something I wrote last summer, inspired by the quote
"I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night"
"I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night"
It’s late, maybe after midnight, but I can’t sleep. I’ve been lying awake for what feels like hours, tossing and turning until my hair is plastered to my forehead and my blanket sticks to my skin. Darn spring humidity. If the whole summer’s going to be like this, we might as well buy a house at the beach; it’s where we’ll probably end up spending most of our time.
My whole body feels alive, my skin tingling. Why is it that at night, when you can’t sleep, everything feels so much sharper? Not painfully so…more like you were looking at a picture you didn’t realize was blurry until the photographer pulled it into focus. Maybe it’s the shadows, the uncompromising black and white lines exuding clarity where colour cannot.
Maybe I’m just overtired.
I swing my legs over the edge of the mattress and set my feet on the cool wooden floorboards. When I was little, we had a bigger house in the country. I was too young at the time to know why we had to move, but now I’m pretty sure it had something to do with money. Why else would my parents pack their family up and move to the gray concrete of the city?
I get to my feet and pull the blanket off my bed. It’s funny…out of all the things I miss about our country home – the space, the colour, the feeling like you could breathe without inhaling toxic fumes – I miss the stars the most. I’ve always been fascinated by them. The little pinpricks of light, way up in the sky. Windows to heaven, Mom always called them. She said if I looked hard enough, I’d be able to see God peering down at me. I asked her once what he did during the daytime, since there weren’t any stars to see through, and she laughed. “The stars don’t go away during the daytime, Birdie,” she said. “You can’t see them, but they’re always there. Always watching you. Just like God.”
My door creaks as I ease it open, and I hold my breath, glancing towards my parents’ bedroom at the end of the hall. Finally, when I’m satisfied that they’re still asleep, I slip out and down the stairs, skipping the squeaky third one. The air in the living room is cooler, one window propped open to let the breeze blow through the house, and I shiver, wrapping the blanket around my shoulders.
“Going out to look at the stars?”
I whip around, my heart thumping in my ears. “Geez, Mike! You scared me half to death!”
My brother’s hair is sticking up on the left side of his head – a fact he is obviously not aware of, or he’d be smoothing it down instead of smirking patronizingly at me. “Sorry. Couldn’t sleep.”
I shiver again, although I’m not cold. “Me neither.” I tuck the blanket more firmly around myself, and shift my weight from one foot to the other. “Will you come outside with me?”
Mike scoots his chair back and gets to his feet. “All right.” He reaches out – our house is small enough that my brother, with his long arms, can open the door from the kitchen table – and unlocks the front door, holding it open for me to step outside.
We used to sneak out all the time when we were kids, at home on the farm. Mom and Dad didn’t care, as long as neither of us went out alone and we didn’t leave the front porch. Since moving to the city, it was kind of an unspoken agreement that our midnight escapades would have to stop, although there’ve been several times where we met in the night and tiptoed out to the tree.
“Here,” I say, sliding my feet through the dewy grass. “Hold my blanket so I can climb up.” The one good thing about our tiny house and miniscule backyard is the tree. It’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen, even bigger than the ones we had on the farm, with low branches that are perfect for climbing. There are even a couple of higher branches that hang over the roof, which is where Mike and I usually go to stargaze.
I dig my toes into the bark and clamber from branch to branch, surprised by how quickly the familiar handholds come back to me.
“Ready?” hisses Mike, tossing my blanket up. I catch it with my free hand and step gingerly onto the roof.
“Come on up.”
By the time he drops lightly to the shingles beside me, I’m already on my back. The streetlights obscure some of my view, but the stars are bright tonight and I can see well enough. Mike is silent for a few moments.
“One of my teachers said something interesting today.”
I keep my gaze fixed on the sky. “Yeah?”
“It made me think of you.”
“In what way?”
He clears his throat and rests his chin in his hand, silent for so long that I wonder if he’s fallen asleep. “I have loved the stars too fondly,” he says at last, “to be fearful of the night.”
“Wow.” I turn the words over in my mind. “That’s beautiful.”
He doesn’t respond, staring at the far-off horizon. Something’s on his mind.
“What’s bothering you?”
I sit up and look at him. “Something’s bugging you.”
He sighs. “I’ve been thinking about stars a lot. ‘S probably why the quote got stuck in my head.”
“And is that a bad thing?”
Mike shakes his head, licks his lips. Searching for the right words. “Remember how Mom used to say that stars were like windows to heaven?”
Taken aback at this sudden change of topic, I nod.
“Do you believe that?”
I tilt my head. “Literally? No. Stars are just-“
He shakes his head again. “Nah, I said that wrong. Not the part about the stars…you know. God. Do you really think there’s anyone up there, or is he just a fantasy, like Santa, designed to make us feel good?”
I stare at him, my heartbeat picking up again. “Of course I do! Don’t you?”
He shrugs. “I guess.” There’s a long pause. “It just doesn’t make sense, Skylar.”
I feel ill. Older brothers are supposed to have all the answers – they’re not allowed to ask questions. “Mike, I don’t know. Did you ask Dad?”
He makes eye contact with me for the first time since we got up here. “I dunno. I’m not sure how to approach it. And with him and Mom so busy with preparations for their trip, I don’t think he’s got time.”
Excuses, of course. Mom and Dad are busy, but not THAT busy. He just doesn’t want to approach the subject, for some reason.
“That’s why I couldn’t sleep,” he says, looking away again. “I can’t stop thinking about it. It just…it just doesn’t make sense.”
I don’t bother asking which part of it doesn’t make sense. I don’t want to know. Suddenly, all I want to do is to go to bed and pretend none of this ever happened. “I’m going in,” I say, and instantly regret it as Mike’s shoulders slump.
I toss the blanket down to the grass and swing myself off the roof. “Yeah. Don’t stay out too long.”
He doesn’t reply.