Sunday, September 30

Stars Of Fear, Skies Of Hope

“Mama?” The only reply was the rhythmic metallic squeaking of an electric fan. Sarah set her schoolbooks on the dinette table, knocked over a vase of plastic flowers. “Mama?” she repeated, not without a little fear.

The tiny kitchen was as she had left it this morning: breakfast bowl and juice glass in the sink, cherry print tea towel draped over the faucet to dry. She made her way to the back of their home, through the cramped living room where she slept, down the narrow hallway past the bathroom with immaculate linoleum tile. She paused in the doorway to the bedroom, praying for sound. It was only after she heard a papery sough of breath that she realized she was holding her own.

“Mama? Are you awake?” The woman on the bed didn’t respond. Her chest rose and fell like an irregular tide, an ebbing and flowing of life. Sarah crept to the side of the bed, felt a damp cheek. Her mother stirred and opened her eyes. For a moment there was nothing, then: “Sarah, child.” A weak smile.

“How are you? Do you need anything?”

“Just make me some nettle tea. Then I will be fine.” The eyes closed.

“It doesn’t help, Mama. But don’t worry. If we can’t pay the doctor my friends will help.” There was no response. “Mama?” Silence except for a stuttering breath.

The mixing bowl next to the bed was dirty again. Sarah dumped the blood and sputum in the toilet, rinsed the bowl in the tub, and placed it back on the nightstand. She shut the windows halfway against the coming night’s chill. In the doorway she watched the chintz curtain’s lively flutter, watched the thin quilt’s quaking rise and fall.

She prepared for the evening. She made herself dinner of macaroni and cheese, washed the dishes, setting them to dry in the wooden rack. She did her homework at the dinette table, putting the flower vase in it proper place when she had finished. Toward sunset she laid out her clothes for school, scooped up a blanket from the sofa, and went outside, careful not to slam the screen door.

She unfolded a lawn chair and hugged the blanket close The wait would be long. The sycamore leaves were trimmed in yellow, swaying in the cool breath of approaching autumn. To the north, stars presented themselves in purple velvet twilight. Sarah stared at them, only a little afraid now. They always came from the north. In her mind she pictured her friends floating down from the sky, bringing miracles and hope with them. They would come. They had to.

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