Nicholas Jordan was born, not beneath a starry sky, but in Edenvale Hospital – a modest red-brick building on the outskirts of a town that had four pubs, no banks, one swimming pool, six service clubs and bitterly resented water restrictions each summer. The hospital was surrounded by beds of bright pink bougainvillea and rectangles of thirsting lawn, and at the moment of little Nick’s birth, the sky above its hot tin roof was the scorching blue of a southern hemisphere noon in February.
And yet the stars were there. Out beyond the cloudless heat of the troposphere, beyond the stratosphere’s blanket of ozone, beyond the mesosphere and the thermosphere, the ionosphere, the exosphere and the magnetosphere, were the stars. Millions of them, patterning the blackness and orbiting themselves into the precise configuration that would be forever mapped onto the soul of Nicholas Jordan.
Joanna Jordan – Aries, owner-operator of Edenvale’s Uppercut hair salon, the freakishly accurate goal attack for the Edenvale Stars netball team, and a two-time Miss Eden Valley title-holder – did not think of the stars in the hours that followed her son’s birth. Blissed out and dishevelled in the hospital’s sole delivery suite, she only stared into little Nick’s face, and charted influences of a more terrestrial nature.
‘He’s got your nose,’ she murmured to her husband.
And she was quite right. Her baby had a perfect, miniature replica of the nose that she knew and loved on the face of Mark Jordan – Taurus, square-shouldered Australian Rules defender turned polo-shirted financial planner, lover of baked cheesecake and helpless admirer of long-legged women.
‘But your ears,’ Mark said, feeling his hands to be suddenly and gigantically out of scale as he smoothed back a wisp of the dark hair that feathered Nick’s newborn head.
And so, Joanna and Mark looked over their son and traced back to various sources his cheeks, forehead, fingers and toes. The new parents found an echo of Mark’s brother in the wide setting of their baby’s eyes, and a hint of Joanna’s mother in his full and expressive lips.
Nowhere, however, did they find, or even think to look for, the fingerprints of Beta Aquarii, a yellow supergiant burning some 537 light years from Earth. Or the more diffuse touch of the Helix Nebula, or indeed any of the other heavenly bodies that comprised the sprawling constellation of Aquarius, within whose auspices the sun was housed at the time of their baby’s birth.
An astrologer, looking at the pinpricks of destiny as laid out in little Nick’s natal chart, might on the day of his birth have been able to tell you that this child would grow up to be original to the point of slightly eccentric, creative and caring, but with a competitive streak so wide that his siblings would prefer eating Brussels sprouts to playing Monopoly with him. He would love costume parties and have a habit of bringing home any starving dog or flea-ridden cat that crossed his path.
This same astrologer might have allowed themselves a fond smile as they foretold that Nick, from his mid-teens onwards, would be a true believer when it came to the stars. Nick would like the fact that he was an Aquarius – a sign he would associate with innovative and original thinking, as well as summertime, music festivals and hot young hippies who smelled of patchouli and sex.
On the day of Nick’s birth, however, there was no astrologer at hand, and the only person who did make an astrological prediction about baby Nick at that time was Joanna Jordan’s friend Mandy Carmichael. Mandy – Gemini, dimple-cheeked darling of the regional television network’s weather report, radiant newlywed, ABBA fanatic – appeared at the hospital like a good fairy, straight after work. Her face was still thickly plastered with foundation and she teetered on high heels as she balanced in her arms an enormous blue teddy bear and a bunch of supermarket chrysanthemums. Soon the teddy was reclining in a chair, the chrysanthemums were in a Fowlers preserving jar, and Mandy was barefoot beside the bed, cradling her friend’s firstborn with infinite care.
‘A little Aquarius, hm?’ she said, her eyes misting. ‘Don’t expect him to be like you and Mark, will you, JoJo? Aquarians are different. Aren’t you, little one?’
‘Well, he’d better like sport,’ Jo said lightly. ‘Mark’s already bought him a tennis racquet.’
‘Which is why he’ll probably be an artist. Or a dancer. Won’t you, my treasure?’
Mandy slipped her finger into the closing star of baby Nick’s hand, and for a moment she was uncharacteristically speechless.
Then she said, ‘Jo, he’s beautiful. Just beautiful.’
By the time Mandy stepped out of the hospital, dusk had fallen, bringing with it a breeze as softly cool as the wistful mood that settled on her as she cut across the spiky grass – carrying her shoes – to the car park. The western sky was a smoky blue strung with drifts of low, pinkish cloud, but in the east a few eager stars had already burst through the deepening dark. Mandy slipped in behind the wheel of her car and watched those stars for a good long while. The smell of baby was in her nostrils.