My sister Bailey’s breathing is steady at night. I wait for it to change from shallow to the deep breaths of full R.E.M. She sleeps on her side. Her shoulder forms the smoky mountains sloping gently under the sheet. The moonlight makes it all significant. Her breathing, the mountain slope, her big open mouth slack in unconsciousness, the squares of silver light that fall on my unmade bed. Its winter but the room is hot and airless like being trapped inside the car in mid-July. I can’t sleep and that’s okay. I was going to wake up to see the lunar eclipse anyway. It’s the night of the winter solstice and this is the only time those two celestial happenings will fall on the same fate-filled night in 307 years. I’ll be dead in 307 years, heck I could be dead in a year. My phone is under the pillow. I read that keeping it under the brain can lead to radiation and cancer. I hope that’s a lie. I flip it open and it’s almost time. Five minutes until the earth’s shadow blots out the moon like something apocryphal. I asked Russell to set his alarm and watch it with me from opposite ends of Saint Pete. He said no. How could I be so stupid to ask him, he’s depressed out of his gourd.
I thought Dad might be up at the computer with our dog Sparky but the house is dark and I’m alone. I stretch my hands out like Frankenstein’s monster to keep myself from banging into a recliner, laundry basket or dog. Bands of light wrap my fingers as I pass the three windows. The back door creaks as I step into damp, post-rain-smelling grass. Grass on my feet like all the good days of summer. Grass stains on my teenage knees. Grass on my back looking at the clouds, traveling on toward Georgia or Tennessee, away from this dissolving peninsula.
Bushes look like leaf-covered dinosaurs — the yard is all shadow and the shapes are all mixed up but I see something, a bundled-up outline in a plastic pool chair. It moves and speaks. The yard is such a dream and my mind is so shot that I don’t even jump at my name.
“Alex, come over here. I didn’t think anyone would make it.” She’s wrapped tight in her coat of many colors, the crochet blanket pooling onto the plastic strips of the chair. Sparky is on her chest sleeping through the once-in-a-few-centuries eclipse. She scoots over and lets me under the blanket. I rest my head on her shoulder and I feel like a kid again, like I could be out on the wraparound deck looking at the same dead stars that delay their fading over time.
“When does it happen?” I ask her. She tucks me into her neck and kisses my forehead.
She smells like hydrocortisone cream and warmth like she always has. How do Moms get to be so unchangeable? Sparky sighs in her sleep and stretches out a paw toward my side.
“Do you see it?” I ask.
“I do.” A shadow starts to cover the corner of the orange blossom moon and keeps inching forward — light sliding under darkness like a cosmic shell game. The stars pierce savagely into the blackness, testing their mettle against the disappearing moon. The colors are crisp and cold, sharper than normal, sharper because I want them to be — I need them to be. We wait in silence. Mom hugs me close as we watch the last bit slide under the shadow.
“There it goes,” she whispers, and the words scare me. There what goes? Another minute… An event that won’t repeat till after I’m long dead? Another turn of the great wheel? I wish Russell could see this. I wanted us to share it but it’s over. And he’ll be gone and that thing we call love… it will fade… like the moon tonight… someday… or soon.
We watch the blackness in silence for a long time.
“Let’s go in and get some sleep,” she says.
“You go ahead. I wanna stay a little longer.” She gets up and hands me her coat of many colors. The colors are heavy in my hand as I spread the knit across my body. I see the moon slipping away when I close my eyes. It made a copy on my mind. I see my life behind me and in front of me like an unbroken dance with a mannequin partner, or an endless to-do list than can’t get crossed out, but I also see the shadow passing forward, letting the light back in behind it.
Kathleen McGuire resides in Denver with her husband and son. In addition to writing about her impressions of real, raw human experience, she is a songwriter and fronts an indie rock band, Team Callahan.