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For Kennedy to Remember
Sometimes, the stars whispered to us. Whispers light-years away. Whispers like trickling echoes of a child’s fading laughter, sighs of swaying willows and the murmur of the dry wind through sagebrush, and the light patter of bare feet on hot, sun-baked earth. Not often, but on the clearest of black nights when even Mars was visible to the left of the moon, they reached out with gentle fingertips dipped in stardust, tracing our parted lips, brushing our eyelids with a caress as soft and fleeting as the flutter of powdered butterfly wings against flesh. And when the sun would climb the faraway horizon with creeping rays of rosy dawn, the gentle flood of starlight would stroke our flushed cheeks with cool fingers one last time, then trail away until their lovely touch was no more.
Those diamond sky nights never could last long enough, but we made them last forever, night after night.
We climbed up our rusted, trembling latter, clambering onto the top of the old apartment down in the barn, and ducking our heads to avoid the spider-web infested wood rafters. It was dark up here and smelled musky, like the comforting smell of crusty old hay and the mysterious odor of damp cardboard boxes, stuffed full with dusty treasures of Grandpa Dave’s. I remember the first day we managed to crawl up here, by you boosting me up on top of the green refrigerator leaning broken and forlorn against the wall, and then I would pull you up and we would scramble up the rest of the way by ourselves. And that’s when we discovered the mounds upon mounds of molded boxes, curious looking chests, moth-eaten tarps that concealed something bulky beneath them, and of course, the strangest of them all, the canoe. Every day we could find something new up there—sometimes unearthing whole boxes of Grandpa Dave’s football trophies no longer in their prime (I still have the medal of his I took hanging in my room, and Sarah still has the golden cup we gave her), and other times we’d find living things.
Once I went up there without you (which turned out to be a bad idea), and there was this thing hanging upside down about the size of my hand—I nearly ran into it. Well, it was a bat, and I never made the mistake of leaving you out, and I never went up there alone again. But bats weren’t the only things living up on top of the apartment.
I crouched down next to the old canoe, running my fingertips across the cold surface. They came away caked with dust. You squatted next to me with a smile, your tangled hair a little ratted in the confines of the leather headband Dad made for us. I consciously adjusted mine, stuffing my crow feather in a little deeper.
“They’re getting bigger,” you said happily, gripping the edge of the canoe to peer into the gaping hole of darkness. “They’re don’t look like rats no more.”
“You’d better not go calling them rats, you know, Fluffy might get offended,” I said seriously, reaching my own hand in to stroke something soft, smooth, and full of wonderful warmth. A pair of eyes blinked lazily from the inside of the canoe, glowing like emerald gems.
You glowered sullenly at me, and then pulled out a little black kitten, so black it looked like it was wrapped in an inky blanket of darkness. Fluffy emerged from the canoe moments later, a purr rumbling loudly in her chest as she rubbed against our legs.
“Look how cute Blackie is!” you announced, holding the kitten in the air towards my face like he was Simba or something.
“Blackie? You use that way too much!” I couldn’t help but laughing a bit, because I swear, you named every single black cat we ever owned ‘Blackie’ so it wasn’t a big surprise to me that you decided to dub this one Blackie as well.
“So?” you challenged, hugging the kitten to your chest to suppress its pitiful squeals.
We played with the five little kittens until the sun was retreating to its den beneath the western hills. There were only the fading sounds of the sparrows that nested in the rafters overhead who fluttered to and fro in a whir of humming feathers, settling in for the night, the soft, throaty chirps of crickets hiding in the cool grasses, and the distant raspy bark of blind old Whip up by the house. After putting the kittens back, we skipped off together until we were huffing and puffing, trying to make it to the top of the dry, weedy hill where our house sat with the golden sun sinking beneath the horizon for good.
It was going to be a good night, I could tell. The sky was void of the typical streaks of pale clouds that usually littered the vast expanse, and darkness was settling rapidly. We sprinted into the house (you first, because you always made me shut the door) and threw on our sweats and warm sweatshirts, discarding our moccasins and headbands on the floor for the day. And however sneaky we managed to be, creeping out the plant door, Mom knew our tricks. She caught us and gave us a good dousing of mosquito spray before being satisfied, kissed us each on the cheek, made us go back and brush our teeth, and then she finally released us into the wild once more.
With our bright red sleeping bags all spread out, we nestled beneath the warm covers, occasionally fighting over the other blankets spread out over us. We waited until the moon was bright and silver in the night sky, and the first stars crept out of hiding into the dark atmosphere. And then we ran and danced like Indian princesses, barefoot and free over the cold, damp grass well past midnight, until our toes were so numb and frozen we thought they’d fall off. Once again we collapsed into the warmth of our sleeping bags, panting and gazing up to the stars, content.
“There’s Grandpa Dave,” you whispered after a while, your breathing calm and easy. Your little hand pointed to sky a little left of the moon, and I smiled. The star was the brightest and biggest of them all, and we both knew he was happy up there in heaven being a star, where he could watch over us all night long.
I pointed straight up. “And look, there’s the Pegasus…right there above of us. Kind of by the North Star, I think.”
“It looks like a square to me.”
I rolled my eyes, pulling the sleeping bag and tucking it right beneath my chin. You never did appreciate my vast knowledge and comprehension of the sky, thanks to the constellation book Grandma had gotten me. “Say your prayers and go to sleep,” I muttered.
“Okay!” you said brightly. “Dear God, thank-you for my family, the stars, Grandpa Dave, Blackie, Whip, Fluffy, Kitty, Shep, Butch, Whitey Tighty and—”
I’m sure you would’ve covered all the animals on our ranch, but I felt it was my duty to help you out with all the other animals out there. “And thank you God,” I mimicked in a high voice, “for all the zebras, and the giraffes, and the ducks, and the lions, and tigers, and elephants, and…”
I would have kept going, but we burst into laughter together, our giggles fading away like a dream into the star-studded night until there was only our companionable silence remaining behind. My eyes traced the glowing constellations, wishing I could reach out and close my fingers over a handful of stardust to keep forever. The Big Dipper was there, and I spent a long time searching for the Little Dipper after that. I’d only ever managed to find it once, and even then I wasn’t really sure those stars were in the right place. And then my gaze wandered back to the Pegasus, and inwardly, I smiled.
It did look like a great big square. But I wasn’t about to admit that to you.
I was sure you had fallen asleep, because your breathing was slow, deep, and extremely loud. But I was wrong, you were wide awake, still star gazing with me, hoping to see a shooting star arch silently across the shimmering galaxy so we could make a wish.
And the next moment, we both saw the most amazing thing of our life, and I know we won’t ever see anything like it as long as we live. Even though we’d told a few people after we experienced that, no one quite understood, or quite believed us—maybe both. But we both knew, and that was all we needed to cling to, all we needed to be satisfied. And so we kept it to ourselves, always able to share that fleeting, beautiful moment forever more.
A great ball of fire (I can’t even gather the words to describe it) fell from the northern edge of the sky like a whole burning world with a trailing tail of stardust and orange fire licking in its wake, lighting up the whole edge of the sky like a red, glaring sun. It was as if the whole world stopped turning in that single moment, holding its breath, waiting for the impact…
As quickly as it came, it vanished.
We flew upright in our sleeping bags, whirling to face each other with our jaws hanging slack, adrenaline and excitement thrumming through our veins and our hearts battering against our chests like caged animals. There was no fear, only an incredible sense of wonder and awe shimmering around us in an aura of astonishment.
“Did you see—?”
“A star? Or—?”
Our hushed voices molded together in a tremor of incredulity. Your eyes reflected the stars.
Years and years later, when we moved away from our ranch in Idaho and settled under the Montana sky, we still remembered that humbling, utterly breathtaking moment. In fact, it was only last night when I showed you Mars, and we both stood outside in the cold, glittering snow in our pajamas and snow boots, our breath coiling like silver serpents in the frozen rawness of the air.
“A little left of the moon…” My hand trailed across the sky, bathed in silver light.
“I see it, I see it. It looks like a giant star! And the moon, look how bright it is!”
“It’s the Wolf Moon,” I said. “It’s the biggest and closest it will be all year.”
“Why?” you asked.
And I explained to you, all about how the moon orbits in an ellipse as we stood in our snow boots in the snow that glittered like hidden treasures from the vivid rays of the moon. And then we dragged our mom out so she could see Mars, too.
Mom squinted up at it, hugging herself in the cold. “Looks like a star…” she said skeptically.
We rolled our eyes at each other, hiding knowing smiles. She commented on the brightness of the moon, and then hurried back indoors to warmth. Silence settled around us, like a gentle snow fall. We stood next to each other, both of us happy to see Mars for the first time. But then I got to wondering back to so long ago, when your little finger pointed a little left of the moon to Grandpa Dave’s star—his window from heaven. I smiled.
Perhaps it wasn’t our first time seeing Mars after all.
I suppose your thoughts were drifting back to then, too, when the stars whispered to us, and kissed our eyelids with cool, angel lips when we slept…
You looked at me. I looked at you. The moon reflected your eyes.
And we both remembered. There are some things you can explain, like the orbit of the moon around the earth in an ellipse.
But we both knew there are some things in this world that can’t be explained.