Mama told me we came from the stars, and I believed her. She probably meant it in a more symbolic way than I had understood it at the time, but I believed her nonetheless. I don’t think this dismal ball of rock and ice could have spawned something so glorious as Mama on its own. We were from another world, another time perhaps.
The viruses, the radiation, the contaminated water made us sick all the time. You could taste the sickness in your mouth like the residue of vomit. You could smell it oozing out of yourself. It was part of life. I didn’t realize when she became ill again that it would be for the last time. That first night she was sick, she’d tossed and turned, fevered but not really burning up, then cold but without body wrenching shivers. She’d eaten the small dinner I’d fixed her – gritty bread and chunky milk – so I didn’t worry.
The second day was much worse. She’d moaned and talked, describing sunsets she’d seen as a little girl and oceans she’d swum in on her honeymoon. She didn’t recognize me at all that day. She’d whispered to herself, sometimes giggling gleefully. Her body took her through emotions and sensations, breaking her mind slowly. It scared me, making me feel small and vulnerable. Mama was my whole world.
The third day she was much better. Her eyes lost their fevered light and her sweaty body seemed to regain some strength. She ate all I fed her, including my own meager meal for the day. She looked ashamed when she realized that, but I was so relieved that I hardly noticed the hunger pangs.
“You are my star, child, do you know that?” It was something she said to me all the time. Like I was some magical thing for her. She sighed. “You are my star. They are all stars out there now – your Daddy, grandma and grandpa, Boxer…” her voice trailed off and she stared through the ceiling into a galaxy only she could see.
Boxer had been my dog. He’d died protecting me from rabirs – fierce predators that roamed this part of the world. I’d snuck away from the house, just as I’d been told not to do, and he’d faithfully followed me. When the rabir pack came after me, he held them back as I fled through the icy ravines toward home. We found what was left of his mutilated body in the snow the next day.
Now he was dead. And apparently he was a star.
When Mama slept that night, I stepped out of the front door and looked up through the darkness toward the sky. So many little lights out there. Were those dead people? Children and dogs and parents and grandparents? Is that what Mama meant when she said they were all stars now? It was kind of creepy and I shivered with more than just the bitter cold. I didn’t understand her spirituality any more than I understood the science she tried to teach me.
“No no no!” she’d say in exasperation as we peered at an old astronomy textbook. “The stars are huge. They are on fire.”
“But they’re not huge, Mama. Look at them at night – they are tiny. They don’t look like fire.”
She would sigh and continue trying to teach me. She sketched starships and cities and medicines and something called a restaurant where you could ask for as much food as you wanted. She called all this “civilization” and tried to help me imagine it. Mostly it made me feel angry and very lonely.
But at night, as she tucked me into my small bed, she would say “Goodnight. You are my star, child, do you know that?” and kiss me gently.
I was so confused.
When she died the next morning, I understood perfectly. I felt her, far above me in the empty sky. A beautiful twinkle of light that assured me she was still there, still part of me, still part of my future. She was a star now.
And I didn’t want her to be.
She was Mama, strong and smart and beautiful. I was skinny and little, the illness should have taken me instead. I could have been a real star for Mama. Didn’t she always tell me I was her star anyway?
I refused to accept her death. There had to be something I could do. Some way I could make it better. Those stars up there – weren’t they always giving us their light? If Mama was up there, couldn’t her light come back to me? I thought about this in my bed that first night I was alone.
I found our toolbox and I took our old dented flashlight and I worked all day. I used tape and gum and science and religion and I built the Star Collector. It was a wonderful device, made of love and fear and hope and tears. I didn’t have any blueprints, just my own grief-ignited imagination.
That night I dragged Mama’s light empty body on our sled to an open space between the cliffs and laid her in the snow. Boxer was buried there, so I had always associated this place with him, and with how much I’d loved him.
I placed the Star Collector on Mama’s chest and turned it on.
And it worked.
A cone of star light seeped from the sky into my Star Collector. The bright light was kindled into a single point at the center of the lens. It pulsed like a struggling heart a few times before the Collector became full and turned off.
Mama opened her eyes to the stars.
DAMON GARN lives in Colorado Springs, CO with his wife and two children. He enjoys hiking, writing and annoying his neighbors with mediocre guitar playing. He writes in the fantasy/sci-fi realm experimenting in flash fiction, short stories and a novel. Follow on Twitter: dmgwrites or at http://dmgwrites.wordpress.com