It’s dark, down here. Cold, too. The wooden floor is hard and uncomfortable. The rug that spans the middle of the room doesn’t reach here. You know, the thick, soft one with the rocket ship on it. Your mom got it for you. You were so happy when she brought it home, after she finally finished painting the walls and you put glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. She said the carpet really brought it all together, your celestial-themed room, and you agreed—but I don’t know. I can’t see the ceiling from here.
I wonder what stars look like.
…I miss you.
The daytime is the worst. I spend my time drawing made-up symbols and squiggles in the dust. I sometimes like to pretend that they are words. I don’t know how to write, but if I did… I think I would write you a story. A good one. Maybe you’d even like it.
But then again…maybe you wouldn’t. You always want to hear the same story over and over again, don’t you?
The one about the big, bad, wolf.
Your mom tells it to you almost every night. She’s a good storyteller, your mom. Even I like listening. She makes the best sound effects, she uses the best voices. I’m jealous. I haven’t spoken in so long. I don’t even know what my voice sounds like.
When she acts out the part of the pigs, with her squeals and snorting, it gets you every time. You laugh and laugh and laugh. I like the sound of your laughter. It’s beautiful.
When she plays the part of the big, bad, wolf…that gets to you, too. You gasp and hold your breath and sometimes, when she’s really good, you even scream.
…I like the sound of your screams even more.
Yes, you like that story, about the three little pigs who somehow manage to get away. They run from the wolf from house to house, until, eventually, the predator is outsmarted. He can’t huff and puff and blow down brick walls, and so he climbs up onto the roof and slides in through the chimney. But the pigs see him coming, and he drops right into a giant pot of hot, boiling water.
‘Wolf stew!’ your mom always shouts at the end, and you giggle in delight.
…It’s a tale you enjoy, but I don’t think it’s the best. Pigs can’t make safe havens out of bricks, and wolves don’t ask permission to come into your home. It’s not very realistic.
I could make you a better story.
It’s getting dark. I can tell by the way the light from your window hits the rocket ship rug. I can tell because even though it’s always dark under here, at some point, I start to see much better. Did you know that about me? I see things better at nighttime. The world becomes more vibrant, and the particles of dust that dance when I brush my fingertips against the floorboards become like bits of diamonds. The later it gets, the better. My favorite time of night is right before midnight. I don’t know how I know that it’s midnight, but I can tell. Things just feel different, then. It’s when my tiny world is at its prettiest. Maybe you feel it, too, because that’s when you get up to use the bathroom. Every night, like clockwork.
I would say you’re predictable, but I don’t think that you are. I just know you that well.
I hear you coming.
The pitter patter of your bare feet against the hardwood floor as your scramble up the stairs. You’re always running. No matter how many times your mom tells you not to. I think that’s cute.
…And there you are. Even from just the shins down, I can tell you’re skinny. Maybe because you’re always running. You’re such a ball full of vibrant energy, laughing and shouting and running. It’s no wonder you sleep so soundly at night.
You crawl onto your bed. The springs groan as you roll over, a rusty whining my ears. You must be in trouble tonight, because your mom usually comes in soon after you to tell you your bedtime story. But I can hear you, now, saying your nightly prayer. You usually do that later.
‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord-’
But then you’re interrupted.
Yes, you are in trouble, because she sounded angry, just now, calling for you. Did you leave a mess downstairs, again? Did you forget to brush your teeth? You trudge as slowly as you dare to go to her. I wonder what you did. I’m on pins and needles waiting for you to return.
And you do.
You come back, alone, and you’re not running this time. You’re crying. You’re crying and you’re upset and it’s a disconcerting noise that I almost never, ever hear from you.
…I think I love this sound the most.
You’re sniffling as you crawl back up onto your bed, and—
You forget to finish your bedtime prayer.
The last lines go unspoken. The dust motes seem to mirror my joyful thoughts at the miracle, and they reflect pink and violet and gold. They taste like sugar on my tongue, and it’s then that I know.
The stifled sobbing slowly fades as you drift to sleep. I listen to the sound of your deep breathing, and I wait.
The light shifts in a nearly imperceptible way, but it’s the air that really feels different. Like static. There are rainbows in the air, scattered across your rocket ship carpet, and they dance in the invisible currents.
You get up.
I crawl on my hands and knees to the threshold between my world and yours. I’ve never been this close to the edge before. For a moment—just the briefest second—I peer out from the underneath the bedskirt.
I see stars.
Your footsteps echo softly in the hall when you return. I retreat just out of sight, and this is the first time I’ve ever noticed my own heart beating in my ears. It’s a nice sound. I wonder if this is what music is like.
I wonder if yours will sound the same.
You come into your room on your tiptoes, and as you walk across the carpet, and sparkling rainbows of dust and diamonds explode at your feet.
I inhale slowly through my teeth. I can taste your scent on my tongue, and it is like stars and space and dreams left unfinished.
You lift one leg to crawl back into bed, but sleep won’t have you tonight.
I reach out and grab your ankle.