Super, Not Nova

Magen Toole

Jimmy felt like a star some days, he said, always burning under his skin. Sometimes light shined from behind his teeth when he’d get to drinking, licking his lips with syrup in his eyes and laughing like he was about to fall out of his shoes. Jimmy always said things like that as long as I’d known him. That there was a nuclear bomb locked up inside him, ready to burn. Set the whole world on fire and melt people’s faces off like when you put Playmobil toys in the microwave, or like some spinning Fourth of July firework from hell. Everything but me, he always said, because at least I was still pretty cool. I never believed Jimmy, not really, but I never corrected him either. There was no point to it. Jimmy was just like that.

We both finished art school with a whimper. Jimmy sold most of his paints and supplies for rolling papers and beer money. He moved out of his mom’s house to some gross basement apartment his cousin Denny owned and put plaster over the holes where the previous tenants had hid their crack. I did an internship at the Guggenheim and then wandered off half-way through the summer to do street art with this tattooed sitar-player that I met at a rave. It wasn’t as exciting as it sounded.

Now we were just waiters with fake leather vests and bolo ties over at Wydell’s Steakhouse downtown, slinging ribeyes and whiskey-and-cokes to dress-up cowboys in expensive hats and designer jeans. After work we went back to Jimmy’s place most nights to get high and play X-Box. He always beat me, and we would drink off the stink of fake Country and too many Dallas reruns. There was nothing special about us that was made of stars or touched by light. Get a few beers in Jimmy and he swore he was the stuff of science fiction movies. Some space-age Jesus Christ made of sunshine. Then he’d get to glowing under his fingernails sometimes, and I’d almost believe him.

“I’m gonna blow up some day, man,” he’d say, lazy from the joint we’d just shared and looking dead in the eyes. “You’ll see. I’m like God with a magnifying glass, and you’re just ants. There won’t be shit left.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I’d always say over the noise of killing zombie hookers with chainsaws. “Just don’t stand next to me when you go nova.”

One night Jimmy and me were at a party for this girl Beth I knew from the video store, drinking cheap beer from red plastic cups. Half the people there were from the restaurant, the rest were all heavily-pierced baristas and tattooed hairdressers. It was like college all over again, a sweaty hipster fiesta in somebody’s studio apartment. I didn’t care. I was in the corner talking to Beth about French horror films and vagina dentate. Jimmy was nowhere in sight, having wandered off to score off of the bus-boy TJ or try his luck with that bartender again. It was then that I heard him shouting.

“Hey, Greg! Hey, hey, Greg!”

In the bathroom I found Jimmy hunched over the toilet, pointing and laughing. There was light shining behind his eyes and between the lashes, but I ignored it.

“Dude, it’s called a bowel movement,” I sighed. “You didn’t win anything.”

“No, man, look. Look.”

Taking a hesitant step toward the bowl, I saw that the whole thing was lit up, bright like Christmas lights.

“So, what, do you pee radioactive now?”

“No, man, it’s finally happening.” Jimmy was glowing from his fingertips, a dim burn like cigarette ash growing steadily brighter. “My whole body’s going nova. I told you this was coming.”

Quick as a shot Jimmy ran out of the bathroom, elbowing his way to the patio. He climbed over the rail and hung over the edge three stories over the street. I tried to stop him, to pull him back but he wouldn’t budge.

“Don’t be stupid, Jimmy!” I shouted at him. “You’re not a star. You probably just had Mountain Dew pee or something. You know how mine gets fluorescent orange when I drink too much Code Red?”

“No, this is totally happening,” Jimmy laughed, wriggling dangerously over the concrete. “I’m going nova.”

“Jimmy, you need to stop. Get back inside.”

“I can’t, man. I’m going to burn up. All that’s left will be my good-looking corpse.”

Just like that, the light started to shine. It came out of Jimmy in a wave that swallowed up the patio, bursting out of his chest and from his fingers and skull. The apartment shook and inside the hipsters screamed, gathered at the patio door in horror. I felt helpless as I watched Jimmy, engulfed by the light that tore out of him from every orifice, knowing then that I should have believed him all along. That maybe he was touched by something beautiful, by something divine. That maybe he had touched me, too.

In the end, as far as super-novae go, Jimmy’s was more of a taco burp. The hipsters all lived, even if some of their feather earrings and trucker caps were singed in the process. Nobody’s faces melted and reality didn’t collapse, at least not in any immediately notable way. Jimmy lived too, after I peeled him from the ledge, white-hot and glowing all over, the corpse of a blown-out star. It was kind of hard to keep a job like that, but it was okay. Beth was so impressed by my horror film knowledge that we started dating, and she was cool with letting me and Jimmy stay at her place. Jimmy still drank and told stories of the time that he went nova and killed all the city’s hipsters in a perfect blast, but we all knew better. Still we let Jimmy have it. He was happy.

MAGEN TOOLE is a writer for Fort Worth, Texas. She likes dinosaurs, black holes and writing stuff. When she grows up she wants to be the tambourine player in a psychedelic revival band. You can find more of her work at her website,

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