Orange Sky

January 24, 2009
By Riley Payne, Orem, UT

The evening sun sets the sky afire, the horizon a sea of blazing pigments. It's almost as if the heavens are a mere canvas of the Maker, His strong hand brushing gentle strokes of flame across the skyline. My brother stands before me, his stalwart figure silhouetted against the orange sky, awe-struck at the staggering beauty of the scene.

We hover in peaceful silence as we drink in the sight that surrounds us. Minutes pass, and he dares to step backward and place an arm around my shoulder. He looks at me and there is excitement dancing in his eyes. He flashes me his awkward, toothy grin and I return it. He is in his element, nothing between us and space but the chill of the autumn air. With a sigh, he allows himself to collapse to the ground, and he pats a patch of grass beside him, motioning for me to sit. I oblige, and as I do so, he bops me lightly on the nose.

"And now," he says melodramatically, "we wait."

'Waiting for what?' I wonder silently as I fall backwards against the earth. The grass is cool, tickling the base of my neck and my bare arms. I squeeze my eyes shut, though I can still see the color of the sunset from behind my lids and quietness seems to fill the air to bursting. I turn my head to catch his eye, but they are squeezed shut, and his face serene. His lips are gently curved into a smile, as though he is literally tasting the moment, savoring the sweet delicacy of the atmosphere at its rawest. He seems to be at such peace that I don't dare utter a single syllable, afraid that even the smallest sound will make the tranquility shatter into a thousand tiny pieces, jagged shards of broken glass. I don't know what else to do, so I breathe, I hope, I dream, I wait.

Soon the blazing orange of the sunset has faded into blackness, twilight descending into nothingness. My brother finally opens his eyes, gracefully, as though he's the winter gradually awakening into spring. He lets out a complacent sigh as he stretches, gaze turned to the heavens. His elation cannot be suppressed, and he turns to me eagerly.

"Just look at it," he breathes in wonder, and I can see tiny pinpricks of the stars reflected in his irises. "Doesn't it make you feel small?" I cast a glance upward, and as I try to perceive all that is around me, I feel my jaw slacken slightly. The sky is awash with light, millions of stars dazzling before my eyes. They feel so close that I could reach out, cup them in the palm of my hands, allow them to pulsate against my face and yet I know eons of space and time separate us, enclosing us in our rightful places. I shiver, wrapping my arms around my knees as the smallest comprehension of just how insignificant I am hits me softly in the chest. It's hard to take in the sight, like each pinpoint of light holds its own minute weight upon my shoulders. I can't understand why this strikes me so profoundly, but my heart aches and I am at a loss for words. I can only nod in reply.

He wraps an arm around my shoulder and smiles at me sympathetically, as if to say he understands exactly what's coursing through me. "C'mere, let's have a look at it." I ask what, and he nudges my arm playfully. "The comet, you goof!" He says it knowingly, like he's repeated it to me a thousand times, but he hasn't.

He presses his arm against my ear, guiding my gaze with his extended pointer finger. "There, do you see it?" I don't; I am too busy drowning in a sea of stars. "It's the bottom right star in that big triangle, fuzzier than the rest," he says patiently as I struggle to sift through the sky. Finally, I see it, like a veil of uncertainty has finally lifted from my eyes. A blurry dot amidst a haze of clarity.

"That's it?" I ask, unable to hide the disappointment tangled up in my exhaled breath. "A little speck? That's the comet?" I don't know what I had been expecting. The way he had spoke, if only for a few milliseconds, made me think it was something that would rob the cold air from my lungs, something with undeniable transcendence, something that stole center stage even amongst all the delicate beauty hidden in the folds of the sky. The distance between us instantly shifts a thousand miles, the temperature dropping, eight selfish words tearing the warmth from my body, desecrating everything.

"What do you mean 'that's it'?" replies my brother, puzzled at my lack of enthusiasm. "This won't be there again for years. I wanted you to see it while you could." He pauses, and his tone becomes serious as he struggles for the words to say. "Look, sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but I...I want to be there." He says it softly, sincerely, as if each syllable is so tender upon his tongue that it pains him to speak them. I can see in his eyes how much he yearns to be a stoic older brother, a force of strength to fall back on when I need it. I can almost feel the hurt emanating from him as he strives to simply be enough.

I bite my lip as I regret speaking up at all. My mind flutters as I search for words to patch up the holes and bridge the gaping distance I have wrought. "Sorry, I just thought..." I start, but my words are empty compared to his, as inane as a single grain of sand. I am heartless for being so imperceptive, for my failure to absorb the hope that has lit up his countenance since dusk simply by studying the simple crevices of his face.

Before my insecurities can completely sweep me away, my brother steps in. He doesn't murmur a word; it is a reassuring hand upon my shoulder and a ruffle of my hair that tells me things are all right. He lets his hand linger for a moment before falling back down, the grass his pillow. I inhale and follow suit, and my heart is aching, but for different reasons than before. Compassion flows within me, and it is as if my body will burst from all I feel, like not even the endless seas of the universe could contain my veneration. I stare at the sky, ingraining the comet, our comet into my memory. I try to make the moment stretch across as much time and space I can, relishing in this soft, unspoken secret. Finally, I rest my head against his chest, and the surrounding cosmos is without sound except for the constant beating of my brother's heart. For the first time in a long time, the world is nothing but white serenity. I am home.

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