She said she saw angels, and repeated it, so I did too, but I still haven’t grasped what it means.
I climb onto my bed, above the covers, and I gaze at the ceiling, yearning to comprehend it. This gray and dirty ceiling has hovered my whole life, floating above my bed. Built before I arrived, still standing after I’ve gone. Untouched, unchanged. Can I imagine a life without its ever-presence?
I pretend I’m watching the stars, that nothing separates me from the mathematical, the infinite sky, or from the pinpoints that decorate it, twinkling from an unfathomable distance. Nothing except air. I swallow a deep inhale and hold it in my lungs.
Breathing returns me to my body, under the ceiling, shivering.
It’s so quiet now. Everyone’s camped on sofas or in hotel rooms, so the house is silent. Just the whoosh of cars on the highway, rushing close and fading fast, then more silence. At this hour, my mother should be up watching television, always at excessive volume. I never guessed I’d miss that sound, but I do. Now there’s only quiet, only my thoughts.
“Look.” Her voice was hoarse.
The ceiling is not providing enough distraction. I want more: violent, loud music pumped into my skull. I want a screeching train wreck to burst in, shattering the tired walls around me. Nuclear annihilation.
None of that comes.
Still, it appeals to me to just vanish, erased by circumstance. A data point, a statistic, tabulated by a person who’ll never meet me. There’s a weight to being remembered that I’m not prepared to shoulder.
I concentrate on the ceiling, but it rejects my attention, aiming to recede from notice, negligible. The ceiling’s true role is to block me from seeing the stars.
“Look, honey, angels.”
Black smudges scatter along this ceiling, mysterious; my family always laid the blame for them at my feet. I made an easy scapegoat so my innocence was irrelevant. The marks linger as reminders.
She knew I didn’t believe in angels.
For example, that mark just inside the door; my other brother smacked the rubber foot of a crutch above us as he threatened my life. My mother noticed it a few weeks later, confronting me, the youngest. I told her I didn’t know, while both my brothers insisted I’d done it.
“Angels.” I squeezed her hand.
I clashed with my eldest brother. He brings his kids to spend time with their grandparents, and we get along, though he still eyes me while I play with them, afraid I’ll break one. He’s sleeping next door, his old room, while the children sleep in the living room. They’re not little anymore and I’m often lost for ways to converse with them.
I tire of this remembering but it’s better than any available alternative.
My other brother and I enjoyed a stronger bond, as we shared this room, but he is the middle child which amounts to him needing everyone’s love. He’d defend me once we were alone, but rarely in anyone else’s company.
“You’re killing her,” my father often repeated.
My mother stayed silent.
The ceiling spreads but I ache to deny it, to imagine a world without it.
I only experienced real loss once before. In my childhood, the family dog was my partner in made-up adventures, space exploration and mysteries to solve. Nobody else cared for him, but I did, and he adored me.
One day he accompanied me outside — I was never to bring him outdoors without a lease — and he shocked me by running away. A semi-common occurrence, where then my father needed to chase after him. Furious that the dog had escaped, my father screamed at me. “If the dog gets hit by a car, it’s your fault.”
Well, the dog ran into traffic, his life already ended while we continued to search for him, into the evening. The discovery of his fate devastated me, left me inconsolable; abandoned without my ally and yoked with the blame. A mistake. I was five.
One mistake. I should have quit while I was ahead.
And for a moment, she was right. Angels. They filled the room. I gasped.
The house is so quiet and I remember when bodies and voices filled every space. Before my brothers moved away and the sound of the television drove out the entirety of other sounds. I ask the ceiling to sing me lullabies, but it hangs, tired and unappreciated.
“Look honey. Angels.” They swarmed us, wafts of white light filled the room, liquid.
My father was right again.
I reach out my hand as if the ceiling were close enough to touch, then imagine the television is blaring again, imagine my mother calling for me, annoyed. I’ve done something wrong or forgotten to do a chore. From underneath these imaginary sensations, a silence booms.
I want to stop fixating on my family, painful reminiscences, but her exasperated refrain bounces inside my skull: “I have done everything for you. And what have you given me in return?” I’d roll my eyes, my indifference driving her mad.
“Please don’t be angry,” I whisper now.
And then they evaporated. And she did too. Just like that.
I can’t cry. My body has forgotten how. I remember the dog splayed under a guardrail, his escape, his quest for love, cut short by the reality of this world. So many people drove past, rushing to nowhere, as if he didn’t matter. He mattered. But I understand why he ran.
The room lit with their brilliance.
And she left me. Just like that.
Her senses were near useless in those final days; a cancer invaded her brain. I can’t fathom what she saw, or heard, in those final minutes.
It wasn’t angels, that light, blinding gasp of hope.
I close my eyes. Sleep won’t come, but I climb under the covers regardless, still under that ceiling, tiny under the insignificance of the stars.