Deborah Willis's "Sky Theatre"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

The dome of the Calgary Centennial Planetarium, under construction in 1966-67. The facility was built, according to a city astronomer, to celebrate not only Canada's centennial but "the world's entry into the space age... and the marvel of the heavens." (Photo: City of Calgary Archives via Alberta on Record)

The dome of the Calgary Centennial Planetarium, under construction in 1966-67. The facility was built, according to a city astronomer, to celebrate not only Canada's centennial but "the world's entry into the space age... and the marvel of the heavens." (Photo: City of Calgary Archives via Alberta on Record)

By her own admission, Caitlin is an ordinary kid growing up in the Calgary suburbs. In her neighbourhood, “each street looked like every other street: double garages, aerated lawns, pastel stucco.” Within this safe, predictable frame, Caitlin fantasizes about living anywhere but here, and about Mary Louise, the golden, mysterious girl a grade ahead of her in school. On the first day of Grade 11, Mary Louise returns to school paraplegic and Caitlin’s sense of the world begins to change. The accident causes Caitlin to consider the fragility of the reassuring patterns of her life in a city “that was always booming, or about to boom, a city that was sunny even in winter.” For the first time, she thinks about “that flimsy, moody thing” called luck. As she and her ordinary boyfriend Jay make out in the darkness of the domed theatre at the Planetarium, the projected night sky shimmers above them.

 

We kissed until our lips became swollen and raw. We kissed until we physically couldn’t kiss anymore. Then we straightened our clothes, breathed, leaned back in our seats, and looked at the stars. We held hands, our palms sweating against each other, as Andromeda sparkled or asteroids flew toward us. The Sky Theatre had a different show each week, but each was accompanied by a voice-over done by the same man. He had an accent that I couldn’t place but that I adored. The pattern of our days occurs because we live on a constantly spinning Earth. Because of this motion, day turns into night, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and summer turns into fall.

In my mind, the man who owned this gruff but gentle voice was named something foreign, like Pavel or Armand. I settled on Armand, and once I’d named him, I fell in love with him. I imagined that he was dashing and elegant and better-looking than Jay. I imagined that he was romantic and confident. I watched the complex movement of the heavens – there was a swirling nebula, there Orion’s belt – and everything Armand said seemed to be intended only for me.

For our earthbound view, stars appear to make a connected shape. But in fact the stars are not so connected, except in mythology and human imagination.

 Once, I forgot myself and said, “I love his voice. I would marry someone who talks like that.”

“That guy?” said Jay, with his Western Canadian accent – a form a speech so neutral that telemarketers in Delhi are encouraged to adopt it. “I think he sounds like an asshole.”

 

Deborah Willis, "Sky Theatre," Vanishing and Other Stories (Toronto: Penguin, 2009)