In the city, stars are a myth. Clouds of fumes, smoke, and grime dull their shine; there, stars are mere airplanes standing still.
It was spring and they were coming back from camping, stopping at a cabin for the night. She unfolded her pint-sized body across the backseat of the Subaru and stared up at them, framed by the sunroof. The world shrunk as the stars drowned her, and she let them, her head bumping against the car door to the rhythm of tires rolling across gravel.
Throughout the ride, the mother spoke in a low murmur. Her words sounded like syrup on pancakes to Faith, who was trying to count the stars.
Finally, the car grumbled to a stop. The headlights whirred as the light flickered out. The mother turned around and whispered to the backseat, “We’re here.”
She watched the last of the stars disappear as the mother slid the cover across the sunroof.
She got out of the car. Her eyes were still glued to the black sky. Thousands of little jewels squinted back; the sky rounded out into a fishbowl. She wondered if a few stars were there when Eve bit that apple; the girl’s father had once told her it was part of God’s plan. She wondered if they were there when she hit her chin on the pavement after her first bike ride with her father. She wondered if they watched her parents screaming contest back in August. Did they care? She wondered.
The stars began to blur together, she then quickly wiped her eyes with the corner of her sleeve. The creak of the cabin door could be heard, then it slam shut. The mother shuffled toward her.
“Faith, why are you still out here? I thought you came inside.”
She pointed an index finger to the sky. “Stars.”
The mother craned her neck as she leaned back and then smiled. “Huh, beautiful right? You can’t see ‘em like this in New York.”
The girl nodded. Still looking up at such an angle, no one could see her dampened eyelashes.
“You know when I was younger the stars gave me a lot of comfort. They made me feel small, but in a good way….”
“Stay out here for a few more minutes, but come inside soon.”
The creak of the door cried again. The girl’s head turned back to those little grains of salt once more, her neck aching in protest. So many of them and only one of her.
He counted the stars— gave names to all of them, the girl quietly recited to herself, unsure of its truth. The moon and the stars, which He set in place... Would He care about me, she wondered?
A dull glow filled the warm cabin. She sat at a large rectangular table, two chairs were placed on each end, nothing was in between in the fairly empty room. The mother paced back and forth, listing items: eggs, bread, butter, spaghetti sauce, maybe two steaks.
She ran her fingers through her hair, put it into a ponytail, and then took it down again, shaking the strands loose. She rummaged through a reusable Whole Foods bag and pulled out two plastic containers.
“What do you want for dinner? Pasta or pizza?”
She nodded, walked over to the microwave above the sink, opened the lid, and tossed the container inside. The microwave hummed and the she stared. Beep Beep. She plopped the pasta onto a plate and slid it over.
The girl clasped her hands, bowed her head, and stared at the steam rising from the pasta. She unclasped them. The girl glanced at the mother and met her stare. She looked away.
“Aren’t you gonna pray?” The mother asked, looking at the pasta on her plate.
Faith looked up at her and shook her head.
“Well I guess now that we’re on the subject.” The door creaked with small gusts of wind.
“I was wondering why you haven’t been going to church. I mean, I know your father went with you, but you used to really like it. I mean, just because it’s not my cup of tea— you can still go, you know? I completely respect whatever you—”
“I know. Don’t worry, I’m not really into it. Father made it a big thing, but the church is just a bunch of hypocrites imposing their values on everyone - you know about those priests molesting children? It’s no good, really - better without it.”
The mother smiled.
They stayed in that night. It began to rain and the trees outside swayed over the lawn. The only sound that broke the low humming of the fridge was the ringing of the telephone every couple hours or so. The mother let it ring.
At around 11, the mother was knocked out; legs sprawled on the couch, elbows pressed to her chest. Asleep, the mother could hide nothing. The stress lines on her face grew pronounced and her breathing was laboured. The girl scanned the mother’s face before returning to her room.
The phone rang once more that night, but the girl did not budge from the bed. She knew his calls would cease soon enough.
She laid down and tightly wrapped herself in the blanket. The girl folded her hands across her stomach, closed her eyes, and whispered under her breath, “Dear...” she stopped, letting the next words fall from her mouth and out of her mind.
Sighing, she opened her eyes and smoothed the blankets with her hands. The girl lifted her head to peer out the window next to the bed, catching one last glimpse at the stars above.
The phone rang once more. It echoed throughout the house, each ring seemingly softer than the one before. The phone seemed more out of reach than ever.
The next morning, they packed their bags. Lugging her bag to the car, she looked up once more. The sky had cleared since the night before. It was a brilliant, uninterrupted blue, not an airplane in sight.
The stars had disappeared too. The girl’s head hung low. There was no one to answer her.
She looked at her mother waiting by the trunk of the car.
“Back to a starless city,” she said, closed the trunk, and winked. The mother popped open the car door and waved the little girl over, waiting for Faith to say her goodbyes.
Lydia Lee is 16 and a senior at Stuyvesant High School, a public school in New York City. A few books that she has enjoyed are The Sound and the Fury, Revolutionary Road, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Recently, in an attempt to diversify her reading list, she explored the short stories of Hemingway and Jamaica Kincaid, which inspired her to create her own flash fiction, poetry, and journalistic writing to accompany her photography. As an artist she is compelled by influences from her own upbringing such as religion, navigating identity, adolescence, and family.