It was a sun-strained, shallow-breathing day in the ides of August – that treacherous month, with its cornflowers and ice-cream trucks – that my sister Barbara got sucked back into the sun. I’m not just saying that. I’m not crackers or anything. I’m just telling you what she told me, because it’s been bringing me comfort these past few weeks, and the time will come when it’ll bring you comfort too.
As I said before, it was August, the August of the overgrown roads, that time of year the air starts to get cool but still feels dry and sandpapery on the back of your throat. Barbara had cut Sunday school and gone out into the cornfield. The other kids had been teasing her. She was seven and I was five, which is probably why I didn’t notice her leaving at the time. But she left all the same. She waded through the blackberry bushes – where the gremlins live, as everybody knows – and climbed over the stone wall to the field. She went right to the middle and stood in the grass in her purple Sunday dress, motionless except for her enormous stuck-out ears. These were flapping softly in the breeze, skin so thin you could see the sun through it. Barbara stood out there for a while, blinking, and then began to run. She ran faster than any human being had ever run before, so fast that she could feel her heartbeat in her tongue, and then, all of a sudden, the wind caught her ears like a sail and she was lifted clear off the ground. She flailed around for a moment, half-surprised, before getting her bearings. Then she started flying around above the field in loops and dives and figure-eights, and all the while her ears were flapping up and down, up and down.
She circled around like that for a while, laughing in glee, until her ears got to feeling sore. She hovered in midair, then began to fall upwards into the sun. At first she was frightened, but her fear quickly subsided when she discovered that she could still somehow breathe. She closed her eyes. When she opened them again she was in a large room, with high ceilings and marble floors. All around her was a throng of people – not real people, though; as soon as you looked at one straight on it would disintegrate, the way a bubble does under its own weight. There was no god. Just the last Dalai Lama at the front desk, checking everybody in. Barbara went to him. He gave her a key and told her she could leave her skin in the blue hamper, and that she could look out the window one last time before going into the waiting room. He told her she could wait there as long as she liked.
She peeled her face off first. It didn’t hurt. Then she shimmied out of her arms and torso and stepped carefully out of her legs. For a few minutes she held on to the sound of her name, listening as it was repeated to her in many voices, over and over, last of all her mother’s. Then she smiled and nodded and set it aside.
The window was hardly a window at all, just a little porthole of turquoise glass carved into the far wall. She went and pressed her nose to it. Far below was the great blue expanse of the world she’d left behind, roiling with dust and storms and people milling around the cities like ants. At first she was watching a civil war – then she got distracted by a baby being born, cute little thing, with a harelip and astigmatism. She stood, and she watched, and she thought about the day she caught mama smoking menthols in the guest-room shower. She was desperately happy; she was indescribably sad.
The waiting room wasn’t a room – it was the soccer field by our elementary school, the one with the faded lines and the old bleachers that screamed when you sat on them. She stumbled down the little hill and went to lie down on the center line. She felt fine, just fine, a little overwhelmed but nothing that wouldn’t dissipate with time. Everything was warm and sunny; there was nobody else around. And as far as I know she’s still there, lying face-to-the-sky in the scratchy August grass, thinking about things.
Selena is a college sophomore originally hailing from Block Island, Rhode Island, where she spent the better part of her childhood catching hermit crabs and messing around in boats. She reads everything she can get her hands on, but her favorites in particular are Isabel Allende, Milan Kundera, and Louise Glück. She also spends a lot of time painting, going for runs, and thinking about aliens.