A Few More Suns
It’s dark in my room. The only light shines through the barred window across my bed. Not the moon, but a lamppost illuminating a wire fence and a tree whose leaves brush the sky as the wind blows.
Mother died inside her bed sheets. Her body twisted like an animal without a vertebra. She had beautiful hands, but in her last moments, her fingers coiled like shriveled stems. Her nails plunged into her palms and left crescent moon blood stains.
Wrinkles formed like shriveled rivers around her eyes. Her pupils were large black holes, shrinking into the pallid water of her empty gaze. I climbed onto my mother’s chest and lifted her shoulders above the pillow. Her head fell back stretching the skin over her arched trachea and exposing the crevasses of cartilage like the foothills of a mountain range.
In the dark bedroom I live in, I see my mother. She stands below the barred window and watches me sleep. I wake up to her whispering. Her voice is raspy and dry. The sound of tearing paper.
“What are you saying, Mama?” I ask.
My eyes are closed when they open the door. They are voices with hands that hold me still. I open my eyes and the room is light again. It’s time for breakfast.
I stare at the walls. The walls stare back. There is music playing in the room, or maybe it’s playing in my head. There is music playing, and it fills me with the ocean and the sun, and the way mother brushes my hair in the morning before school. Everything dances if I look long enough.
There are doors that lock only from the outside, and there are people wearing big grey suits who swing their arms like pendulums, keeping time with the clocks on the walls that hiss like stray cats. Keeping track of when we are fed, and when we should be shot.
They shoot us. With needles that point like an angry finger. They make us bleed and search in vain for veins that are tired of being found. None of us can hide, but our veins try in vain, and we admire them for trying.
I stare at walls. The walls stare back.
There is a room lined with locked doors and sealed windows. People are placed in plastic chairs in front of plastic tables. For days when the windows are plastered with rain, we play board-games. We use boards that have their pictures scraped off by plastic forks. We use dry macaroni in place of the metal pieces deemed “too sharp for this facility.”
We do not like to play board-games.
Old women come to pray for us. They sit with their backs to the walls and search for us, or something, inside our eyes. They stare at us and speak words over us, but our souls are dragons. Steam spills from our eyes, fire ignites in our chest. We are all dragons spouting cries in our lungs. Bleeding through our throats. The women leave us with cheerful fair-wells and long, tired faces. They think we can not see, or can not understand, or will not judge them for being so hopeful, so jumpy, so old.
I stare at the women, the women do not stare back.
On days without rain, when you can see the street or the trees, or a flower if it dares to emerge, then you sit by a window, or look over a shoulder or breathe down the neck of the person in front of you until they move or scream and are shot. We stare out the windows because the outside does not stare back.
The outside doesn’t see our parched lips, thirsty and cracked. Our hair in knots, in clumps, in large, oily strands. They won’t look at our fingernails hanging over our fingertips, cut in diagonals, immersed in our own skin. The outside turns its pretty head from our crooked smiles, our lopsided lips, our toothy tooth-less grins.
We are the dirt stuck inside the cracks of sidewalks. People step on us and forget us and cover us with paint. But still, we remain. Designed to stare at walls. Destined to exist in the places people can not get away from. Trapped in the smog of cities filled with laughter. They choke on our decay. Too thick to ignore. Our scent is stuck in their hair for days.
Only the walls stare back. And the walls are everywhere.
I read about spaceships. They say reading restrains my outbursts. They put books in front of me instead of board-games. I read about spaceships. I read about them leaving earth and landing on planets that have no water. They have to bring their own air. They could get trapped in black holes and never return. I read about astronauts. I read about spacesuits and NASA and Sputnik. I think about astronauts and what they think about in space and what it feels like to fly. When I lay down in bed, I imagine myself floating. The blankets fall from me. My paper pajamas slip off my body. All I feel are molecules.
In one of my books it says that the sun is a star and the closest star in the galaxy to where earth lives. I see stars all the time. I see them in the sky and on the walls. Sometimes, I am in my own galaxy.
I cover my eyes with my hands and press my fingers to my eyelids, so I can see stars whenever I want. They are like Christmas tree lights, like the ones they string onto the sealed windows in the room where we play board-games. There is darkness around them. Darkness like night. Darkness like the times we are locked in the quiet room. There are many shades, some black and some grey, but the darkness covers everything.
There is a fenced yard for very nice days. Precise days. These are days that the temperature is warm enough for a light jacket and the ground is hard and there are just enough clouds so the sun won’t burn us. They do this so that we won’t track mud, or require mittens or thick coats. They do this so we won’t die of skin cancer.
Instead, we will die of suffocation.
Sometimes, after lights out, I open my bedroom door slowly without sound and step through the concrete hallway toward the cafeteria door. There’s a loose window pane that taps against the frame when the wind blows against the building. Sometimes, light of the moon is bright enough to guide me, I leave for a while and walk toward the trees.
I breath in cold air, and it feels like I’m drinking water, but without getting wet. The cold air goes through my nose and I feel it in my throat and my throat feels smooth when I swallow the air. I look up at the sky. There are three stars I can count, and pillows of grey. Mother asks me if I know these stars. I tell her I don’t know them yet, I only know the sun.
She says the the stars show up better here because there is nothing around us for miles. Her words move through my lips and appear like smoke in the cold, dark night. Does she know the stars, I ask. She does not, she says. But she likes that they are there.
I spread my hands at my sides. I pretend they are wings. Branches scratch my palms as I walk past. The tip of my nose is cold and my lips are dry. The air fills my mouth. When I look up, the trees are a window letting in the sky. There are so many stars.
I lay with my back on the grass. The blades poke me through my pajamas. I can’t count how many stars I see. There are too many. They are too close together. Mother says that somewhere the sun is still shining, that it never goes out. It just moves on to someplace else. She says the moon takes its place, so we never have to be completely dark. Mother says the stars that appear the brightest and biggest are the closest to us. She says there are more stars than we can see, their light just hasn’t reached our eyes yet.
I think about what we might see if we had more suns.
I lift my arms to the sky while she talks. The sleeves of my coat fall to my elbows. The cold wind blows around my arms. I am really in the sky with all the stars. I can’t even see the trees now. My eyes blur as I get higher, because it is cold and windy, and I am flying.