Monday, April 2, 2012

A Star Named Celeste

A few weeks ago my friend Jessica, a novelist, and I discussed an idea she had for a fable about desire.

Her seed of a thought thrilled me, and the story that grew out of it a few days later thrilled me even more.  She captured with her tale what I could only hope to capture with propositional truth.  I think this is because, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, sometimes fairy stories say best what needs to be said.*

Today is a very good day, friends, because Jessica has given me permission to share her story with you.

And so, without further ado I give you:

"A Fable"

By Jessica Brown

Once upon a time, a star named Celeste lived in the night sky. This star burned bright and clear, sending its diamond light through the vast darkness.

But this task brought Celeste no joy. For the one planet that could see her light was ridiculous.

The beings on this planet could not, like her, simply live. For them, living meant needing. They always needed something—food, water, wine, love, war. Need, need, need. She, who could live for eons without anything, despised them.

Then, one night, one of the far-flung comets swung by. He brought Celeste a message: her time had arrived.

“Time for what?”

“Your time to see what it is about.”

Way down in the dense, molten of her core, something stirred.

And the stirring got stronger and stronger and stronger, and she got hotter and hotter and hotter, and she started moving faster and faster and faster—

And her whole being burst into sun-flare,

And she was suddenly much smaller than she had ever been, and much heavier, and much stranger.

“Where am I?” she asked. “What am I? And what is this I’ve landed on?”

And she knew that she was on that small planet, that she was a human, and that the small, sharp things she was kneeling on was grass.

She rose, and looked about her.

“This is that planet with those poor, stupid beings!”

And she looked about her again. But the stirring that had begun out in the vast sky had not stopped. In fact, it was deepening. It felt like it was making a hole inside of her.

She saw one of the poor, stupid beings walking by. It was taller than her, and had shorter hair that was darker than hers. She held out her hand.

“Please,” she said. “I’m not sure what to do. I’ve got a terrible pain, just here, in the middle of me. Is this what it means to be a human?”

This person looked at her kindly.

“You’re just hungry!” he said. “What you need is a good meal. Come with me.”

And he brought her to a place called a diner, and she ate things called eggs and toast and hash-browns. And the smell and the taste of the things outside her went into her, and she was amazed by this.

“Now, I’m sure you feel a lot better!” said the other human being.

And she realized that while she was eating, that awful stirring had gone away.

“You are right.”

And she was suddenly a little afraid. And the fear began another stirring, now in her head and chest. She put her hand on her head and a hand on her chest, and asked, “Is the meal supposed to fill these places?”

And he looked at her kindly.

“I shouldn’t think so. But I know what you need for that!”

This news made Celeste so happy that she didn’t even hear the word ‘need.’

They left the diner and walked to a store with a sign that said “VINYL.”

“Vinyl?” Celeste asked.

“I know it’s old-fashioned,” the human said. “But it does the trick.”

So they went in and put on huge ear phones. And the sound that moved through her was like blue light from faraway stars. It made her sway, so she swayed.

“What is this?” she asked, swaying.

“U2 of course!”

And then he played some other piece of music, with something called a violin. The sound pierced her, and filled her. She was a little afraid, and vastly amazed.

Then, the door in the store opened. A cold wind moved across her.

“What about this?” Celeste asked, rubbing her bare arms and legs. “How do we take care of filling what’s bare?”

“No problem—you’re in Los Angeles!” her friend cried. And they walked north to a large park and a broad, sunny green space. They sat down together.

The light of the sun rested on her. She laid down and closed her eyes, and the warmth filled her. Again she was amazed.

But it happened so fast! The bigness of the want, and the grandness of the fill.

Celeste sat up and looked at her friend. “I wish I had something to take this day in more slowly,” she said.

He looked at her thoughtfully.

“Men through the ages have wanted the same thing. Let’s go get some wine.”

And they walked to a café and sat on a patio, and shared a bottle of wine. And the deeply colored liquid entered into her like sunshine and food both. She thought, with fear and delight, I am getting a need to have a fill.

And she looked across at her friend and did not despise him at all.

“I am Celeste. What is your name?”


“Johnny, I feel that I have something lodged right here—” and she pointed three inches below the base if her throat. “I don’t know if it’s happiness or sadness, but it’s big. I need something to get it out.”

And Johnny looked at her thoughtfully.

“That might be the wine talking, but either way, let’s go get some laughs.”

So they went to the cinema and took in a comedy. And as Celeste was laughing in the dark room of the cinema, she felt as if she were shining out, just like her star self. That’s what laughter is, she thought. How wrong I have been about these humans.

But when the credits started rolling, something happened. The seat suddenly felt small. But it wasn’t the seat, it was her skin.

As the lights came up, she asked, “Johnny, do you ever feel cramped? In your own skin?”

He nodded emphatically. “Why do you think I play soccer?”

And so they went south to another park, this one with a large flat field. And Celeste didn’t know what she was doing, with all the running and screaming and kicking of the ball. But she knew that when she high-fived Johnny she felt that her skin could never contain her again. How had she ever felt cramped?

It was now early afternoon. Could she possibly be hungry again? She was scared to say so. Surely humans don’t feel hungry twice in one day.

But Johnny must have felt hungry too, because they got something called Chinese-Takeaway. And as she was eating it, she was afraid by the amount of need in one day.

“How, Johnny,” she asked, “Can you just LET GO?”

He thought. “There is a lookout on a hike I take,” he said, “Where you can see the trees in their finest array, and hear the birds sing, and feel the wind move through the leaves.”

“Then let’s go!”

And they went on the hike, and as Johnny said, there came a moment when the beauty of the trees and sky and rock was so great she didn’t think about her tummy or her skin or that thing lodged in her chest.

But to her utter dismay, as they came down the mountain path, she felt a stronger stirring in her than ever before.

“Johnny!” Celeste cried. “My eyes! They’re aching! It’s like I need to see!”

And Johnny, resourceful human he was proving to be, replied, “There’s only one thing for that. Van Gough.” So they went together to a white-stone museum on a hill.

And as Celeste faced the painting, her eyes filled with tears. It was so beautiful, she felt filled to the back of her eyes.

“Oh Johnny,” she whispered, “I don’t understand. I am filled but the filling makes me hungrier. I want to see more deeply. What is a human to do?”

“Come see what I do,” he said.

And they went to his house, and she saw a little garden and a tiny kitchen, but he took her to the largest room, a room with paints and brushes and canvases. And he said, “Let’s see more deeply. Let’s paint.”

And paint they did. Celeste painted a still life, Plum and Jug.  She saw the color purple as she had never seen it, and the jug became extraordinary.

And the seeing in her making amazed her. “This must be the deepest filling,” she thought, “For I am creating.” And a thought came to her: for each need there is a fill that fits it.

And, lofty thoughts coming real, Celeste was appalled to find she was hungry again. So, Johnny set out cheese and bread. Celeste decided it was the best meal of the day.

After dinner, Johnny showed her to a cot in the back patio for her to sleep in.

Since the sun was set and she was tired, she said goodnight to Johnny and laid down.

The darkness of the night was all around her. It was quiet. Empty.

She was alone for the first time that day.

And the biggest ache of all hit her with the force of a zooming comet, right into the heart of her.

She ran into the house and to Johnny. “It’s so dark and empty! Do all humans feel lost when we’re not seen?”

Johnny flipped on the light and he said, “I will see you, Celeste.”

And when he looked at her, she felt filled in a way that she had never been filled before. And she decided that humans were far, far, far better off than stars.

But deep in the night, Celeste awoke. She heard Johnny’s breathing. “It’s still not enough. I need to be seen more deeply.”

And she quaked at the passion of this need. Surely, surely it was better to be a star. To be strong and bright and complete.

Celeste walked out into the small garden. How did humans fill this final need? Food and wine and soccer and nature and museums and painting and even the presence of Johnny would never fill it. They did not match the hole of that ache. What was big enough to match this emptiness?

What, she thought, raising her face to the dawning sky, is big enough for that?

© by J. Brown

*This is the name of an essay by C.S. Lewis in which he explores how it is that fairy tales sometimes say best what needs to be said. ;)


  1. Ack! I'm in tears! (Ok, I know I'm hormonal at the moment and very tired from being sick)

    Well done, Jessica!

  2. Ah, yes, this moved me the same way. Well done, indeed!