1. At 9:30 pm, go down to the superintendent's door, which is outside around the corner of the building. His door is hidden a foot and a half behind a new metal grating covered with fine wire mesh. Root around on the ground for a stick to poke through the very small area surrounding the mesh, and maneuver it until you manage to ring his doorbell. Eventually, he will open his door, rubbing his weed-reddened eyes and grumbling. Have no pity. He has failed, betrayed, and lied to you more times than you could possibly count—the least he can do for you is give you the goddamn roof key.
2. Put the large bunch of identical keys in your pocket, and go back upstairs to your apartment. Resist the temptation to make copies and sell them.
3. Wait until 11:00 pm. Put on a sweater, your winter coat, and a mildly tacky summer hat with a floppy brim and adjustable chin cord. Search (unsuccessfully) for a flashlight. Light a candle, pick it up, and stuff a box of matches in your coat pocket. Drink three jars of water. Put a quilt around your shoulders, and head up to the roof.
4. Discover to your surprise that the stairwell lights are not all burnt out. The topmost level, however, has no lights. Set the candle down on a cardboard box, and start trying keys. The twenty-seventh one should work.
6. Find a spot on the edge of the roof where the "wall" is about 5 or 6 inches high. Lie down on your back with your head resting on the wall, and arrange the quilt around you. Relax and start watching for meteors.
Goddamn evil capitalistic running-dog Microsoft moon. It's planted squarely above you, grinning with jovial malice. Because it's full, it spreads a glowing disc of disinformation over the best half of the sky. Because you are in Philafuckingdelphia, a foul orange-gray haze eats its way upward from the horizon, leaving only a narrow doughnut of darker sky where a few sick and poisoned stars have managed to push their way through the atmospheric ooze.
7. Wait. Geese are honking somewhere in the distance, and it's cold. The quilt only reaches to your knees, but the chill takes up the slack, lavishing embraces on your calves, ankles and feet with total and quiet abandon.
8. The moon is burning your eyes. Arrange the brim of your hat so that you can't see it. Wait! Look! There it goes! A fireball with a sparking, sputtering tail. One.
9. Wait. And try not to hallucinate. There are too many planes up there.
10. After another half an hour, gather up your things and go downstairs to bed. Set the alarm to 4:30 am.
11. Wake up at 4:30 am. Force your eyes open, your head up in the air, your feet into shoes, and your arms into your coat sleeves. Get your stuff and go back up on the roof.
12. The moon is now due west. Go to the west "wall" and lie down with your feet to the east, so that you can't see it. Meteor number two will flash obligingly overhead.
13. How can it be so cold? It's only Pennsylvania, only November.
14. The meteors are coming faster now. Sometimes two or three at once. 15, 17, 18, 30.
15. Rearrange your hat and the blanket so you can see more of the sky (but not the moon). There is definitely a hierarchy of need developing here. Hold your legs together and cross one foot over the other for greatest possible heat retention. 32, 35, 36.
16. Stamp your feet in time to the Slangpolska in your head. Fervently hope that your neighbors, who often host loud keggers over your head at 1:00 am, will hear it and be unable to sleep. 45, 46, 47, 49.
17. Observe your very first UFOs. There are three of them, muted golden-red dots moving westward with the soaring-then-hesitating motion of birds. Too fast to be birds or planes, though, and too slow to be meteors. With a lazy grace, they change formation, crossing paths before gliding silently into the waiting maw of the orange horizon. 50, 51-52-53. And 54!
18. Wish you had a gun. A gun big enough to shoot the moon right out of the sky. Wish you'd put on three more pairs of socks, and the woolly boots you threw away years ago. 55.
19. Relax and let go. Let go of everything. Stretch out your legs, relax your feet, relax your thighs, relax your hands, relax your neck, relax your head. Let your toes be cold. It doesn't matter. 56, 57.
20. It's too damn cold for inner peace. Heave around readjusting your blanket, tap your feet, cross your legs. 58. No...57. No...58.
21. The moon seems to be low enough now that you don't have to face away from it. Besides, most of the meteors are in the west now. Get up, gather your stuff, and go over to the south wall.
22. Cold. Cold. Cold. 59. 60.
23. You're tempted to go downstairs and crawl into your nice warm bed. Keep yourself from moving by telling yourself that you will live only as many years as the number of meteors you see. Well, at least you'll reach 61. 65. 70.
24. The meteors are definitely peaking now. They're coming in small groups, 75-76-77-78. 79. 80. 81, 82, 83-84. None of them is as big or bright as the first one, though. 87, 88, 89. It's so cold.
25. A bird is chirping nearby; the sound comes from below. 91, 92.
26. An invisible snake has sunk its icy fangs deep into your big toe. Wonder when it will start moving up your leg, and how far. Recite a Kalevalan charm against cold:
Jack Frost, Windblast's son, icy son of Winter,
do not freeze my fingernails, do not demand my toes,
do not touch my ears, do not freeze my head.
Shall I now recite your lineage, proclaim your repute?
A serpent suckled Jack Frost, a serpent suckled, a snake fed him
with its tipless teats, with its milkless udder.
Now that you have grown big, grown up to be very handsome,
you thought you would freeze me, puff my ears up,
beg for my feet from down there, ask for my fingernails up there.
You are not likely to freeze me, to chill me badly.
I will exorcise you to over yonder, to the far backwoods of North Farm.
Then after you have come there, have got to your home,
freeze the kettles to the fire, the coals to the stove hearth,
a woman's hands in the dough, a child in a maiden's womb.
If you will not obey this, then I will exorcise you to over yonder
among the Demon's coals, to the hearthstones of the Demon's fireplace.
If you will not obey that, not pay even a little heed,
I will conduct your mouth to Summer's place, your tongue to Summer's home
whence you will never get away, never at all escape.
Try unsuccessfully to remember the Finnish words for the old man's spell against snakes. Mutter the fragments you do remember. 96, 97.
27. Pass the 100 mark, and decide to count using only the last two digits so you don't trip over your (mental) tongue. 3, 4, 17, 21.
The charms don't seem to be working—but then again, they often don't work for the Kalevala characters either. Don't call on Ukko—you want the sky to stay clear!
28. The dawn is flooding in, a tremendous tidal wave that drowns the stars in glowing blue. How did it come so fast? You can't think anymore. Chant, "42, 42, 42, 42, 42, 42, 42, 42, 42, 42, 42, 42, 42, 42, 42, 42, 42, 42." You wouldn't want to lose count or anything.
29. There goes another one. 43, 44. No more. The blue is creeping up faster and faster.
30. Sit up, and look to the east. The city is sparkling; a tree top spreads black and delicate branches over the muddy agate banding of the sunrise. It looks like a sunset in the African savannah on Wild Kingdom, the kind they have at the end of the show. It's time to go.
Although Ksiusia was widely denounced as paranoid, shortsighted, and dorky on her first trip back to the planet of her birth, she takes great pleasure in pointing out the shortcomings of the planet where she grew up. Because of this, not many people notice her equally profound appreciation for its many natural resources, not the least of which are the fiery patchwork of the Berkshire hills in autumn, feminist utopian novels, Tuvan punk music, and big round asses.