It’s Sunday night, cold, when Claire returns from her father’s funeral. There are headlights passing on the interstate, bricks of long light. She remembers how, when she was 16, her first boyfriend drove them out to the desert to stargaze against her father’s wishes. But when they got there, many miles beyond nowhere motels and abandoned rest stops, the desert cloaked its skies with rainclouds. So rather than watching for bodies in the heavens, they listened to talk radio, and he entered her for the first time. It was this tiny detail — the tiny murmuration of strangers’ voices, that stuck with her in such a way she knew she’d recall the warmth of his hands forever.
She recalls now, driving home, feeling a sort of pressure, gentle as a sonogram, when furrows of thunder passed overhead, and the rain began. She still hasn’t seen the stars in truth since. She wonders what it would be like to pull over tonight, miles beyond some foreign highway, and look up into the heavens to see, for the first time in her life, a clear night sky. But Claire also knows those things that affirm a person can also diminish them, flip in a moment’s notice, and so from this fear she continues down the same routes as ever.
Her playlist cuts out momentarily — her radio transmitter fails. There’s the binary Morse code of cell phone interference. Something begins to descend in a sheet ahead, backlit by the city lights on the horizon. She hovers her foot tentatively over the brake pedal. When she passes through the curtain of snow, soft as bird feathers, she senses her father with her. There’s a flash in her mind — her father’s smell — mothballs and flannel, and she sees him as he digs out lost softballs and Frisbees from beneath her elementary school’s gutters. She sees him as he pulls out one shivering stone. The last jackrabbit of spring. An abandoned runt with ticks so long Claire believed it possessed wings.
They’d given it a bed, sliced a milk carton in half and filled it with clean, old laundry. Cleared the parasites with just-extinguished match heads, which they’d carefully pinned to the ticks’ necks, causing the parasites to back out. When Claire crushed the fattest one between her fingers, sticky blood ran between her thumb and forefinger. A drop fell against the hardwood and because no one cleaned it in time, the stain remains in the kitchen of her parents’ house, where her mother waits out the rest of her days.
These are the details that remain. The tiny, insignificant moments. Linchpins to pull at during the lulls. Claire can’t remember the last time it snowed as she pulls into her neighborhood. Someone’s house is draped in toilet paper. Her headlights pass over the yard. Ice envelops the thin sheets and begins to crack, leaving something similar to shattered glass along the lawns. The windows are dark. Shadows run along the rooftop. Claire believes she can see the silhouettes of children.
One leaps away from the gutters, falls into the dead space between headlights and awnings and disappears before she hits the ground. There’s darkness playing from the stereo, a distant warm sound, and Claire feels a numbness envelop her, something familiar from her past. When she gets home, she looks for her own marks along the inside of every room, but can’t find any. She wonders how to prove to herself there are really any stars above at all.
—Mason Schoen is a creative writing graduate student.