By Danielle Pope
(the transformation of a being into
a star, planet, or constellation)
To remember him clearly only happens when I sleep and even then he is a silhouette most times, outlined by the night sky we had talked about, among other strange things. When I think back now, he’d be someone my aunt would have called ordinarily unordinary or some such; her way of saying ghost or spirit. But she’d have no idea how truly ordinary he was to me. And I wouldn’t realize the familiarity of him until days later.
To my aunt the dead were just as real as the living. She said I had the gift too. Don’t get me wrong; I loved my aunt, but most days I wondered if it was her past drug problem messing with her. She was my dad’s younger sister and grew up in the sixties and seventies and was definitely a child of that time. It wasn’t until she took me in when I was four that she stopped the drugs and drinking, though I caught her periodically smoking what she later explained to me as just being heavy-smelling cigarettes.
My parents died in a car accident on our way to a Broadway show one evening. It would have been my first show; my mother loved them. I remember all the lights, especially the lights that side-swiped the taxi. At the time both sets of grandparents weren’t ready for a small child. My mom’s sister, too, couldn’t afford one more in her pack of five. So while I was in the hospital for the week and a half following the accident, it was my dad’s sister who rearranged her life to find room for me. During that time I had a constant visitor. The doctors and nurses didn’t see her, or chose to ignore her, but she made the stay more bearable. My aunt, however, saw her too. This was when she told me about this apparent new ability. What else could I be but fascinated? I was four years old and my aunt was telling me that I could see things other people couldn’t. It was my special “knowledge” and very few people had it. The only thing this ability did though was make my parents’ death a bit easier to deal with. I figured that if I concentrated hard enough that I could see them whenever I wanted. I never did see them and finally ignored this “possible” gift, regarding it as a curse instead.
And the girl from the hospital was the only full-bodied spirit I’d ever see, or allow myself to ever see. At least I thought that until the other night, almost twenty years later, when I met him.
I was lying awake for the third time since going to bed that night, staring up at the ceiling, trying to pill images from my head as the orange light from the outside lamp shown through the closed shades of my room. It was 2:11 in the morning and my roommate was snoring soundly, mumbling every now and then. I decided to go out for a smoke and a walk.
The Tennessee night was chilly, the sky clear. While I walked to my favorite spot, the main building on campus, I lit a cigarette and listened to the quiet. When I got there, after climbing up a tree, a voice startled me.
“Hello. I was wondering when you’d show up.”
It was a boy’s voice and when I glanced up I noticed that he looked older than what he sounded like. “Pardon me,” I mumbled. “I didn’t think anyone else came up here.” I finished patting the dirt off my pants and went to leave when he stopped me.
“Please, don’t go. I’ve been waiting for such a long time to talk to someone.”
I eyed him but he appeared harmless enough so I sauntered over and sat next to him. We sat in silence for a couple of minutes when he pointed out a dip in the roof.
“Are all those yours?”
Through the glow of my cigarette I noticed the pile of decayed, decaying, and moderately fresh butts. “Sure, it’s a roof made ash tray. Why not?”
“Yes, I see your point.” He smiled. Silence fell over us again. Then he said, “Look, there’s a ring around the moon.”
This time I really looked him over. His manner was vague, but I could see that he had a childish appearance about him. His hair was unkempt but it seemed right on him. Yet he dressed maturely, black slacks with a white button down.
“Do you see the ring?”
I shook my head and raised it to see what he saw. Around the moon was a pale yellow. Beyond that a wider blue. And beyond that a much more faded red. “Must be sign of bad weather, or something.”
A chuckle caught in his throat before he spoke; being polite, I’m sure. “That’s a myth, you know. the rings are really a reflection of the sunlight that’s cast off the moon and caught in the upper atmosphere.”
I couldn’t help but raise my brows. When I returned my eyes to his face I noticed how intensely he was staring. If I focused hard enough I could just barely make out a haloed reflection around his dark orbs. “I once saw a rainbow in a water sprinkler when I was washing a car. But I’m sure it’s not the same thing.”
“No, you’re on the right path.” His voice was sincere. “It’s the same effect. The mist from the water catches the sun’s rays and creates a pattern of color. You know, like those prisms they show in seventh grade science.”
nodded and again we grew quiet.
“Seventh grade was a great year, but I really enjoyed high school.”
I rolled my eyes. “I hated school and college is no better.”
“Yeah, but you’re here.”
I pull a drag on my cigarette. “I promised my aunt before she died that I wouldn’t waste away waitressing.” I placed quotes on the wasting away part. “It’s not a career Marie.” I mimicked my aunt the best I could.
“She sounds like a smart woman. What about the rest of your family? They must be proud of you for being here.”
I yawned, shrugged. “My parents died when I was four. The others don’t count.” Somehow I felt like I was missing something, or someone. “What about you?” I gazed toward him.
He looked away, mumbling something to the effect of ‘I don’t remember them.’
“What?” I asked.
He cleared his throat. “They’re pleased, I suppose. I haven’t seen them in awhile.”
“Oh, I see. So you’re always on campus then. I surprised. Not many students stay on for the full year.” From the corner of my eye I could see him fumble with the strings on his shoes.
He changed the subject. “That necklace you’re wearing, it’s an ankh, isn’t?”
“It is. It belonged to my dad. I forget what it means now.”
“It’s a symbol for eternal life, like water that’s recycled and never in the same place twice.” His voice was soft and strangely comforting. In the far distance a church bell rang out.
I stretched out my legs and laid back bringing one knee up; putting my arms under my head. I pulled another cigarette from my pocket but didn’t light it. I yawned again. My eyes fluttered.
He looked up again. “Are you familiar with the story of Orion?” He voice sounded distance.
I glanced at him. He seemed transparent, almost like something was missing. “I remember something about it from sixth grade.” I sighed trying to recall. “Orion is faced behind the sisters to protect them or chase them. Or something like that.” I could see him nodding from the corner of my eye.
“That’s the popular understanding of it.”
“Weren’t they turned to doves to escape danger and Orion, wanting to protect them, also transformed?”
“Really?” A small chuckle escaped from his throat. “I don’t know. I seem to have forgotten it. I’ll have to check on it again.” His answer formed puffs above his mouth. “Ever wonder why only six can be seen in the cluster?”
I squinted my eyes to focus on the area. If there had been a new moon it would have been easier to see them and count. “I’ve never took notice, so I don’t have theory on that one.”
“It’s sad to think that maybe she was left behind, forever cursed to roam alone, always searching, never gaining or losing; like a black hole that stretches past imagination until one day you want to scream despite knowing how pointless it is. And the others, how helpless they must feel permanently staged up there unable to be wholly seven again.”
I observed a multi-colored changing star, trying to understand him as he talked. Somewhere in my subconscious his words felt familiar, something my aunt used to talk about when I was a child; perhaps someone else before then.
“I first felt like that a long time ago.” His voice was low. I had to strain to hear. “I was torn away from what I knew. It felt like I was being spilt and I couldn’t go back.” He wet his lips. “I see this image of people I should know. They’re holding out their hands, wanting me, waiting for me. But there’s this other image. She’s alone; crying, or rather was crying, for a long time. And so I rest, neither here nor there.”
“That sounds like a horrible experience.”
He look at me then. “But don’t you feel the same way?”
“Hm?” Suddenly I’m reminded of what he first said to me when I came up here: I was wondering when you’d show up. I closed my eyes. Was he talking about a divorce between his parents or was it something else he was trying to unveil to me. “I’m not sure.” I whispered.
Just before dawn I woke up alone on the roof.
Since that day I’ve searched for him in the faces of the students that I pass by, but even if he was to show up again I don’t know if I’d know him. He’s only someone I see behind my eyes.
I avoided going to the rooftop for a couple more days, making today almost two and a half weeks since the meeting. For once, my roommate is concerned.
“You seem different.” She says, perhaps a little too cheery; as if it’s a good thing.
I stop surfing the web. “Have you ever felt split by something?”
“Oh my gosh, yeah.” She puts down her nail polish. “This one time last year, I had two boys ask me to the dance and I couldn’t decide. It was really hard. So instead I went with someone else.” She waves her hand in dismissal. “It was, like, one of the worse dances ever.”
I shake my head. “No that’s not what I mean.” I lean forward in my chair some. “I mean have you ever felt like you belonged somewhere but you didn’t know where that was because there was . . .” I sigh, unable to find the right words.
“No. I always knew I wanted to come here. It’s a family tradition.”
“Oh. How nice. Well thanks for listening anyway.” I go back to my laptop. For most of the morning I just mess around. As the afternoon comes around through, I can’t help but keep thinking about what my roommate said: it’s a family tradition.
After my aunt died I boxed up all the important stuff and placed them in storage. Finishing my work, I walk to the bus stop near campus and take a bus downtown. From there I walk to the storage unit I rent. It’s a small cube, six by six by six. I take the key from my pocket and open the slide-up door. I notice that the self-made cardboard boxes are falling apart. I also notice that spiders have found their way in and complex webs are designed all over the place. Wiping the smaller webs aside, I begin sorting through the boxes, now wishing I had taken the time to label them.
There are seven columns of boxes and I find what I’m looking for in the last box of the sixth column. I knew my aunt kept some of the old pictures, but I ignored them when I had packed up so the new owners could move in. Frames stick out from the poor newspaper wrapping and I slowly pick them up and out. The third one in I find what I’ve been looking for; what’s been at the back of my subconscious, bothering me. I dust off the glass and view the photograph. It was taken outside by a house at dusk. I recognize myself, a child here. I’m dressed up in a velvet bodice and lacy skirt. The grown-ups, my parents, are also dressed up. They’re smiling, holding each other’s hand. Most important is the older boy standing beside me. Someone I seem to have forgotten. He’s wearing black slacks and a white button down shirt, a smile planted on his frozen face.