I remember the rolling fields I grew up in, where the sky would be blue and blue and blue for miles and hours on end. And at the end of the day, you could see the sun slowly sink below the horizon, pulling the stars out one by one, the darkness enveloping everything around us. This is was my favorite time — when the shadows danced as the branches tap-tap-tapped on the windows. My father would say, “Come outside, son. Let’s look at the stars.” And we would wander out to the hill by our house, linking arms, sometimes with a blanket and sometimes in our bare feet. He would ask me to connect the stars. “Show me the constellations.” And I would tell him where they were in the sky. I would grab his hand and trace the shapes I found as he outstretched his finger. I told him the stories I had read about the constellations. “Sagittarius, the archer. Scuntum, the shield.” He would smile, pleased to see the stars once again.
I moved to the city on the coast, far away from my house and the hill and the countryside I had grown up on. There was more money here, more jobs, more choices. Most nights, though, I lay on my bed staring up at the cracked ceiling, wishing to see the stars beyond the heavy cloud of smog staining the sky. I stumbled into my apartment one night, dizzy from a little too much drinking. The phone call earlier had destroyed any scraps of stability I had gathered. My father. Dead. I ran my hand against the wall hoping to empty the darkness consuming my apartment. I tripped over the ugly blue carpet I had bought to make this place feel more like home. I grasped the edge of my lumpy bed for balance. Flashes of my old bedroom coursed through my mind. I missed home. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my father just yet. I needed to honor him, to preserve my memories. I groped my way through the dark, stopping when I heard the clang of my car keys falling to the ground. I had to go.
My car rattled at this speed. The tires were shaking. I didn’t stop. I had to go. Only three hours to my house. I could cut that in half. A truck blared its horn after I drifted into its lane. I had to make it there. The mountains that had loomed from a distance now glared down at me. Sparks spewed as I scraped against the guardrail. I steadied myself, my car and eased onto the gas again. A sharp turn and a near miss with a pickup. I was close. I rushed through a tunnel, ignoring the shouts of the people I had cut off and those that I had nearly hit. Another turn came but there were headlights coming at me now. I swerved and waited to be harshly bounced back by the metal barrier. I felt nothing but emptiness and quiet.
I flew across the open valley. The hill came closer, closer, and the car smashed onto the ground. The headlights came loose and flashed patches of light at the night sky as the car tumbled down the mountain. I was flung out of the car as the doors tore off. I smacked into the trunk of a tree and rolled away onto a small patch of dirt. My body felt numb. My head ached. I had to find the hill. I tried pulling myself up, crawling towards my crumpled car at the pit of the valley. My arms and legs gave out. A pitiful sight, dirt-covered, blood-splattered. I turned around until I was on my back.
As I laid there, I saw the stars. Millions and millions of stars. I lifted my hand and traced a constellation and another and another. Blood dripped down my cheek, and I wiped it away. The stars swirled around me. The constellations came alive, twisting and turning altogether. And as I closed my eyes, I saw my dad up there, dancing with them.
This is an installment in The Retriever’s new creative writing section.