Open 2021 Open Stories - Kunal Mehra


The great conjunctions
By Kunal Mehra


The water was cold, but he didn’t care. He waded in knee-deep, gazing at the clear night sky with his binoculars. He didn’t know exactly where they were, but tonight was the best night to watch them.

Either he’d see them up in the sky and walk back ashore, filled with hope, or he’d walk into the belly of the ocean and call it done.It was just a matter of which direction to go in. The doctors told him it would be like that. Forever. ‘Not much you can do about that kind of depression’, they had repeated for years.

‘It’ll come and go’, they’d say, as he walked out of their offices, losing track of how many doctors he had been seeing all his life. Sometimes, it stayed for a few hours, and others, for a few days, an unwelcome guest at best.

He kept treading into the ocean, the waves rushing over his legs. His binoculars were pointed straight up, his shoes heavy and filled with sand and water.

“Hey! What’re you doing in there?”

He turned aroundto look at a woman calling out to him. She was dancing and waving her arms. “Come up here. It’s too cold to be out in the water.”

He walked back to the shore, where he had a small pile of stuff. He took off his shoesand started changing into a dry set of socks and pants. She was playing ‘Stand by Me’ on her phone.“You’re prepared for this, huh?”, she asked as she watched him change his clothes.


“What were you doing in there?”, she asked, as she clapped her hands and swayed to the song.“Stand by me, oh…stand by me!”

He could smell alcohol on her breath. “Those two,” he pointed at the sky with his binoculars. “They’llunite tonight. I might get to see them.”

She took out an open bottle of beer from her belted black leather jacket and had a sip. “Damned if I know what you’re talking about. But anyway, what kind of loserbeach town has just one bar? As if that wasn’t bad enough, it had to close at eleven?!”

He put his wet socks and pants in a pile and sat down on the blanket.

“I can see you care a lot. So, you live nearby?” she asked.


“Staying overnight in town?”

“No. But Jupiter and Saturn will stay together for a week before Jupiter starts to drift away.”

“That’s cool…speaking of drifting away…the reason I drove two hours to the beach…well…”. She yanked her wedding ring off her fingerand hurled it into the ocean. “There you go, you son of a bitch! I hope you sink all the way to the bottom.” She chugged the beer down in one long gulp.

He looked at her, his brows furrowed. “You ok?” he askedquietly. She didn’t hear him.

He lay down on the blanket, the binoculars beside him. She sat on the other side of the blanket and turned the music off. Her breaths were shallow and rapid, her fists clenched tight.She rubbed her thumb over her ring finger. She wasn’t sure if it was the beer or the abrupt absence of that yellow gold ring that had been curled around her finger for over a decade, but a burst of nausea gurgled in her chest.

“Mind if I lie next to you?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“You’re short on words, aren’t you?”

She laid down, looking up at the moonlit sky. She ran her fingers through her dark shaggy hair. It felt dry and nonchalant to her touch. The waves rolled in within a few feet of them and then took off after writing their frothy poems on the sand. A few moments later, they were back again, with a new poem.

“Maybe this one would be different,” he muttered under his breath.

Before she had a chance to speak up, he shook his head. “Yeah, right.”

“Dude, you’re weird. Do you need me to call for help?”

“No. They said it will be like that. Forever.”


He closed his eyes. His lips moved, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. She turned around and faced him. His hair was disheveled, his beard wild and scruffy, the kind that she often sought out in men.

“What’s that stain on your shirt?”, she asked.

“Spilled coffee last month.”

Out on the horizon, lights from ships glimmered in the darkness. They shone for a few minutes, disappeared, and then showed up again. She thought of what she had told her husband a week ago:‘Every time you mess with me, that light in my heart – the one that you lit when we got married – turns off and I tell myself we’re done.

Like, done forever. There’s no hope. But here I am again, next to you.’Tonight, as she slammed the door behind her, it felt different though. She knew that light would never come on again, but maybe a new light might shine through.

She looked up at the sky, searching for the north star, that motionless steadfast light shining on for the entire world.

“Hey, look. There it is,” she said, pointing her ring finger at it. “Where does your north star guide you?”, she asked.

“Don’t have one.”

“But we all have it. It’s our choice whetherto follow it or not.”

“Don’t have a choice.”

She inched closer to him, her shoes touching his. “Am I too close? I can put on my mask if you want.”

He caught a whiff of her jasmine and rose perfume and shook his head. “Doesn’t matter.”

“Come on…be fun. What do you mean ‘doesn’t matter’? Are you cold? Don’t you want to know about me? Do you like my perfume?”

He turned his face away.

“Damn, your enthusiasm is really bubbling over. Tell me more. What do you mean ‘it will be like that forever’?”

“My waves. They’ll keep coming and going”. He picked up his binoculars and aimed it at the sky. “Docs said it’s hereditary and there’s nothing to be done about it. My uncle shot himself. Dad left us when I was seven. Said he was going to hitchhike to Florida. We lived in Indiana and never saw him after that.”

He placed the binoculars on his chest and pointed up with his fingers. “See those three bright stars in a line? That’s Orion’s belt. I think that Orion gave my dad a ride up there. Not quite Florida, but dad didn’t care.”

She propped herself up on her elbow. “I’m so sorry. What do you mean, ‘your waves’?”

He looked up at the stars scattered across the winter sky, like bright fireflies. “Depression. This is the eighteenth time I’ve been to this beach.It’s a ritual: I lose hope. Don’t want to live anymore. I start walking into the ocean.”

He shook his head. “Then I look up at the stars and something sends me back ashore.”

She pushed down into the sand and closed her eyes. The waves, soaked in the blueness of the waxing crescent moon, ran up to them before retreating into the ocean. The sky was clear and dark. The beach was empty, the sound of the waves filling in that void that lay curled up silently in both of their hearts.

She sat up and faced him. “Don’t mean to say the obvious, but what about medications? You tried therapy?”

“It’ll be like that. Forever. That’s what the docs said. And they’re right.”

“So,nothing worked? At all?”

“Would the waves stop coming in if the shore asked them not to?”

“Wish I had a beer on me. That would’ve lifted you up.”

He chuckled, tucking his cold hands into his pant pockets. “Lifting me up would be a good idea. Forty years and 160 lbs are enough burdens on the earth.”

“Oh, come on…you’re not a burden. Think of it as a…I don’t know…”. She scooped up a fistful of sand and threw it up in the air. “…a bag of stones that you’ve been carrying for a while and you just need to put it down for a few minutes now. A keg of beer is a great place to lay that bag down, don’t you think?”

“I need to go up there,” he motioned towards the sky. “Where there’s hope. But they keep pushing me back.”

She shook her head. “Never mind what I just said. Who’s ‘they’?”

“The stars.”


“They keep telling me to stay where I am. They say there’s plenty of light here. But they don’t get it. They don’t get my waves or hear my silent cries in the night.


Nobody gets it.” He placed his hands over his heart. “This…here…nobody…”. He closed his eyes.

“What were you gonna say?”

“Nobody gets in here either.”

She moved closer to him.Her thumb kept touching that cramped naked part of her ring finger, in disbelief at the absence of something it had taken for granted, in confusion about what lay ahead for her.

“You just need to open that door a bit, and someone might move in. Even if it’s for just onecold winter night. This isn’t the first time…” She stopped mid-sentence. She didn’t want to share that this wasn’t the first time she was cheating on her husband, or that her infidelity bore deep roots inside her fear of being abandoned by him,or that she was tired of being lied to and of hanging onto promises that were never kept, or that she wasn’t sure if throwing her wedding ring into the ocean was a goodidea.

“You don’t care that I didn’t finish my sentence, do you?”

He wished he could reply ‘I do. Tell me more.’ But he didn’t. He was reminded of how he often felt: like a cold phone charger lying next to a dumpster with neither a phone to charge, nor an outlet to hook up to. He turned sideways, facing away from her.

“Does anyone care? Does anyone care?!” she screamed, with her lips shut tight, as she turned away from him. She was reminded of how her husband had proposed to her while they were both drunk, out camping in the Mojave Desert on a muggy June night. They were sitting around their campfire, when he knelt down and offereda ring. She had cried as she put the ring on; she had been waiting months for this moment.

They held hands and laughed out loud. He took out a balloon from his pocket and blew air into it before passing it to her; ‘Let’s fill it with our dreams!’, he had told her. She had taken a sip of her beer before filling up the balloon, tying it and letting it float up into the starry sky.

And here she was, twelve years later, under that same sky, with anger, fear and sorrow filling up the balloons that were supposed to hold desires, love and togetherness.

Tears ran over her cold face, carrying with them streaks of black mascara. “One night is all I want. One damned night to shove my grief aside,” she muttered silently in her chest.She wished that grief was a bunch of marbles scattered in her bedroom, something that shecould neatlypick up and store in a bag for a while; instead, it felt like dust scattered throughout her body.

He traced his fingers along the wet sand beside him, carving out two hearts next to each other and drawing what he thought was an arc connecting them. He’d draw the hearts and then cover them up with a handful of sand, before starting again.

In that four feet of dark space between them, lay their hopesand their sorrows. Each one quietly wished the waves would sweep away their sorrows and replace them with hope. But the waves came and they went, doing the same thing they’d been doing for thousands of years.

He sat up. “Let’s try again,” he said, as he handed her the binoculars. “Want to see if you can spot them?”

“Yeah, whatever,” she replied, as she wiped her face with her sandy hands.

She fumbled with the binoculars, moving them aimlessly across the sky. “Remind me again…what am I looking for? My wedding ring?”

“Jupiter and Saturn. You’ve got to be patient. Start by looking southwest. You should see Jupiter first…it’s brighter.”

“I’m such a pro at this. Threedamned pints of beer don’t help either. Why don’t you come closer and show me how to do this?Wait! What’s that? I see two shiny objects.”

“You do?”

“Well, I don’t know what they are, but they’re kinda close to each other.”

“Let me check it out.” He stood up, his gaze fixated on the sky.

A few seconds later, he put the binoculars down and ran in circles around her, laughing out loud. “Yeah! Yeah! I’m ashore again!”


“We found them! Jupiter and Saturn. They’re together. They did it!If they beat the odds, so can I. I can stay here!”. He started doing cartwheels. “Yeah! Oh yeah!”

She stared at him, her mouth wide open. “We need to talk. Can you sit down? What do you mean ‘ashore again’?Stay where?”

He sat down on the sand, his hands and knees shaking, a huge grin on his face.

“Aren’t you cold? Do you want my jacket?” she asked.

“I just needed to see them together. This happens once in four-hundred years!”

She noticed the two radiant dots in the sky. They did seem close, like they might kiss any minute, butthey were 450-million miles apart. Maybe like dog years though, 450-million cosmic miles was just a few earthly feet apart, like she was from him now. Maybe there was hope, for her and for him.

She took off her jacket and rolled the blanket over herself. “I’m a burrito. A hot one, of course, right? Not as hot as you, though.”

She moved closer to him and draped the blanket around both of them. “This feels cozy, doesn’t it?”

The binoculars fell down and he screamed as he recoiled away from her. His body was quivering, his heart pulsing wildly, his breaths deep and erratic. He curled up, arms over his legs and head over knees.

“Oh God…are you ok?” she asked, sitting up.

It took a few minutes for his breaths to calm down.

“Sorry. It’s been a while.”

“Been a while since what…?”

“I touched someone. Nine months. Since the pandemic started.”

“Sorry if I got too close to you…I just…I just couldn’t help it,” she said, as she moved away from him.

He took out a napkin from his jacket and started rubbing it over his fingers.

“What are you doing?”

“Silk on skin. It’s what I do at home.” He took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves.

“You’re so weird.”

“Before I bought the napkin, I had a nightly post-dinner ritual: I’d turn off the lights in my kitchen and stand by the granite countertop and move my hands across its cold surface, over and over again.”

He moved the napkin over his fingers, across his arms and his chest until it rested over his heart.“And then I’d go lie down under the bed and scrape its bottom with my fingers. Some nights I’d fall asleep under the bed.

He laid down, his legs crossed and hands over his heart.

She started to say something, but paused. She laid down sideways, facing him, her hand reaching out towards his, but stopping within inches.

“Can you imagine it?”, he asked. “It’s been four centuries since they met. Where would we be in four-hundred years?”

“I’d probably be the waves and you’d be the sand. I’droll over and kiss you every few minutes. As long as you promise to care about me.”

“But you’d be the good waves, right?”

“As long as you’re nice to me.”

A cold breeze blew over the beach, as the waves came ashore and went back home into the ocean. She felt tempted to move closer to him, but stopped herself. The horizon seemed so near and yet so far, glowing with light at times and pitch dark at others.

“How do you love someone?”, he asked.


“How do you love someone?”

“What do you mean ‘how do you love someone’? You just do it.” She threw her hands up in the air. “It’s like…like drinking water – you don’t have to think about how to do it.”

“I don’t know what it’s like or where to start. It feels like learning a new language.”

“Man…you’re complicated,” she said, as she put her hands back into her jacket and laid down, facing up to the sky.

That image of the phone charger came up in his mind again, as he uncrossed his legs and spread his arms out wide.

“Would you really have done it?” she asked.

“Done what?”

“Walked into the ocean.”

He smiled as he scooped up sand in his palm and let it dribble down. “We’re all going to turn into sand someday.”

“Yeah, but you…you’ve got to have hope. Hope’s what keeps me going. It’s what’s keeping me here, right now…with you.”

He got up, put on his jacket, and started walking away. He looked up at Polaris and then at Jupiter and Saturn, alternating between the familiar and the new, between what he had long since given up on and what might be a new beacon of hope, between what was alone andwhat was finally, thankfully,together. He was reminded of the previous seventeen times he had walked back to the shore, leaving his depression behind in the ocean. But this time, itwas different.
He wasn’t simply walking away from the ocean; he was running up to the shore, his heart laughing out loud, his veins tingling, his lips dripping with joy, an emotion that feltalien to him.

He returned to their site and laid down on his blanket. “Can I ask you a favor?”

“I demand that you ask me a favor.”

“You mind if we hold hands?”

She turned around to face him and offered her hand. His finger hovered over her palm,getting closer and further down until it finally settled into her open hand.
He shut his eyes hard as tears oozed out, dripping down his cheeks, sinking into the sand, sometears being rockshe had been carrying that needed to be let go of and some,rose petals that floated over his heart and whispered ‘thank you’.

She wrapped her ring finger around his finger and moved closer. She could feel his warm breath on her face, could hear his heart beating faster.

They were 450-million miles apart, resting together in the vastness of the universe. They were a blanket’s width apart, resting together on the cold beach. They had waited four-hundred years to see each other, an occurrence that was as precious as rare. They had been waiting their entire lives for this night, an event that neither had anticipated. They would start to drift away after a week, to their own spots in the universe, but for now, they were here, together. They wouldn’t see each other after tonight, but for now, they were here together.

And the sky took it all in. The night was dark, the ocean deep, the longings making their way up from the depths of their beings.And soon, lips touched, tongues wandered intolove-famished mouths, arms intertwined and clutched hard, goosebumps sprouted up, planets came closer, tears painted their desires on sand, Hallelujahs were screamed out loud, stars shone furiously, hearts fluttered with tenderness, the haunted hollow pathways between fingers and hearts were drenched in a downpour of emotions, lungs moved violently and joyously, butterflies roamed in stomachs, warm dreams simmered above cold bodies, breasts tingled as they greeted each other, lanterns of hope were tossed in the middle offlaming wildfires, waves kissed the sand and then bid adieu, throes of ecstasy rose and fell inside bodies, hearts slowed down, arms loosened their grip, sighs of bliss made their way out of wet satiated lips and warm hands held each other as faces looked up at the other great conjunction.


Kunal Mehra from US is a multimedia artist who likes photography, filmmaking, writing and hiking. He grew up in India is living in Portland, OR. His photography and writing have been published by the Press Pause Press, Sun Magazine, Portland Japanese Garden and Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon.


Our Contributors !!

Some of our writers!

  • We occassionally invite writers to send their musings. Do send in your work, and we will host it here.
  • Do visit the Submit page to submit your work.