THURSDAY: The Sinclair Star


Copyright is held by the author.

JOANNA COULD feel the cold of the stone balustrade through her leather gloves. She leaned on it lightly, as she looked across the rolling lawns, ringed by trees, lit by fairy lights. It was one of those unseasonably mild New Year’s Eves. The snow had melted and the grass glowed mistily green beneath the moon. She shrugged deeper into her long black coat and sighed with contentment. What a beautiful evening! Despite her initial reservations, it was the perfect way to end 1999. The sky was clear and studded with stars. She never could name any of them but now, of course, she had William. William. He had told her that without a telescope they couldn’t see the star that had been named after him. The “Sinclair Star”. Still, she liked to think that the brightest star she could see was his, shining down on her, no matter what.

When William had told her that they really should accept this party invitation, she had been a little disappointed. Seeing that it was their first New Year’s Eve together as a married couple, she had fantasized about making their stunning Lawrence Park home even more magical, sparkling with polished silver and Meissen china. After all, she still couldn’t believe that his home had become her home.

She closed her eyes and took in a lungful of crisp air. She caught a whiff of wood smoke. Even though they were in the heart of the city, you would only know it by the twinkling lights glittering through the trees.

“Here you go, my love.”

“My love.” Would she ever tire of hearing him call her that?

She turned to find William at her elbow, a flute of champagne in each hand. When they had caught each other’s eyes during yet another toast to the old year, they instinctively moved as one towards the mullioned French doors to escape to the terrace. But not before she had insisted he put an overcoat on over his tuxedo. She regularly teased him that she was a mere child, only 63 compared to his ancient 75. But getting the flu at either of their ages was no joke.

“Thank you, darling,” she smiled, accepting one of the glasses. As if on cue, they both turned back to look over the balustrade, he leaning his elbows on a dry patch, surveying the view.

“Not bad, eh?”

She turned to him, gently resting the glass in front of her.

“What? The grounds?”

He nodded.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “But I still prefer our place. This is a bit too ornate for my taste.”

“Really?” He frowned, seeming to consider this. “I wouldn’t mind having this much property. I’d have room to build a proper addition to set up my collection of telescopes.”

Joanna laughed, putting her arm through his and adopting a teasing tone, “You and your precious telescopes. You’re such a collector!”

“It’s my life’s work!” He protested. Joanna was glad to see the twinkle in his eye. His collecting habit was an old joke between them.

Joanna laughed again. “Oh, William, I get it. I can’t really criticize. You’ve seen that I have trouble throwing anything away. But seriously,” she turned to him, “don’t you think our place is big enough? Besides you’re down at the university lab most of the time anyways.”

“I suppose so.” He shrugged, “I’m just glad you’ve taken to the house. I would have upped stakes and bought somewhere new with you if that was what you wanted. Still would, if you decided….”

“Don’t be silly,” she interrupted him, squeezing his arm while he took a sip of champagne. “What’s not to like? Don’t forget, I come from a tiny walk-up with one so-called picture window looking out over a parking lot. Don’t get me wrong, sweetheart. I would live with you anywhere, even my old apartment.” She shook her head at his look of mock horror. “But a house in Lawrence Park with five bedrooms and six bathrooms? Not too hard to take.”

His face crinkled into a grin and she felt her chest expand with the sheer beauty of his smile. Interviewing him that night eight months ago when he was awarded the astronomy prize was one of those watershed moments in her life. They had found a quiet room (more like a storage closet) to sit in, their knees almost touching as they sat on metal folding chairs, her laptop perched precariously on a tilting table, to talk about the fact that he was about to have a star named after him. The “Sinclair Star”. Sure didn’t sound very poetic, she remembered thinking, but he was quietly humbled by the honour. All she could think about was how soft and gentle his hands looked. But when he swept a stray lock of his white hair over his forehead, she was sure her heart actually missed a beat.

“Are you enjoying tonight?” she asked him as an owl hooted nearby.

He hesitated for a second before replying, “Well, it’s a bit of a command performance. Once Jason learned there was going to be a solar eclipse this afternoon, he felt the stars had aligned, so to speak, for us all to gather and toast the New Year in together. Of course, it’s not just any old New Year’s — a new millennium. I hope you don’t mind.”

She leaned in to wrap his scarf more closely around his neck. “Well, I will admit, I wouldn’t have been against a quiet night in or perhaps a little house party of our own but I get that this is important. These are your colleagues, after all.” She picked up her glass, taking a sip before asking, “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you. I probably should know this as an astronomer’s wife but what’s the big deal about an eclipse anyway? I know it’s about the sun being blocked by the moon or something, but, really, so what?”

William laughed, throwing his head back. “Oh, Jo. You kill me.”

“What?” She laughed, snuggling up against him, looking into his clear eyes. “What’s so funny?”

But William was unable to reply. He suddenly bent over, erupting in a coughing fit. She patted his back anxiously as he struggled to catch his breath.

“You OK?” She asked, her own chest tightening as he drew in a deep breath.

William reached into his trouser pocket to extract a handkerchief, wiping his eyes. “Yes. Sorry. Came on all of a sudden.” He cleared his throat and returned his handkerchief to his pocket. “Frankly, I think Jason just wanted an excuse to throw a party and a solar eclipse on the afternoon of a new millennium? Well, it was the perfect reason. You must admit, the celestial decorations during dinner were pretty spectacular.”
Joanna nodded in agreement as she thought of the stars that lit up the ceiling of the vaulted dining room and the twinkling lights sprinkled along the snowy white table cloth.

William suddenly looked serious, and she caught a glimpse of her husband, the famous scholar.

“Well, back to your question. In ancient times, the dimming of the sun during the day, partially or completely, was thought to be a supernatural phenomenon and was regarded as a bad omen. Some even believed that mythological figures stole the sun out of anger. Or to punish us mere mortals for living a life of debauchery.” He chuckled, “I guess Jason might have thought that invoking the gods to join us in feasting like a bunch of gluttonous Romans might appease them somewhat. Who knows?”

The sound of the midnight countdown reached them through the windows. They turned to each other, waiting until they heard the shout, “Happy New Year!” Joanna tilted her head up to his. They kissed deeply. She felt tears prick the back of her eyes as they picked up their glasses and clinked them. William grinned, “Happy year 2000! A new century!”

A gust of wind suddenly swept across the terrace, catching Joanna’s soft updo and threatening to release her long white hair to the breeze. William pulled her close. She nestled her head into his shoulder as he whispered, “Oh, my sweet Joanna. I will love you this century into the next.”


“Let’s hope this key fits.”

Taz glanced over at her student, Emily, as they huddled on the stone wraparound porch of the elegant Lawrence Park home. It was the morning of New Year’s Eve. They were both hoping that they could get this home visit done in time to leave a bit early. Despite the dazzling sunshine, it was cold. Taz shuddered as a bitter wind assaulted them. She was glad she had worn her boots. No one had swept the snow clear from the walkway leading to the house nor up the steps to the porch. Emily looked half frozen in her thin cloth coat.

“Now remember, as soon as we get inside, we need to tuck our pants into our socks and put these covers over our boots,” Taz handed Emily a pair of surgical blue slip-ons. “If you need any Vicks to put under your nose, just let me know.” She patted her coat pocket. “I have a jar right here.”

Emily frowned as she stomped from one foot to the other. “Do you really think it’s going to be that bad?”

Taz grimaced. “Well, you read the report from the paramedics. When they brought Mrs. Sinclair into hospital, she was in terrible shape. They said the house was a disaster, jammed full of stuff that she has collected over the years. I don’t know.”

“Poor thing,” Emily sighed, looking up at the elegant black door with the fanlight, all in need of a coat of paint.

“Well, let’s hope it’s not as bad as all that.” Taz replied briskly, as they both donned masks. She inserted the key into the lock, relieved when it clicked into place. As she pushed the door open, she looked back at Emily, “Remember, we’re looking for anything that might lead us to a next of kin or any kind of contact for Mrs. Sinclair.”

But Taz could only push the door open about a foot before something stopped its progress. She used her shoulder to shove it open a bit further and barely managed to squeeze inside. Being skinny had its advantages, she thought, as she groped for a light switch. When no light appeared, she swore, “Damn. I forgot. Electricity’s been shut off.”

Taz stepped further into the hall as Emily manoeuvred her way inside, looking around anxiously. Taz balanced her knapsack on her knee and fished out a flashlight. She clicked it on and scanned the vast room. In her social work career, Taz had visited many clients who were collectors but never had she seen anything quite like this. Canyons of boxes and stacks of newspapers crowded in on them on either side, leaving only a narrow passage way straight ahead to what looked like a kitchen and off to the right to a living area. The flight of stairs that ran up the left wall was lined with similar piles, many of which had toppled over on to the floor below.

Taz sighed through her mask. “OK, Emily. It’s worse than I thought. Remember to tuck your pants in. Don’t want any creepy crawlies getting up your legs.”

This done, Taz gestured that they should move towards the living room. She kicked aside empty boxes and large, black garbage bags and waded into the room. A thin sliver of light threaded through the curtains at the window overlooking the street. A shower of dust fell down on Taz as she pulled the curtains apart. One of the panels slid off the rod and fell to the floor.

“Oh, well,” she muttered, “at least we have a bit of light now.”

Emily stared wide eyed at the once elegant room now piled high with rotting frozen food packages, milk cartons, magazines and unopened mail. The air was thick with the smell of sour milk and urine. Without a word, Taz reached into her pocket and offered Emily the jar of Vicks.

“You OK?” she asked, as they both pulled down their masks and smeared the ointment under their noses.

Emily nodded. “Wow. It’s so sad.”

“I know. Here we are in 2022 — almost 2023 — and someone can be living like this and no one notices. This didn’t happen overnight.”

“At least that neighbour got suspicious and called the paramedics. If he hadn’t, who knows how long Mrs. Sinclair might have lain here?” Emily looked down at her feet, as though imagining such a fate.

“True. Bad enough that she lay on the floor for days with that broken hip. It’s a wonder she could walk at all, with the shape her feet were in,” Taz had never before seen someone’s nails grow right into the pads of their toes. “It’s going to be tough to rehabilitate her. But at least she’s where she can get that help now. With the pressure for beds, we may have our work cut out for ourselves convincing the team that someone like Mrs. Sinclair has a life worth saving.”

Emily put her hands in her coat pockets and looked over at an intricately carved floor-to-ceiling armoire on the far wall. Its glass doors protected a collection of telescopes, artfully arranged along the shelves. Taz followed her gaze and walked closer.

“Someone sure was a collector! Must have been interested in the stars,” Emily observed.

Taz ran her finger over the glass doors. “Sure looks that way. And interesting that this is the one spot that has been kept dusted. But no papers. We’ll have to look upstairs.”

Suddenly there was a rustling sound. It came from the hall. Emily gasped and jumped back as a creature emerged from behind what seemed to be a wingback chair piled high with an odd assortment of boxes and a sewing machine. Taz beamed her flashlight on what turned out to be a black cat, its back arched as it hissed at them. She let out the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.

“Great,” she stepped back. “Just what we need. I guess the paramedics didn’t realize there was a cat here. God, poor thing must be starving.” She looked down and wrinkled her nose. “Explains the smell. At least some of it.”

“What will we do with her?” Emily asked, bending down to coax the cat towards her.

At that moment there was a knock on the door. Taz shot Emily a puzzled look before kicking her way back through the garbage bags to the hallway. Before she reached it, they heard a voice call out.

“Hello? Anyone here?”
“Hello!” Taz replied, putting her head around the doorframe.

A squat creature, looking like a human-sized garden gnome wrapped in a navy parka and toque appeared in the light from the door, letting in a welcome blast of fresh air.

“Hello. I’m Stan? The neighbour from across the street? I saw you pull up and thought, you know, you might need a hand.”
“Yes, hello Stan,” Taz introduced herself and Emily. “You called the paramedics. Thank you. Without you, Mrs. Sinclair would have been in a pretty bad way.”
“Oh, it was nothing,” he stuttered. “I tried to keep an eye on her, you know. Knocking on her door every few days, that kind of thing. Not that she ever let me in, mind you. But I’d just call through the letter box. Make sure she was ok.”

Taz watched as Stan looked around in amazement at the chaos. She hurried on, “She’s in a rehab hospital now and we’re trying to figure out if she has any next of kin. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you? Like if she has any kids or family?”
Stan frowned. He started to take his toque off and then seemed to think better of it. “’Fraid not. She’s been alone here for as long as I’ve known her. Never seen anyone coming and going, if you know what I mean. But,” he craned his neck and looked into the living room, “she did have a cat. Name of Roxy. She used to ask me now and then to pick up some cat food and leave it on the porch. Any sign of her, Roxy?”

Taz nodded in the direction of the living room. “Just about scared us to death but yes, I think she’s just gone in there.”

Stan hesitated, “I could take her, if you want. Can’t let her starve.”

“Oh, would you? That’d be great, Stan. Thank you. Do you think she’ll come to you?”

“Let’s see,” he replied, as Taz and Emily stepped aside.

After Taz entered his contact number into her ipad, they watched Stan stumble back across the street with a hissing black cat under his arm.

Taz sighed. “I fear we may have just said goodbye to Mrs. Sinclair’s only next of kin.”
“Who? Stan?” Emily asked with a frown.

“No. Roxy.”


Joanna pulled the sheet down that was drawn up to her chin. It felt rough and scratchy. She needed to pee. Just as she was trying to think what to do, she heard a distant sound of singing. She listened in the dark and found herself humming along. It took her a moment to place it. “Auld Lang Syne.” Could it be New Year’s Eve? She frowned. Where was she?

Her eyes were drawn to the window beside her bed. Strange. It seemed to be in a different place. She craned her neck and tried to see the sky but there were only lights from the neighbouring buildings. She sighed. She looked down at her blanket. A pattern of light fell gently across her chest. She smiled as she traced it with her finger. She knew it. The Sinclair Star. She closed her eyes and lay back, listening to the singing rise and fall, rise and fall in time with her breath.


Image of Mary E. Schulz, head tilted slightly to the right, smiling, wearing glasses and a colourful scarf.

Mary E. Schulz is an aspiring Canadian writer based in Toronto. She enjoys the company of dogs, the passion of opera and writing that takes her breath away.

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