Nora is twenty-one years old and though she respects astrology as a belief system, she thinks anyone who bases their entire personality off of what some website with shitty graphic design and way too many ads tells them what zodiacs of their gender are supposed to act like is a spineless worm who is so terrified of introspection that they need an external definition to pretend to know themselves.
It’s not that she totally discounts astrology as a load of shit. Nora is a Pisces sun, Capricorn moon, and Scorpio rising (with a Mars in Libra). She keeps these things in mind as she listens to her date (sun sign Cancer, compatible with her) share her childhood traumas in a Korean restaurant. Nora’s date justifies everything she does with “as a Cancer” and tells a long-winded story about a fight she picked in a lesbian bar for a reason that is just not good enough.
Nora’s date is clearly a cancer.
She walks the Cancer back to her apartment, makes an excuse to avoid going up, and has the worst kiss since she was fifteen and mashing faces with some Leo in a telephone booth. That night, she tucks herself into bed alone. “So much for Tinder,” she says, looking up. Her ceiling has been missing for three weeks now, but maintenance keeps saying they already fixed it. She stares at the stars and helicopters and the zodiacs they represent.
“You are ungrateful,” they twinkle shrilly. “She had the voice of a chainsmoker and a solid right hook. How dare you ask for more?”
“All I’m asking for is a good kisser,” she yawns, and waits to fall asleep.
Nora goes out with a Virgo, and then her Libra ex-boyfriend. They confide in her separately that they’re not on such bad terms that they can’t make a threesome happen. She deletes both their numbers; they were all incompatible anyway. She’s asked out by a Scorpio, who goes ghost and never shows up to the restaurant they’d agreed on.
where are u? —she texts.
oh sorry —the Ghost writes back. i’m at band practice. maybe some other time?
She never replies; she doesn’t have time for people like that. Nora has not slept in four months, since maintenance still hasn’t fixed the ceiling and now even the satellites have started criticizing her. She brings a Leo over (a different one) and collects the sleep from his eyelids to use for herself.
Nora tells her therapist that she’s allergic to feelings because of her home life growing up. She justifies her constipation by describing her reaction to her father’s behavior, using psychological terms she picked up from the internet. Her therapist says nothing and takes notes.
“It’s because your moon sign is Capricorn,” the helicopters flash reassuringly that night. “How could you possibly be expected to express an emotion?”
“They’re overrated anyway,” the stars bleat. They speak up less often than the younger lights, and their voices tremble with age. “You don’t need them.”
“I don’t want your advice,” Nora says, rubbing her eyes. “I want a new ceiling.”
Nora’s eyebags puff up so much that they’ve become a second pair of cheeks, wobbling with every turn of her head until their inertia nearly tips her over.
Her optometrist examines her closely and says, “They’re full of water.”
“How could this happen?”
“Well,” he says, folding his hands on his chest as he leans back, “the body naturally produces tears, whether we release them or not. One should cry twice a week to maintain a healthy balance, or else swelling like this is likely to occur. That’s what happened in your case.” He scribbles something illegible on a prescription slip for her. “Cry once a day until the puffiness is gone—sobbing or wailing is preferable in your condition, though any number of tears is good. Don’t cry too much at once, or you’ll send your body into shock. If the swelling persists after two weeks, schedule another appointment with my assistant and I’ll see what I can do.”
Nora asks her therapist for advice on crying. He says nothing and takes notes.
It’s sometime in October when things start to improve. Nora has taken to watching sappy commercials, usually featuring old people, and her swelling has gone down. Her nose and fingertips become raw and red from the cheap tissues she uses every other hour. She tells herself she can stop crying any time she wants to, and takes frequent bathroom breaks during work to cry some more. Her office duties pile up. Her skin becomes tight. Her body rattles with loose bones when she organizes the filing cabinets and she often needs to pause for breath when she empties the shredder.
She doesn’t start smoking but she borrows a cigarette from the Ghost when she passes him on the street one day.
“How did your band practice go?” she asks a little pointedly.
“Oh, yeah, sorry about that,” he smiles, sheepish yet cocky. ” I’ll make it up to you tonight if you’re not doing anything.”
They go to a bar and when she takes him home, he doesn’t notice the missing ceiling but asks why there are diamonds everywhere. She had never seen them before he mentioned them, but now she realizes there are thorny vines growing over her walls like climbing roses. In the nights that follow, new precious stones bud and bloom in the moonlight before dropping to the floor like hail. In the mornings she has to put on thick boots to step through her room. Before she leaves for work, she sweeps the diamonds into industrial trash bags, and the next day she does this again.
The Ghost returns. He cooks an elaborate meal for her, garnished with freshly-plucked stones. At dawn, he walks through the bedroom without fearing for his feet. He glows now, though whether it’s a trick of the light or just the way she sees him, Nora can’t tell.
“Did you sleep well?” he asks, smiling tenderly.
“Mm-hmm.” She stretches and pulls him back into bed, holds him close in her arms.
She cries less. She gains her weight back. She catches herself smiling when she rides the bus back from work.
She tells her therapist she has a boyfriend now, that she’s doing better and she feels happy. He asks her if there’s any similarity between the Ghost and her father. She doesn’t think so.
Nora and the Ghost have dinner three times a week, and on the weekends they often go dancing. Sometimes he cooks for her, interrupting himself with stories about all sorts of subjects ranging from what his mother taught him to what he read on the internet, and everything he makes is slightly imperfect and delicious. Sometimes she cooks for him, and that usually ends in disaster.
“Nora, if you start selling all these diamonds, you could end up super rich, and then, with that money, you could buy yourself some cooking classes just so that you don’t end up killing me again.”
“Stop it!” She shoves him playfully. “It’s really not that bad!”
“Nora. Nora. Nora.” He takes her hand in his. “It is that bad.”
She wakes up in the middle of the night. The Ghost is dreaming in her arms, his visions fluttering over his head like colored ribbons. Nora puts two fingers to his neck and feels nothing but cold; she wonders if he’s alright—if it hurts him to be dead, if he enjoys it or if it makes him sad—and she wonders how he died.
The diamonds glitter in the moonlight and the stars whisper, pressuring them into joining their zodiac cult. They don’t talk to her when the Ghost is there; it’s probably because she’s asleep. The diamonds never say anything either.
For breakfast, she puts the stones in a bowl and eats them up with a spoon. They’re like gelatin in a crunchy shell; they taste ultra-fresh and slightly sweet. Since starting to eat them, she’s noticed that her skin has taken on a glow, her hair has developed a shine.
“How old were you when you realized you could eat diamonds?” she asks the Ghost.
“Oh, I’ve eaten them for as long as I can remember,” he says, bursting one between his teeth like a grape. “My mom used to keep a garden—she was always yelling at me for eating them all the time. I tried to grow some myself indoors, but it never got as big this. How’d you do it?”
She shrugs. “Honestly, I didn’t even notice them until you pointed it out. I guess I was too distracted by the ceiling.”
“Yeah, I only just realized you don’t have one. Does it rain on you a lot?”
“No, it only ever rains around me.”
The Ghost shows up early Saturday morning with a ladder, four sheets of plywood, six boxes of nails, two hammers, a plastic tarp, a sack of plaster, a bucket, and a trowel. He and Nora sit on top of her bedroom walls as they rebuild her ceiling; it has been eight months since maintenance claimed to have fixed it and she should’ve done something about it ages ago. They climb back inside through the window and cover the bedroom with the tarp. She mixes the plaster in the bathroom while he sets up the ladder. They work in turns to cover the plywood.
That evening, she kisses him goodnight and he makes his way down the alleyway to the corner he’d parked his car on. He waves at her as he drives past. She’ll see him again in a few days, but he has his own life to focus on right now.
She eats dinner. She washes her face. She turns out the lights and tucks herself into bed. Nora only has a moment to enjoy the darkness before the walls start to shake and quiver. Outside, the stars are howling, the satellites hissing, the helicopters knocking against the ceiling—all the lights of the night sky clatter and jabber at her window, demanding her attention. A stray beam lands inside, muttering at the foot of her bed, “Mercury trine moon, Venus in conjunction with Saturn, Sun sextile Neptune,” and Nora sighs and gets out of bed.
She goes to the window and throws it open. “Yes, I know it’s been a while since I’ve last listened to you.”
“You dismiss us! Devalue our knowledge!” the stars wail. “You do not care for our wisdom; once we brought the Ghost to you, you turned your back on us, and now you’ve shut us out!”
“You didn’t bring me shit. I found him all on my own.”
“We made him for you, perfect in his own way! We put him in your path!”
“You don’t control anything about me, or him, or anything down here. You’re just some glorified nightlights stuck in the sky, and I’m done listening to you. I’ve got a real ceiling now.” She shuts the window and pulls the diamond plants over the glass. She goes to bed in pitch darkness, and sleeps until morning.
She wakes up well-rested. The plants have pulled themselves back from the window, and the dull glow of a rainy morning washes over her. She puts on her boots and starts to sweep the diamonds into the last of her industrial trash bags. She’ll have to go out and buy some more today; she won’t be able to wait until after work tomorrow or else she might get buried in her sleep. Nora finds it ridiculous how many fruits are produced in a night, and she decides to spend the day pruning. She makes some mental notes of what to talk about in her next therapy session—she feels like she’s had a real breakthrough.
Nora is twenty-two now and she works in the same office building three bus stops from her apartment that she’s worked in since she was nineteen and had moved on from retail, but she’s thinking about quitting and starting an online business. She has a steady boyfriend and a good side-gig selling organic diamonds in the local farmer’s market. Sometimes she sleeps with the window open. She has made her peace with astrology and those who believe in it.