Open Into Stars
The sky was pale cerulean, and decorated with ripples of pink clouds like fish scales; a mackerel sky. In the time it took to boil water and swirl the no-brand tea bag around the mug, the sky turned one shade greyer than white. I stepped out to see. The cool air felt odd, hitting my skin. For a minute, I thought it was raining invisible needles of ice, but it was only the cold on my partially numb hands. There was a storm coming. The last birdsound was a frantic warning to take shelter. When all was still, one linty fleck drifted in, and showed millions more how to lay still and quiet on the frozen ground.
I tried to stay awake all night for the storm. I didn’t want the magic working in the dark while I was inattentive, unconscious. I wanted to watch every inch of snow blunt the branches, turn mounds of wilted garden flowers into ambiguous humps. But I fell asleep when the dead lilies and ferns were only half-buried. Against my will, the world transformed while I slept.
In the morning, my arms were numb and swollen. I stood at the window, surveying the aftermath. The trees were laden. Their blackened limbs bowed under the weight of snow. I shook my hands until the aching subsided and the feeling came back, then I went downstairs to make coffee.
The doctor, who has kind eyes, tries to hide his concern. Don’t gloss it over, I think. Lay it on me. He writes for a bit, knits then unravels his brow, and orders tests.
Out in the parking lot of the medical village I see the hairy buds of the Star Magnolia waiting for the right time to open. Some of them had started to bloom, but they were frost burnt by the snowstorm. When they finally turn their delicate palms skyward to catch the sun, the shriveled edge will taint their beauty, like the fingers of a dish wife, all bitten and torn.
Once, on my way to work, my car died. I wrestled the wheel, stiff with sudden lack of power steering, to the side of the road, slapped a note for the cops onto the windshield, and continued my commute on foot. Same route, same destination, just a different and slower means of travel. In the car, the roadside was a swatch of green. On foot, there were living things that rustled away and flowers bobbing in the breeze of passing traffic. Time moves at its own pace and we have no choice but to keep up.
“Peripheral Neuropathy” says the doctor, which, of course, presents more questions than answers. I make the next appointment and leave his office with my thoughts whirling. I am eager for tea and a date with my Merck Manual.
Outside, the snow from our late winter storm is almost a memory. The last hills of snow left by the plow are melting away. Dandelions cluster in a sunny riot around the base of the star magnolia in the parking lot. The blossoms have already opened and fallen. They lay all over the grass, their frost burnt edges no longer significant as the entire petal wilts and browns among the fresh heads of yellow.
As I drive away, I think about next year’s embryonic buds, already formed in the branch tips. They will probably open into white stars, perfect scepters held overhead in triumph. They could also be flawed by errant weather patterns, with no choice but to accept what cannot be changed. I try not to count on either outcome. Instead, I picture next year’s buds as a pair of clenched hands that will one day loosen and let go.
Shawn McClure is a writer and visual artist who lives in New Jersey. She has been published in Lost Balloon, Pidgeonholes, Jellyfish Review and other places on the web and in print.