It wasn’t unusual for me to spend the entire day in bed. I would sleep for a few hours at most, then stare up at the ceiling for a while, my mind empty of everything as time passed unnoticed. Sometimes the cat would curl up next to me, and her purrs would send me off to sleep again. Sometimes I would read a little, and fall asleep again with my thumb slowly being crushed under the weight of unread pages.
But it wasn’t unusual for me to spend the entire day in bed, not seeing anyone, not speaking to anyone but the cat, and not standing up to look out of the window until the sun had long set and all you could see outside was the faint twinkling of a few lights, the houses of the village across the bay.
This time it was different.
I opened my eyes to a darkness that wasn’t quite dark. Twilight, I thought. Perhaps I would see the faint light of the sunset still painting the sky, like strands of candy floss dragged across a rough surface. That tempted me to rise; a romantic notion of sweetness and sorrow, the thought that I might for once glimpse a shred of the day that I had ignored.
It wasn’t candy floss clouds that tinted the darkness; it was a legion of sharp pinpricks, lights brighter than seemed possible, crowding in upon each other. The shape of the horizon was at once picked out and obscured by these lights; they painted the edges of the bay but rose impossibly high in sharp jagged shapes that seemed to be fighting to touch the sky.
And in those lights, I saw shapes. Movement. The more I stared in wonder, the more they revealed. They were not lights, but windows. The jagged shapes were inhabited by people. In one window, I saw people dancing as the lights changed colour and danced with them. In another, I saw someone calmly sitting at their table, eating dinner as if they were oblivious to the fact that they resided hundreds of feet above the earth.
I tried to count the lights, but the number was beyond me. If each light was a person, there would surely be more people here than the entire world could hold. It seemed beyond comprehension.
A thought struck me, and I stepped closer to the window. I looked up, to the stars, and the stars were not there. The lights of the jagged shapes painted the night sky grey, and although I saw no clouds I could see no stars, no deep black velvet with tiny diamonds scattered across it, just greyness which stretched out forever.
The stars must have landed while I slept.
I don’t know how long I stared slack jawed at the stars on earth, but at once I suddenly realised how dry my mouth had become. I turned from the window and put on my dressing gown, slipped my feet into my slippers and left my room.
The house was quiet and dark, and as I descended the stairs I began to wonder if I had imagined the sights outside my bedroom window. Perhaps I was still half in a dream. The curtains hung still and heavy on the landing, the doors were shut, and there was not a sound. Surely, if the stars had landed, somebody would have opened the curtains to see them?
The stone floor in the kitchen was cold enough that I could feel it through my slippers. Surely that meant it could not be a dream? I was awake now, even if I had not been before. The pipes rattled and banged when I turned the tap, and the water splashed against the thick white ceramic of the sink. I let it run for a moment before filling my glass, and let it run on while I drained it thirstily and refilled it again. I drank as if I had been lost in the desert; but of course, I had stayed in bed all day.
I put the glass down in the sink and tied the cord of my dressing gown a little tighter. The blind was drawn down across the window, but its fabric let a faint glow through. I held the handle of the door for a moment, exchanging the chill of its smooth metal with the warmth of my fingers before turning it. It was stiff, and the hinges creaked a complaint as the door cracked open and let the night air in.
There was no scent of flowers or rain on this air. It tasted bitter and thick, so full of smoke I could almost feel it pressing its way to my lungs, so dry that I almost choked upon it. It felt as if I had to fight through it to step outside, and I hesitated for a long moment before I did so.
I crossed the veranda and clung to an ivy-covered post as if I might fall up into the sky if I did not. The lights – the stars on earth – still glittered, a million windows looking down upon me. My garden was a tiny patch of wild darkness beneath the towers, my elegant brick-built home dwarfed by the edifices that surrounded it. I was insignificantly small, unnoticed by the terrible gods that had come down from the skies.
© Kari Fay
Author’s Note: What’s this? A new story at last? Perhaps my muse has agreed to come in from the cold…