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"Like millions of suns,” I explain carefully. My grandfather always held the railing when he walked up the staircase, gripping on and dragging himself past the next mahogany step. His hands are calloused, yet wrinkled and soft. I could remember the same fingers prying at the skin of my tangerines. The fruit stained his clothing with the sweet smell.
“Don’t let your mother hear this kind of talk from you, Lierie.” I roll my eyes, casting them to glance past my eyelashes. My grandfather always had his scuffed loafers on without socks, shoes only meant for the wine red carpeting.
“She wouldn’t listen,” I argue shortly. My tongue rushes to wet my lips before speaking again. “I don’t lie.”
“Only on occasion,” he replies, turning where the stairs twist. The wood below our bare feet is clean and shining enough to see the blurry outline of the light bulb dangling over my hair.
The fluorescence is scaring away our shadows. We pass the barren walls, painted white over flowery wallpaper. The walls aren’t covered in the usual yard sale masterpieces. I don’t remember such a desolate hallway. Not in the attic, not in my grandfather’s prized, locked-without-key-except-for-the-key-around-my-neck attic.
“And this is not one of those particular occasions,” I press on. My grandfather stops walking, his hand on a doorknob. I catch the smell of lint and clean dishes on his button-down salmon shirt. “I promise you.”
He swallows audibly. “Stars, you call them.” Not a question, which brings the right side of my mouth up in a grin that displayed a single dimple. I nod frantically.
“Stars.” It’s a word to whisper. Meant to be sung, or written down in a note you leave on the cracked pavement for an adventurer to find his adventure.
“I’ve seen them, I know it.” No one else believes me. They see nothing but a darkened sky with a moon hanging from the heavens. I see lights in the midnight. I see phantoms amongst the cloud cover, dancing in the mist.
I close my eyes for a moment longer than the standard blink, recalling. My breathing is exasperated and my blood is heating, I feel the bubbles under all that pale flesh. For a minute, I can see past the wrinkles of my grandfather’s skin too, past everything that is keeping the breath in his lungs and the beat in his heart. I feel him standing there. I feel him living with me. My mouth opens, speaking out of turn.
“There’s a moon in that sky for a reason. To father the rest of the lights, to make sure we know there is something to look for. It’s the torch to discover the treasures of the dark. If you look for something, you’ll find anything. And I’ve found a congregation of lights up there, Grandfather. And it’s better than any blue sky you’ve seen.” My eyes open, wide and ready. I take in his gentle grin, slowly pushing back his slumped cheeks.
“Can you prove it?” He leans in an inch, raising an eyebrow and tilting his head to one side. His feet are bare and he’s not wearing his glasses and his hands are free, palms up to the ceiling. He’s an adventurer like me; I see it now. I see it and I gleam back, teeth pearly behind my curling lips.
“I can.” The knob moves with the small touch of his fingers and his hands come up to push at the door. The door that’s never pushed. It creaks with age and eagerness, tired of being left alone.
The silence has never been so simple. It’s necessary, like we have to stand here in the quiet to take it all in. There’s never been a paradise quite like this.
My eyes are afraid to shut, never so worried that something could disappear right before me. Chin tilted up, my dark black hair reaches the floor behind me. I feel the thick curls on my fingertips when my hands suddenly fall from my open mouth to my sides. The blush on my prominent cheekbones is rising to the tips of my ears. With my face so scarlet the freckles dotting the bridge of my nose are dissolving into my skin, my grandfather turns. He looks at me, expression eased and his eyes hard at work, studying me.
“The universe,” he introduces.
He shuts the door, leaving every fear and fault I’ve ever carried on the other side, contained in the hall. I’ll pick them up on my way back to reality.
The stars are like the abstract works of a painter. Effortless, yet placed specifically. With the flick of an artist’s wrist, the glowing seeds are the essence of life’s canvas.
My grandfather keeps the universe in his attic, a small room without a ceiling and without end. The air around the two of us is thick with bundles of the lights and I can’t help but reach out and draw lines with my fingers, connecting each together. Stringing them like fairy lights.
“It’s perfect,” is the way I describe something that couldn’t be anything less. Nothing in our world is without flaw. We just have to look farther to find such an excellence. “I feel like these have been waiting for me. Like I’m meant to watch the universe,” the word’s fresh on my tongue, bubbling like the strong carbonation of drinking soda from a straw. “Like I’m meant to watch it move.” The stars sing a melody of static, the noise suddenly ringing in the shell of my ears.
“It’s a demanding piece of work. Everything in this world wants to be seen, requests that we pay attention to all the stars it places and all the people it holds.” He turns to me. “The universe commands us to command others.”
“What are you-“
His face is bright. His eyes have the reflection of the lights illuminating like hanging lanterns. I’ve seen this look in his pupils before, without the wall of stars behind me. “I’m commanding you.”
“Follow. I’ve shown you the stars. I’ve shown you everything behind a locked door.” He pauses, losing my gaze only to pick it up again. “You have the key. Free it all.”
My grandfather is a leader; I see it now. A leader is a master of the new and the soon to come. He wants me to show the world not that I was right, but that there is hope. Hope in a larger world we can’t possibly imagine being anything but lights. Lights instead of gatherings of fire and heat millions of light years away. A leader will show the way to a new world. To a new universe.
“Right. Unleash the stars, no reigns anymore. No locked doors,” I agree.
“Let loose the millions of suns.”