The Light of Stars, Yes

Melanie Rae Thon

My brother kneels in the back of the Chrysler. Leo Derais, eleven years old: he’s skipped three grades: this fall he’ll start high school.

He’s just made the most astonishing discovery, has seen the evidence and understands at last how time moves at different speeds in both directions.  (Was that a stone? Is that a rabbit?)

Appears to move.

Quickly now, before the light goes, he wants our father to see what he sees, the earth close to the car ripping backward (skull of a desert fox, bones of a missing child), everything lost, the past shredded and gone (blink of an eye, stuttering heartbeat) while at the same time, in the same world, a ridge of distant mountains unscrolls, quietly revealing itself, advancing slowly forward.

No matter how fast our father drives, the patient line of stone proceeds, always beyond, always ahead of us.

He’s trembling now but can’t speak. Time does not exist. Time is perception, the endless rearrangement of things in space, the infinite possibilities of their relationships to one another.

A word will shatter thought: skull, stone, star, rabbit: everything here, now, lost and still to come in this moment. There’s no reason why he can’t remember the future. Even now the light of stars long dead streaks toward him.

Our father, our pilot, delivers us into a night too beautiful to imagine: blue, blue sky, mountains deepening to violet.

Mother unbuttons her blouse to nurse the baby. Joelle, my sister, eleven months old, eight years younger than I am, my father’s bewildered surprise, my mother’s joyful mystery, Joelle Derais, so radiant strangers stop us on the street and ask to touch or try to talk to her.

If she were alive now, would she be like me, or still be tempting?

I remember her that day at the rest stop: cheeks flushed, lips rosy, the soft swirl of dark curls at the crown of her head (where I kiss, where I smell you), Joelle, my sister, heavy in my arms, heavy in my lungs, the sweet almond scent of you.

I remember the woman who gasped in the bathroom, whose fingers fluttered as she touched Joelle’s warm shoulder. My God is that child real? She thought my sister was a doll, perfect porcelain, perfectly painted, someone else’s real hair, someone else’s silky lashes:  

My God how porcelain shatters.

Mother wants to stop in Page, just south of the Utah border, high on this plateau of red rock where a pink neon sign blinks EZ REST and a green one warns DESPERADO’S HIDEAWAY.

Our pilot won’t rest; our desperado won’t take refuge.

If time does not exist, there must be a place where I can go, where I can find us, where my sister cries and my brother trembles, where bands of rose and gold and turquoise throb at the horizon, where my father turns back, and my mother forgives him. (Somewhere in the night, while I sleep, this happens.)

Forty years. I have these words. I know these numbers. The morning paper my proof: Oil Spilling, Bees Vanishing. Five Illegal Immigrants Found Dead, Problem Bear Relocated.

The headline never says: Invasive Humans Removed from Bear’s Natural Habitat.

EZ REST: I almost remember the sign flashing all night, the room that smelled of smoke and ammonia.

No. We didn’t turn. The blue Chrysler sped into the blue night while the light of stars streaked toward us.

Forty years. I remember the taste of blood and bone, tongue cut deep, front teeth jagged, the smell of gasoline and smoke, something burning in the distance. My father tried to stand but couldn’t stand, tried again and then a third time. He disappeared as smoke and came back as fire. His face flared in orange light.