A tinkling sound comes in on a breeze past the neighbor’s house across the street, but I know he hasn’t got any wind chimes. That’s the sound of the glass starfish he collects, clinking together. There are many of them, crystal clear, sparkling with multi-colored infusions pulled through their bodies, created by glass blowers all over the world. Every day, the neighbor opens the gate to his yard, so that others can visit them and feed them broken pieces of glass from bottles and jars. You wouldn’t think that glass could just be pushed through more solid glass, but it can, in Mr. Landrey’s backyard. The pieces go in smoothly. The glass just gives way, like putty.
The largest ones arrived by crane. We all gathered on the sidewalk to watch each time—five times total—as the crane visited, lifting each translucent creation, which shimmered with bursts of blue or red or green. Up and over the rooftop they went, safely landing in the grass. Of course, stories circulated about Mr. Landrey. The general consensus was that you didn’t want to stay too long on a visit, nor go inside his house. Judging by the windows, visible from the backyard, there are more starfish inside, perhaps crammed into every corner—each one sparkling.
In Mr. Landrey’s yard, there was something bothersome about the way he’d bend over, closely, whispering in your ear, “push this piece in. Careful now—” his breath reeking of coffee, his hand over yours, gently guiding you as you slid glass into glass. But since he behaved this way with everyone, no one complained exactly. I guess it was the touch, the feel, the closeness he craved from the visitors. And he was alone, so we all let him get close, though every single one of us would stiffen up—go absolutely cold—at his touch. But we kept going back. We’d already done the touristy things nearby when we moved here years ago, and the boredom of daily walks, along the same paths, consumes us. Mr. Landrey’s starfish, by contrast, seem ever-changing.
In fact, after a visit, a few of us neighbors walked together along the sidewalk and talked about how it appeared that the starfish were growing and crowding in close to one another, but we weren’t sure how that would be possible, until the Parkers, who lived in the cul-de-sac, took a tape measure to Mr. Landrey’s yard. They conducted five separate measurements on five separate occasions and confirmed that the starfish were taking up more space than usual. In fact, it was becoming more difficult to wander about Mr. Landrey’s yard—or to escape his hands, his whispers, his coffee breath. But maybe, we told ourselves, it wasn’t the starfish that were growing. We live in the Pacific Northwest, so the ground moves and shifts on tectonic plates, ever so slightly. No, it was the ground that was sinking, disappearing. That’s what we told ourselves instead.
When the wind carries the first fall leaves across the street, and the air smells like salt water and lavender, Mr. Landrey opens the gate to his backyard, and we all squeeze past the starfish. Every inch of the yard is covered in them. We’re not even sure how we’ll get our hands free to feed them bits of glass, but he tells us not to worry, in his hushed, sing-song voice, the air whistling through his teeth. He says they no longer need to be fed, just touched. He asks for volunteers to simply reach a hand inside. I’m standing near the gate still, but there’s a crate I can use to get a better view. Jenna Stevens and Marvin Hopper are pressed up against a large starfish that’s swirling with infused colors of yellow and orange. Ashley Zimmer and Zach Stivers have pushed themselves up against the largest purple starfish, gleaming in the mid-afternoon autumn sun. Mr. Landrey tells Jenna, Marvin, Ashley, and Zach to push their hands into the starfish—right about the middle—and they do. And as they reach, they report back to the crowd that it feels oddly soothing, so they keep reaching until the starfish have swallowed them whole, and now they’re trapped inside, their palms flat against the glass, their faces turning blue. Wide-eyed looks of panic dissolve into thousand-mile stares as they give up. The starfish grow, smothering the people inside. We all watch their bones snap, and red fluid mixes with the broken bottle glass. An eye, a finger, settle in the middle. Strands of hair fall to the base; an elbow sinks into the wedge of a glass ray. All of the people gathered rush for the gate, knocking me over where I stand, trampling over children and dogs. But Mr. Landrey laughs as he steps inside a blue starfish, lets it consume him. And when the wind blows now, the tinkling sound resembles thunder as the largest starfish bump up against one another, bodies tumbling all around.
Cecilia Kennedy (she/her) taught English composition/literature and Spanish language/literature in Ohio for 20 years before moving to Washington state with her family, which includes a very demanding cat. Since 2017, she has published her stories in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies in the United States, Canada, Ireland, and England. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House, Coffin Bell, Idle Ink, Tiny Molecules, Streetcake Magazine, Wrongdoing Magazine, Rejection Letters, Open Minds Quarterly, Headway Quarterly, Flash Fiction Magazine, Kandisha Press, Ghost Orchid Press, and others. The Places We Haunt (2020)is her first short story collection. Additionally, she thoroughly enjoys being a volunteer adult beverages columnist for The Daily Drunk, a proofreader for Flash Fiction Magazine, and a concept editor for Running Wild Press. Twitter: @ckennedyhola