[Raffel’s Constellations / Jeff Jones]

Dawn Raffel’s short-short story “Near Taurus” focuses on a moment shared between the narrator, who is now a grown woman, and a boy when they were children. The two visit a hangout spot on a particularly dark night. The boy says, “Orion, over there,” bringing the girl’s attention to the constellation, but she can’t find it. The narrator then tells us that the boy died, presumably shortly after that night. “Near Taurus” presents an idea of two adventurous youths, one of whom is perhaps too eager for his own good.

The story’s strongest element of craft is its use of implication. Implication, to my understanding, is the use of inexplicit, concise, and therefore careful, word choice to create meaning. Raffel takes implication to the extreme with her minimalist approach in “Near Taurus,” using as few words as possible to successfully build a coherent story. This is best exemplified in the following passage:

“Orion, over there.” He was misunderstood; that’s what the boy told me. “Only the belt. The body won’t show until winter,” he said. “Arms and such.”

Me, I could not find the belt, not to save my life, I said.

Flattened with want: “There is always another time,” he said.

He died, that boy. Light years! (232)

By writing “‘Orion, over there.’ He was misunderstood; that’s what the boy told me,” Raffel begins the process of peculiarizing this child. The author furthers our understanding with the next two lines, “Me, I could not find the belt, not to save my life, I said. Flattened with want: ‘There is always another time,’ he said.” Here we get an image of a boy who is unusually passionate for his age. He is “flattened with want” to be understood, having just found another peer who cannot relate with his longing for the stars. Being too familiar with this feeling, he doesn’t try to make her see the constellation, only saying, “There is always another time.” He has given up on trying to be understood.

The fact of the boy’s death for some reason does not come as a surprise to the reader. Considering the previous characterization, I imagine that he died searching—seeking to be understood? following his passions to dangerous extremes, having accepted that he won’t be understood? Raffel implies that there was something spectacular about the boy, either in life or in death, when she then writes, “Light years!” I can only assume that this references an unrecounted conversation from that night, in which the boy might’ve expressed his excitement at the vastness of the universe—a passion that the narrator can now revere, being old enough now to understand it.

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