The Dark

Her Daddy had a black eye. She saw it when he knelt down in front of her and rubbed the morning out of his eyes, and winced. But like every morning he held her wrists, patted her belly, telling her to,

“Go out and make some trouble.”

She grinned and ran out of the dark house, into the sunlight of the field, leaving her dad deep in the shadows and her mum further still, behind the always closed bedroom door.

The world started right outside. One step and she was on her path of pressed grass. She passed the stacked wood underneath the windowsill and headed towards the dingy fence which was just the right height for her to duck under, and almost the right height for her to climb over. She stood before it to size it up. According to her doorframe she’d grown an inch, excluding her hair. She pressed her ponytail to her head and ducked under, not wanting to risk getting the tight curls tangled in the wire. When she stood up on the other side she looked to the sun, sliced in half by her horizon. It made the tops of everything golden—the grass, the trees, and the junk that was sparingly embedded in the earth. She tugged part of her ponytail into her eye line and watched how the light made the dark hair look like flame.

She found trouble, in the grass, the wreckages, and most importantly, in the dirt. She pulled off her boots and let her feet sink into the soil. With her shoes in one hand she explored the mess, and that was the way most days would go. Her feet were tired and her palms were stained by the time the moon showed itself, a faint illustration in the blue sky.

She picked up an earth worm and held it to the moon. It squirmed while she positioned it beside the crescent, turning it into a half-eaten apple hanging in the sky by its core. The first stars starting to appear were the crumbs. The worm wiggled out of her hand and fell into the dirt as she giggled up at the moon, imagining giant worms crashing out of its craters.

She brushed off her hands and picked up her boots. There was a rusty old car by the outside of the fence she’d use to climb back over. Once she’d found an old wallet on the floor of the car with faded cards inside it, all plastered with a long-gone date and a staring face. It took her dad four nights to convince her that the frowning face wasn’t coming to get her, that it wouldn’t climb out of the wreckage and find her. She had no problem clambering over the same wreckage when the sun was up, even as it folded neatly into the horizon. She stood on the hood of the car and used the wooden pole as leverage over the wire that was wrapped around it.

The house was still in darkness, the sky around it fading to match its hue. Her dad was sitting on the slope beneath the house, not far from its open window. He stood out from the tall pale grass which swayed around him where he sat. She trudged up the hill towards him. When he saw her and called to her the dark eye she’d noticed in the morning was facing away. She took her place in his lap and his arms hugged her towards him. He nudged at her chin and she looked up at the sky with him. The darkening canvas was being splattered with light.

“Never used to be able to see the stars like this,” he said.

“You couldn’t see the stars?” she twisted to him and laughed. He used his hands to turn her head back up to the sky. There was a whimpering sound coming from behind them, echoing through the open window.

“Not like this,” he said.

“Why?” she asked, keeping her eyes on the far away lights.

“Well, we made our own stars down here on the ground. They…” he paused and tried to look back to the window, but it was too dark to see inside. “They extinguished the real ones.”

“But they’re back,” she said. He hugged her closer to him.

While they sat together the stars poked their way through the sky, pinpricks in the darkening fabric. She turned to face him when it was dark enough that she knew he wouldn’t mind. With her hands either side of his face she pulled him down from the stars and back to her. She gently poked at the bruised eye while he stared.

“Was this the stars?”

“Was what?” he replied.

“Did it start happening when the stars came back?” she pressed down on the bruise, making herself clear.

He nodded.

“Why?”

“She liked the stars on the ground better,” he said. Both of them looked back up, taking in everything they meant.

“How could she?”

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