Out There! (Part 2)
We All Fall...
This is part 2 of an excerpt from This Haunted Animal. Please see part 1 for the first half of the story.
Ian coughed his wracking cough. He was fully aware that he was frightening his little girls here in the dark, but he was also aware that time and the cancer were against him. He felt this was important enough to risk shaking them up, but he also thought of something to help cut through the frightening thoughts of aloneness. “Keep looking at the stars girls, but don’t forget to listen. What do you hear?”
This time Trinnie answered, “The wind dad… and crickets and the waves.”
“Yeah, the waves,” said Ian. “Hear their rhythm? People over in Buffalo, across the lake there in Cleveland, down in Port Dover; they can all hear that rhythm too. Some people say that’s what it sounds like inside our mothers when we begin to be able to hear. The waves are like the sound of our mothers’ blood stream moving around us and her breathing lungs just above us. It’s a nice thought, don’t you think? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t find the sound of waves comforting. Lots of people can hear Lake Erie’s waves right now.” Lake Erie always had good waves. Jerri had clung to this thought and would find herself drawn to the sound of moving water for the rest of her life; be it the river beneath the old Lewis Road bridge or the breakers of Pacific Rim National Park.
“Just listen to the sound of your mom and look out at the universe and let me tell you something to help you see everything; people, the world, everything, in a different way from what we’re expected to see, okay?”
Jerri and Trinnie ’uh-huhed’ simultaneously. Jerri had brought her panicked breathing back under control. Trinnie would have to confront that panic later in life, in her adolescence.
“The stars aren't actually ‘up’.” Ian paused to let the statement float over the girls like a tossed sheet, a gossamer veil wafting on the air above their small bodies there on the beach. The veil terrified Jerri, who’d only recently experienced the epiphany of personal mortality which divides childish playing at living from awareness of being alive. The veil exhilarated Trinnie who was, after all, still only a child.
“But the sky is up there, Dad,” Trinnie was normally quicker to challenge their father anyway, and Jerri had lost her words for the moment.
“Sure, the sky is up, Trinidad.” Only her parents ever called her that. “But ask yourself, what’s beyond the sky?”
“The stars are up in the sky,” Jerri felt a quaver in her voice but hoped her sister and father couldn't hear it.
“Well, Honey, the sky actually stops a bunch of miles above us. The folks at NASA give you astronaut’s wings to pin on your breast if you go higher than 100,000 feet, that’s around twenty miles. Think about how far twenty miles is on land and then imagine that distance that way, towards the stars.” Ian made an almost dismissive gesture toward the twinkling, beautiful blackness. “The sky is all that’s between us and all the impossible emptiness out there. Don’t be afraid girls, the sky’s not going anywhere, the atmosphere and a thing called the magnetosphere will always protect us from… well, all that.” This time his gesture was more respectful.
“Why would I be afraid?” asked Trinnie.
Not noticing Jerri’s silence, Ian laughed. “Oh, it can be pretty scary to think about it sometimes. I’m pretty sure you’ll find it a scary thing to think about some day and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to pass on these ideas to you from Uncle Mike. Look at the stars some more and listen to the waves …almost like the planet’s breathing, eh?
‘So, the stars aren’t really ‘up’. What we think of as ‘up’ stops about twenty miles away where the gravity starts to get too weak to pull things back to the ground,” Trinnie giggled at his words. He laughed too. “Gravity is holding you against the ground under your bum and all those suns we’re looking at aren’t up, they’re actually out. Think of them as being ‘out there’ instead of ‘up there’ and you’re glued to the Earth like a fly on a screen.”
“Or Spiderman?” Jerri tried for a wisp of levity.
“Oh yeah, like Spiderman,” Ian started humming the familiar tune from the Saturday morning cartoon. “Now put out a hand toward the stars. You’re reaching out from a wall like Spiderman on a building-side in Manhattan. We’re on the side of the Earth and reaching out into space just like him. Put your palms down flat on the ground and raise your knees like you’re Spiderman stuck to that wall. Now put both arms out towards the stars and let them dangle a little… ‘cause the stars are also down from us and we’re hanging from our planet like we’re on a ceiling above them. That way, out there toward the stars, is also down!”
“Wow!” said Trinnie. Jerri felt her stomach drop as she stared downward into the well of star-filled infinity. She was less than a speck, a particle of a dust mote attached to an object massive enough and moving quickly enough through both space and time around an even bigger object to not plunge headlong into that immeasurable gulf of absolute nothing. And that meant that the bigger object, their own star in the blackness; must be moving around an even bigger object at an even more unimaginable speed. The alternative was that they and everything were all falling permanently and endlessly into a pit of nothing. Jerri shivered loudly enough to be heard. She wished her friends were there to talk this through with, but soon she’d be in a different city too far away and it would be too expensive to even call them long-distance on the telephone.
Eventually she would come to understand why her father had traumatized her on the beach that night. She knew how pressed for time he was as his own moment glued to the planet was fast running out. She also wondered how much of that horrible sleepless night staring in the dark at the tent canvas above her as her dad and sister snored away, and the many sleepless, terrified nights to follow, contributed to her otherwise inexplicable nightmares about her missing grade three friends. Gradually, Jerri came to grips with the merciless infinity surrounding her, and confronted with it so young she couldn’t help but be serious about the business of living life fully. Soon she would need all of her fortitude.
***With minor adjustments this story fits into a flashback 22-year-old Jerri experiences while talking with Trinnie about other affairs. It becomes a fulcrum for much, much more consequential events which will soon overtake the sisters and their friends. I'd absolutely love to hear your thoughts (positive, neutral or negative) about anything I've done here. Thank you so much for giving these characters and my words your time!***
About the Creator
At Vocal people actually read my writing, thank you everybody! I spend most of my time herding cats. Please press the 'like' symbol if you read my stories and think they're deserving enough. Either way, thank you so much.
I enjoyed the idea and discussion of the “veil” I think recent events have made me more sad and thoughtful about that phase of childhood where personal mortality gains meaning. —also…The up/down discussion immediately made me think back to Ender’s Game! “The enemy’s gate is down!” 😁