry! All the candy at eye level. Just the right height for a little boy. But the mother was after cigarettes that night in the fall of 1977. She needed them like the boy needed her.
Years passed. Decades, too. The family moved away from the Little Store. The boy moved away from the family. Before long he had his own children. He would see Orion from time to time in the night sky. He would think of that walk. Orion was the connection between mother and son. But mother and son didn’t always see eye to eye. Sometimes Orion was a reminder of that. Sometimes seeing those stars provoked feelings of powerlessness and dependency in the grown man. Sometimes they made him feel just like a little boy, and he didn’t like it.
Then the mother died, and the little boy and his little world disappeared forever. All that remained were traces of memories: whispers, smiles, silent glances. Little stores of love. He worried that in time these, too, would die, leaving hollows in the deepest parts of his soul. Without support, would the foundation hold? Or would the walls cave in, collapse like sinkholes, and eliminate the evidence that anything was ever there at all?
He walks at night, and he sees those same stars. And they are the same stars. Everything about him is different; not one thing about them has changed. His own children sleep beneath those stars. But now he’s the one with the big hands. Now he worries about equal time. While Orion still hunts in the night sky, shining eternally in some distant corner of space.
Just like the connection between a little boy and his mother.