After Anna loses her parents in a fire she meets the boy with the tears and the sky.
|When I was a child I loved dresses. I loved to spin in the dress, watching the skirt twirl around my legs until I collapsed onto the ground from dizziness. My father hated it when I did that. He would watch me with disapproval and would order me to stop. I never liked him as a child. He was strict and scary. He stood six feet tall always with a pipe on hand. He had a mustache and intense eyes that made me feel as if he were sizing me up.
My mother on the other hand was kind and fragile. When she stood next to father it was like a child standing next to a giant. She was beautiful, everyone watched her, she could turn heads effortlessly. When I spun in my dress she would smile softly and laugh. I loved to make her laugh. My mother and father loved each other very much. Though it did seem like a strange match, it worked, even when they fight, which wasn’t often. When they did fight, mother would cry, she looked so breakable I wanted her to stand behind me as I fought father off. He never hit us or yelled at us. He provided for us and took care of us as a father should. By all standards he was a great father. I just never got the feeling he loved me. He would look at mother with eyes that loved her more than life itself. Then he looked at me and it was like I was a guest he had to be polite to until I left. Though he scared me and I didn’t like him much, I still loved him, because he was my father and I couldn’t help it.
One day I was playing in the garden behind our house when he called me into the living room. I ran in, afraid to make him mad by not coming right away, and stopped right in front of him. He sat in his chair with the newspaper in his lap looking at me with emotionless eyes. I stood straight, father believed posture to be very important.
“You are to go to your aunts for the weekend,” he said. I blinked, confused but replied “Yes sir,” instead of asking why. He nodded and went back to reading the newspaper and I scurried off realizing my dismissal. Walking to the kitchen I found my mother as she was preparing dinner.
“Momma?” I asked. “Why am I going to Aunties?” she looked up, and said “So your father told you?” I nodded.
She bit her lip as she said “Your father and I have important things happening here this weekend and we can’t have a child wandering around.”
Before I got out a list of protestations she gave me a sympathetic smile and said “It’s only for the weekend love. Please little one don’t make a big deal of this,” she said kneeling in front of me. I nodded my assent reluctantly.
In a few days I held a packed bag of clothes as my father nodded at me and my mother kissed me on my head before walking back to the car to leave, leaving me there standing in front of my aunt’s house. I didn’t want to leave momma or even father so tears started to trail down my face.
My mom waved as they pulled out of the driveway and my father gave me a small smile. It was small but it was the first smile he had ever given me. I cried harder. That’s the thing I remember most, me standing in the driveway alone as the wind swept away my tears with my mother waving at me and my father giving me my first small smile and my last.
The day I was supposed to be taken home I was excited, I couldn’t wait to see mother. I had hopes that father might even smile again. But instead of my parents showing up a man in a police officer’s uniform showed up. I stood alone on the drive way in the exact spot where I stood before when I cried as they drove away when the officer told me my parents were gone. He never said died but I knew by his expression. A fire he said, they were asleep he said. My brain failed. My heart cracked. Everything turned to liquid. All I could focus on was his face. He looked scared and uncomfortable. It must have been the first time delivering this kind of news to someone. The thought comforted me a bit. He was new to delivering terrible news; I was new to being an orphan. His words of apologies that he kept spouting meant nothing to me, I couldn't understand why he apologized, it wasn’t his fault. My parents had died in a fire.
My mind kept replaying mother’s wave, father’s first smile.
My aunt came out and the officer seemed relieved to talk to an adult. When he told her he left. I never saw him again. My aunt collapsed into sobs on the ground once he was gone. I couldn’t cry. There were no tears to use. I stood there staring blankly at the sky while my aunts sobs filled the air.
Mother’s small wave, father’s smile. Mother’s smile, father’s wave, I saw it over and over. Mother’s crying, father’s happy loving eyes. Mother’s laugh, father’s nod. Mother’s wave, father’s smile. Father’s height, and mother’s vulnerability, mother biting her lip, father reading the newspaper, mother and father smiling at each other with love. Mother’s wave and fathers smile. I saw it all.
It hurt. I felt nothing but it hurt. I wasn’t quite sure how that was possible but it did. Sobs that filled the air and drifted in the wind, and a silence that coated the sky in gray, that is what I remember.
The funeral. Family members I’d never seen came, some crying others gossiping. I watched without emotion as they lowered my mother and father into the ground. The wave and the smile, that’s all I have now. Everyone left dry eyed after the funeral. No one cared anymore. They came to grieve for an hour, and then they forgot. I remember it, I remember their forgetfulness. I vowed to remember for them. I remembered.
Once everyone left, I walked to their graves, sitting so closely together and sat down in between them, as if yearning for their embrace. I sat between them as a child should sit between her parents. I sat and waited for the sun to come down, for the world to be enveloped in the darkness. I saw mother humming in the kitchen as she prepared dinner chopping onions and I saw father turn and look at mother with such love and joy it hurt. I saw mom laughing as I spun stupidly in my dress and I saw my father frown in disapproval as he smoked his pipe. I saw my mother kiss my head before she left. I saw her wave and I saw his smile.
Still, I did not cry.
Later, my aunt came to get me. I would be staying with her until I was old enough to move out, though I was only seven. I disliked my aunt. She was thin like a stick, had fuzzy brown hair and cried really loud. It annoyed me and I was pretty sure she didn’t like me. We drove back to her home, my new home, and I went to the guest bedroom, my new bedroom. She followed me and asked if we needed to talk about the death of my parents. Her eyes were still red from crying but she looked like she was done mourning for my father, her brother. She seemed to have forgotten already so I would remember for her too. I told her no and she left.
My room was small composed of a bed, dresser, and small closet. The only possessions I owned were the clothes I had packed in my bag for the weekend. Everything else had burned in the fire.
I still went to school though my aunt thought I should stay home to properly mourn.
Properly mourn. I learned to hate that word. Everyone seemed to think I wasn’t properly mourning. I hated them for that. I went to school, I exceled as I usually did and people gave me strange looks. I heard the whispers, that I didn’t care that my parents were dead, that I had no feelings, that I was happy that it happened. I ignored them, I no longer cared about other people’s thoughts towards me. I visited their graves, since it was on the route to my new home, each day sitting in between them like a child should until the sun met the ground and then I walked home after I gave each of them a wave and a small smile.
My aunt took me clothes shopping, bought me a tooth brush, tooth paste, and other toiletries, nothing else. I didn’t mind, I didn’t need anything. The guest room continued to look like a guest room. In the morning I left no evidence I was ever there. Meals were spent in silence; we didn’t talk at all unless absolutely necessary. I made it so she wasn’t bothered by my presence. I know she was secretly angry at my father for dying and leaving her with me and I know she was mad at me because I was there.
When she brought home guests that stayed the night with her I pretended not to notice. I made it so I was invisible. At school the whispers and gossip about me died down when a month passed. I guess that was the amount of time I was allowed to stop mourning. I didn’t talk or raise my hand or try to make friends. People avoided me for this.
I remembered. I lived.
Months continued to pass and I never forgot, but memories got fuzzy. Mothers face wasn’t so clear and I couldn’t remember the color of father’s eyes. It hurt and I felt nothing. Mothers wave and fathers smile. Everything was blurred. It hurt and I felt nothing. The officers relieved expression when my aunt came out, both of us experiencing something new at the same time, and the comfort I felt, my aunt’s sobs that filled the air, with me staring numbly at the gray sky. I still did not cry.
It was a year later when I saw him.
I was sitting in between my mother and fathers graves and he was standing there staring at the sky wearing all black. He was crying hard staring at the sky. People wearing black too were leaving, leaving this crying child as he stared at the sky. It reminded me of my parents funeral, when everyone left me standing there alone, when I vowed to remember for all of them. I vowed to remember this, this child standing alone crying as he stared at the sky. I remembered but I did not talk to him.
Eventually he ran out of tears and just continued to stare at the sky. He never realized that I sat there watching him. Finally he walked away when the sun got close to the ground. I stayed there until the sun finally met the ground. I waved and smiled.
Smiled and waved.
I went to school, I came home, I barely talked, I ignored her visitors, press repeat.
One day I noticed the boy with the tears and the sky walking to the school I was walking to. We were on opposite sides of the road. He didn’t notice me and I pretended to not notice him too, though that didn’t stop me from seeing that the boy with the tears and the skies eyes were red. He looked skinnier then before and his shoulders were hunched. I vowed to remember this too. From then each day we walked to school together but not together at the same time. Mothers wave, fathers smile, the boy staring at the sky long after his tears had run out.
I felt myself get dull, gathering dust, like a sword left in a basement, forgotten. Two years had passed since my parent’s death. I pressed repeat in my life so many times that the button broke, but even then I kept pressing repeat. I was caught in a never ending loop.
Teachers tried to get me to talk more but they gave up easily, as long as I turned in the work they didn’t care. And each day I didn’t go home until the sun met the ground, smiling and waving at the graves. The boy with the tears and the sky walked passed me each day in halls at school never noticing me but I noticed him. He was taller, his brown hair shaggier, and skinnier. I wanted to reach out to him, we had both suffered a loss, and I understood that now. I was getting lonely; I wanted to talk to someone. No one but us understood what it felt like to lose someone, but I was afraid. Afraid he would mock me or spit at me, so I kept to myself, pretending not to see him. Auntie kept bringing home new guests every week and I still pretended not to see. I still hadn’t cried. Auntie ignored me, I ignored her. Mom’s wave and dads smile, I saw it all. I was broken, shattered, the pieces too small to put back together. I tried and tried to feel something but I couldn’t. I spent my time staring at nothing and everything, feeling everything and nothing.
Weeks became months when finally someone took their finger off the repeat button. I was sitting alone, like usual, under a tree during lunch not touching my food. That’s when he approached me, the boy with the tears and the sky and sat right next to me under the tree. I remember clearly that day the way the sun shone through the leaves and how the wind whispered the change that I couldn’t hear.
He said nothing so I said nothing. We sat there in silence, me staring at the other kids laughing and eating with each other, him staring at the clouds. Finally he spoke, “You going to eat that sandwich?”
His voice was stronger and deeper than you’d think it would be, looking at his lanky figure. I blinked in surprise then handed him my turkey sandwich that sat in between my legs untouched. I couldn’t help it, I laughed as he started to gobble it down. He shoved it in his mouth like he was about to die any second and this was his last meal. He glared at me and I immediately shut up.
We sat like that for a while longer before he said quietly, “You sound strange when you laugh.”
I know I should have been insulted, he just did say I sounded strange, but I really wasn’t. In fact I actually found myself liking him for his brutal honesty, and plus it was probably true. I hadn’t laughed since the day my parents died, which of course begged the question, how had he been able to make me laugh?
The day after he sat with me again, not saying anything during lunch, I didn’t say much either, afraid to break the silence, not sure what to even say. When we parted ways to go to class he still didn’t say a word, just stalking off. I watched him with curiosity. Why was he sitting with me? Did he know my parents had died too? How did he even know about me? Then I started to wonder, maybe he had been watching me too.
Eventually he started to talk to me. He told me about his class, how they were all stupid and didn’t understand simple math problems that an ant could do. He mostly complained but I didn’t mind. I think I was a way for him to vent his frustrations and anger. It didn’t look like he had any other friends. Eventually I started to respond, telling him about how stupid the kids in my class were. I think he was beginning to like me.
Him sitting with me at lunch became a regular thing and I couldn’t help but be pleased. I started to feel a little less lonely than before.
But even through that wasn’t enough to erase the empty ache I felt in my heart, or the fact that each day I still went to their graves, and I still didn’t talk to Auntie.
Once again I watched as the colors melded together creating the color of lava and the sun, transforming into a dark purple then flashing to a blue as pimples of white light popped up on the sky’s face.
A wave and a small smile, then the long walk home.
The boy with the sky finally told me his name one day, Jordan. I told him mine, Anna. I’m not sure why it took us an entire year of friendship before we finally told each other our names, thinking back on it now it seems kind of silly. But at the time telling our names was like ripping our souls bare and letting the other examine us with a magnifying glass. It was giving each other permission to actually call each other names, to finally proclaim we were friends, a last test you could say. I was ten and he was eleven.
A couple months after that we told each other our names I took him to my parent’s grave, and I told him they died in a fire.
Jordan was quiet, not saying much. Then he put a hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s okay,” and for the first time I cried. They weren’t silent tears either; they were loud gasping sobs full of snot and ugly cries. I felt like I had built a wall up against my tears and finally it broke when those two words had been spoken. I collapsed to the ground, hiding my face in my hands.
Jordan didn’t leave my side the whole time. When finally I stopped he smiled at me, and I felt that he spoke the truth, when he said it was okay.
After that Jordan and I went to his parent’s grave. He told me his father had died a couple months after he was born and his mother had died years later from cancer. He told me he had a little sister, Sophie, only four years old. He and Sophie lived with his grandparents who according to him were, “Kind people, but old fashioned to the bone.”
Finally, when the sun threatened to meet the ground he told me he had to go.
I paused before asking quietly, “Will you promise to be my friend forever?” My face was furiously red from embarrassment.
Asking Jordan though was worth any embarrassment. I had suddenly been seized by the fear that I would lose him if he walked away.
He blinked in surprise, than he looked at me like I was some alien. “You still have yet to meet my little sister idiot! Of course we will stay friends, she’ll love you.”
I felt immediate relief, I wouldn’t be alone anymore. I suddenly wanted to cry again but bit my lip hard to keep it in.
He rolled his eyes in exasperation, “You sure are a cry baby aren’t you?”
“No I’m not…” I mumbled.
He laughed and turned to leave. He froze for a second and then whipped back around to me. “See you tomorrow Anna!” Then he ran away, heading toward his home.
“See you Jordan!” I cried back. He raised his hand in the air as he ran to signal he'd heard. I watched him until he disappeared from sight.
I smiled and waved at mother and father, then did the same thing for Jordan’s parents who sat next to each other. It was the least I could do, they had given me Jordan after all.