The house was muggy and sticky from the heat of the day. It was cooling down fast but the spring air hadn’t yet crept in through the open windows. I couldn’t sleep. I stumbled out of my room in bare feet, avoided the squeaking boards in the long, wooden planked hallway, slipped through the kitchen and out the porch door.
There she sat on a wicker chair, feet put up on a upside down milk crate. Beside her, the base of what many years ago had been a bird bath and was now a makeshift side table for her nightly whiskey and coke. A place to set her pack and lighter. The outline of her body behind the bright light of the full moon struck me as something angelic–though I didn’t know the real meaning of that word at the time–and I sat in the chair next to her.
I watched as smoked curled off the end of her cigarette. Something I rarely saw up close, because it was her little secret that she smoked and it was my little secret that I knew. When she noticed my presence I wasn’t sure. Then she sighed in the direction of the moon. To herself, maybe. Or to the night.
We were quiet for what seemed like hours before I broke the silence.
“What was here first?”, I whispered.
“Oh. The sun. The stars. The moon, I think.”
“What about before them?”
“Or maybe something. I’m not sure.”
“What does nothing feel like?”
She thought for a moment. “Empty”, she said. “Lonely.”
“Sometimes I get lonely.”
“Me too.” She paused. “But I think it’s a different type of lonely. A forever kind of lonely.”
“I want to know what that feels like.”
“I hope you never do.”
“What about God? Was he there before the nothingness?”
“Oh yeah. God. I don’t know. Don’t they teach you that stuff in Sunday school?”
“Yes. But, I don’t always listen.”
“Why is that?”
“Because of the scar under my teacher’s eye. I can’t stop looking at it.”
“You shouldn’t do that.”
“Because it’s not nice to look at the ugly parts of people. It makes them feel ugly.”
I thought about that for a long time. “I don’t think it’s ugly. I just can’t stop looking at it.”
“You should look at her eyes instead. Or at the chalkboard.”
“I think she got it in a fight with Mr. Charles.”
“Why is that?”
“Because, whenever he comes by the classroom to talk to her, she covers it with her fist. Like she is scared he might hit her again.”
“She got it in a car accident when she was a little girl. She probably covers it because she is self-conscious about it.”
“She shouldn’t be. I will tell her that.”
“No. Don’t tell her.”
“Okay. I won’t.”, I promised. “Mom?”
“Do you think God made us because he was lonely?”
“I don’t know. I never thought about it.”
“I would get lonely if I had to live all by myself for eternity.”
“Eternity is a very big word for a little girl.”
She told me it was time for bed. These weren’t questions for a little girl. I should be having sweet dreams right now. I had many years before I needed to worry about grown up things. I kissed her goodnight on her forehead before walking back to my bed.
That night I dreamed that the stars invited me to be one of them. All I had to do was wish really hard and I would be a star forever. My mom was there. She was the biggest, brightest star in the whole sky. She blinked hello to me. And then blinked that she would see me soon. I waved back and then I closed my eyes as tightly as I could, but when I opened them it was just morning. And I was just me.