Their heads were tiny buttons pegged to a green blanket of lawn. They were stars, and they were still. Still?... Movement was imperceptible from that height. But if the camera were to telescope down onto any head of the hundred: the vibrations of boredom, heat, anger, confusion, loneliness were not only apparent but blistering, as if every sewn-in marker was on the verge of bursting, snapping, loosening itself across the photograph in pieces.
Constellations of people. Each one a star. Everybody sore and lonely. It had been hours theywere standing still, waiting for the snapshots. Everyone hot. The interns had pinpointed the models' placements at nine. It was now past noon, judging by the sun. Is the camera broken? Is someone out of place? Is someone dead? Was this whole thing a performance piece and they its guinea pigs? Talking it over, reasoning about the wait, shooting the breeze (of which there was zero) was impossible with the distance. Each was only a dot on another's horizon, floaters in the eye. The closest among them, even the loops of Orion's belt, couldn't communicate except by distant unsemantic waving.
I see you."
"You know what
Orion's belt does?"
"It holds up Orion's..."
"I see you...I think."
Jokes don't land here. No one laughs. It's an empty field, save for the people.
They stood and looked around at distant bodies, scratched themselves, fought the lonely desire to pee for the sake of activity. Anything for that sake. The interns had taken the phones to ensure there would be only one photograph of this field. This left each with their own old boredom tics, appearing as if time were a tide uncovering buried things on a beach. Thumb twiddling. The humming of memorized tunes. Some men take practice swings, lose their pretend golfballs in the bare sunlight. One woman (the eastern corner of the big dipper) tenses her neck and plucks the stringy tendons like upright bass strings. Wearing a grey suit jacket (sweat circles spanning out hilariously wide from thearmpits) a young man picks his nose deep past the knuckle. Some begin to scratch psychosomatic itches on the leg, arm, that unreachable spot between shoulder blades.
Many of them were models, some actors. Some dressed their best, consulted their agent or mother. Ready to be seen, some were made up while many others came plain. Their woken-up and showered faces unshielded from the sun or public judgment. They figured there'd be an on-set cosmetologist. Not so. It was pointless. The camera wouldn't decipher a face, a darkened eyelash, a matched bowtie in these photos. The toys of their heads were the reduction, the summation, of a hundredsome round marks, were the tangle of shapes in the night sky. From where the craft sat hovering above, these weren't humans at all. Here, Draco, and the jointed line of Lynx. There, the five head cluster of Cassiopaeia. Each of those a mile apart.
They had signed up for this. It paid poorly, the grant money probably running out (after clearing fifty square miles of Florida's flat land), but at least it was cool to be a part of something so large. And this was their thinking for the first hour. Now they each rotated, each in their own unique ways, through this cycle of restlessness, boredom, confusion, despair.
This rotation included a fast glance up in to the sky, every few minutes, to see if the craft was still there. Because that was it (the rule of model jobs): if the photographer left the shoot, you could too. No one was quite sure it had taken any pictures yet. It was assumed that the shutter snapping would be something of a seismic thunderclap.
The field was, for all its tiny, personal rustlings, dead silent.
Add to the cycle: sleepiness. But sleep was not an option. It would surely put them out of place. Their spot in the grass galaxy then too wide, too long. They will stand out and be ruinsome. Dozens fought off the drowsiness. If any one of them momentarily slid off the horseback of awakeness, blinked for an instant weirdly long, failed to jerk their torso stock straight again, snapping the neck fast and forward– You're out.
Some pulled their hair for fun. One stood on one leg, wobbling and swimming his arms for minutes. So many childhood cures for antsyness, only palliative at best, and therefore not cures at all. In a word: rudderlessness. What were they to do? Where to go?
An older woman in a sundress swished the sides of it around like starting up a hula-hoop, sometimes pulling it up and flashing her boy-cut undies to no one who could appreciate them.
The bottom head of Gemini, a tan girl named Bailey, was unknowingly one-upping her, as she simply couldn't take it anymore, and wriggled off her camisole completely. So hot. Standing for so long now. Her underwear was hot pink. A bit faded, yeah. A warm pink, but no one could tell.
It was turning hellish, the whole gig. At least, to some, it still felt (oh... what's the word?) something to be a part of something this massive. Although it was still fairly singular, being a thing representing a star. At least it was preferable to a monotonous day in a coffee shop looking for work, or sitting behind a desk, assisting administration. Bailey justified the boredom of it – at least it was different – as she stood there nearly naked and baking, rotting like hot litter, looking up to see the photographer only to be blinded by the cooker of the sun.
A day ago, she stopped at a McDonald's on her drive home from Key West where she had hopped over what felt like a hundred islands, witnessed iguanas racing across roads, crabs walking up the trunks of trees and unchased chickens idling wild in front of Hemingway's house.
It was her only vacation and she took it alone. It had been something, but the drive back had her feeling lonely and increasingly distant. In other words, the malaise she had tried to escape by fleeing to those islands was rearing back and showing off its awful teeth as she neared work, which, at this rate, she'd be back just in time for. Sunburnt, tired, smelling of salt wind and road food, she'd take her place at her desk like nothing had changed. But instead, in line at McDonalds, she had checked her phone, scrolled through Facebook, and saw a friend had posted the link to a modeling job on craigslist. They still needed people, it said. Bailey had modeled a few times since high school. Mainly small things. Craigslist jobs.
She read the ad over ("...the Western Sky Constellation Project..."). Some artist finagled enough money out of NASA to make a star-chart of humans. The picture would be a green sky, little dark dots of stars. It wouldn't be lucrative. It wouldn't be sexy. It would be something. It wouldn't be her desk job in Jacksonville.
She applied right there, ignoring her chicken sandwich, and sent an email to her boss, asking to extend her vacation again. The shoot was in Orlando. She showed up hours early, hopeful that this would be some additional rustling of her monotony – darting down south on a whim was this in spades. But it was so short-lived, as is anything (besides this photograph). All that bluest water, bronzed men with their shirts flapping open, coconuts letting go of the branches, the long hooked highway branching to the southernmost point in the continental US. But it had been so brief.
Maybe she would meet someone. Even just a friend. Move with them to Tallahassee, or, fuck Florida, let's go to Vegas. Move anywhere for the sake of anything. Gemini was like two stick figures holding hands. Who might she touch?
Even the memory of it now, standing still in Orlando, holding her damp hair up with her hand, seems to walk away from her like the little black crabs she'd seen in the Key Largo trees. Their stalked eyes see hers, but, as her neck cranes to catch them fully, they skate back and hide. Only their eyes peek around, winking, teasing. Merrygorounding the tree, she can never see them whole.
And here she was stagnating, filming over, old soup, her and all these hopeless others in a wide green bowl. She could feel herself forgetting what those little eyes looked like. The last step in the cycle sunk in to her chest, settled on everyone there: loneliness.
The craft woke up with a whirring signal (making its final scan?). Bailey worried for a second that it had noticed her. There was no communication between the models, the interns, and the artist up above. Everyone waited, stared upward.
The atmosphere stilled again. Bailey saw that it would never end, knew her shirtlessness was not even a blip. She could shake herself up all she wanted. This world wouldn't see the difference.
She snapped off her bra and stepped out of her panties. No one noticed. No one could see. She wasn't fucking anything up by cooling off. She danced a little and nothing changed. She set herself on a straight course for a faraway figure. Castor, the head whose hand she held. Sprinting across the open grass just like 95 South to that bottommost point, the wind a cool crunch in her face, reminiscence from Antarctica. Whoever, whatever it was that she was moving toward, she would touch it, let it touch her, quietly, on the grass. The collision of them waiting for the solar applause of the shutter above.